Speaking Out Against Anti-Semitism

Authentic Orthodox Christianity is opposed to anti-Semitism.  That said, the Orthodox Church throughout the world is a far-flung family, not a centrally-controlled cult, so that it cannot police or control every utterance made by its members.  That being so, it must be admitted, with much sadness and regret, that anti-Semitic comments and behaviour have in our history characterized some Orthodox Christians, and continues in some parts of the Orthodox Church.

This is especially true of those identifying as Orthodox when posting online.  The online world is very much the new wild, wild west where anything and everything goes, and there is little or no accountability.  One can find good things online, bad things online, and very ugly things online—including virulent anti-Semitism.

That is why, of course, those seeking to learn what Orthodoxy truly teaches should place themselves under the catechetical authority of their local Orthodox pastor, and be guided by him.  He can give the seeker instruction, reading material, and tell him where to seek for truth online and which sites to stay away from.  The local pastor is of course no more infallible than anyone else—but he is accountable to his bishop, his brother priests, and (in a way) to his local congregation—for if he gets too weird, many people will leave his parish and go elsewhere.  And local pastors are also more likely to have actual theological education from an actual theological seminary, and not be someone self-taught and whose reading is mostly confined to the Rudder, the Protocols of the Elders of Zion and sites on the internet.

It is important to define exactly what is meant by “anti-Semitism”, since the word is often generously thrown around.  I would like to point to two things which are not necessarily evidence of anti-Semitism, but which sometimes are taken to be so.  One is theological and the other is political.  I refer to the theological rejection of what is often called “Christian Zionism”, and to political criticism of the policies of the State of Israel.

anti-semitismChristian Zionism is the term used to describe the view that the Old Testament prophecies of the return of exiled Israel to the Promised Land find their fulfillment in the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948, and not in Christ and the Christian Church.  This theological view is comparatively recent, and is totally at odds with the views of the Church Fathers.  A more detailed critique of this theology can be found here.  A rejection of Christian Zionism is not rooted in anti-Semitism, but in a New Testament reading of the Old Testament prophecies.

Political criticism of Israeli policies (such as their treatment of the Palestinians and their defiance of UN resolutions) are also not necessarily anti-Semitic.  That is, it is possible to soundly criticize Israeli policy without the critique being motivated solely by anti-Semitism.  This is plain in that a number of Jews and even Israelis sometimes criticize Israeli policies, and such critique can hardly be motivated by anti-Semitism.  One also thinks of Jimmy Carter’s 2006 book Israel:  Peace Not Apartheid as an example of a critique not motivated by anti-Semitism.

That said, it is all too possible for such political critique to flow over into anti-Semitism, so that one directs one’s anger not just as Israeli policymakers, but at all Israelis or even at all Jews everywhere.  For what does the apolitical dentist Dr. Feinstein who lives in Brooklyn have to do with the Israelis in the Knesset?  Precisely nothing, but he belongs to the same “tribe” as the Israeli policymakers and so, being a Jew, he can be blamed along with all the other Jews in Israel and everywhere else.  Tribalism—a more widespread disease than anti-Semitism—can be found anywhere in the world.

I cheerfully confess that I do not routinely go far afield online—usually just far enough to get my email, order books from Amazon, and check Facebook to find out who has posted pictures of their cats.  I am therefore spared much of the vile anti-Semitism that one finds online.  But I assure you it is there, since even I have managed to find it easily enough without looking for it.

Much Orthodox anti-Semitism can be found in Russia and eastern Europe—and of course online from North American sources.  The vitriol is often combined with nationalism (to be sharply distinguished from healthy patriotism), and with a readiness to buy into conspiracy theories, especially ones involving Freemasons.  I offer one example, from William Dalrymples’ 1997 book From the Holy Mountain, which documents his journeys through the Middle East and the Levant.

Dalrymple (a Catholic) was visiting Mar Saba monastery in the Israel-occupied West Bank and speaking with a monk there.  The monk mentioned a nearby riverbank, and said, “On Judgement Day that’s where the River of Blood is going to flow. It’s going to be full of Freemasons, whores and heretics, Protestants, Schismatics, Jews, Catholics.  At the head of the damned will be a troop composed of all the Popes of Rome, followed by their deputies, the Vice-Presidents of the Freemasons”.   When asked if he was saying that the Pope was a Freemason, the monk replied, “A Freemason?  He is the President of the Freemasons.  Everyone knows this.  Each morning he worships the Devil in the form of a naked woman with the head of a goat.”  When Dalrymple mildly replied, “Actually, I’m a Catholic”, the monk said, “Then unless you convert to Orthodoxy, you too will follow your Pope down that valley, through the scorching fire.  We will watch you from this balcony.”

There is too much to unpack here, and I can only hope that this monk was something of an exception in his monastery.  Here I would only like to note the combination of Jews with Freemasons and Catholics, typical of conspiracy theorists.  It is hard not to think of the equally unlikely combination in 1930s Germany where Jews were teamed up with Bolshevists and Wall Street millionaires, somehow pulling the strings for both.

Anti-Semitism is usually combined with a hatred of other groups as well, as anti-Semites declare that the Jews are part of a hidden global conspiracy.  Its advocates usually cluster together, supporting each other on social media, producing websites, and podcasts, offering free books, haunting the blogs of sensible people and posting their nonsense in the comments’ sections.  The predominant characteristics of such anti-Semites (usually men, from what I can see) are hatred, pride, arrogance, judgmentalism, a quarrelsome spirit, and a delight to provoke opposition in the belief that they are striking a blow for truth, justice, and the American (or Orthodox) Way.

What to do about such vile nonsense?  Pray for the offenders, obviously.  But it is important also to speak up when such anti-Semitism rears its ugly head, and denounce it as incompatible with Orthodoxy.  Its defenders will, naturally, quote online elders, bearded monks, and Church Fathers yanked from their historical context to do service for a foreign cause.  They will speak with great authority, and insist, “Everyone knows this.”

This is all to be expected, for this is the standard modus operandi of such fanatics.  But we must not allow ourselves to be silenced.  The credibility of the Gospel of love depends upon it because the world is watching.  They will know we are Christians by our love—and they will know we are hypocrites by our anti-Semitism and our hatred.

Source: No Other Foundation

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