A Biblical Response to Anti-Semitism – How the importance of understanding the perspective of God towards the Jewish people, shapes our response to what has become a highly charged and politicised subject, here in the UK.
In order for us to have a biblical response to Anti-Semitism, we must understand God’s perspective towards the Jewish people, and allow that to shape our response to what has become a highly charged and politicised subject. But first we need to understand what antisemitism is and how it affects British society. Leon Saltiel of the World Jewish Congress noted:
“What may not be immediately obvious is that contemporary anti-Semitism should be a grave concern not only to Jews, whom it most immediately and directly impacts, but to those outside the Jewish community as well.”i And I would add; it should be especially important to the Body of Messiah!
So, I want to briefly look at what it is and its insidious influence. The term anti-Semitism was coined in 1879 by the German agitator Wilhelm Marr to designate the anti-Jewish campaigns underway in central Europe at that time.
Although the UK remains one of the least antisemitic countries in Europe, it is alarming that recent surveys show that as many as one in 20 adults in the UK could be characterised as “clearly antisemitic”.ii But it also shows that negativity towards Israel is more prevalent in the public mind than negativity towards Jews. Most anti-Israel attitudes are held, to some extent, by 13-24% of the public, whereas antisemitic attitudes reside in the range of 2-13%.iii
While it may seem easy to define what antisemitism is; it is much harder to see how it impacts education and politics. We are all aware of the news coverage of what has been called ‘institutional antisemitism’ within the Labour party. But we may not be aware that the UK government has signed up to and accepted the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism:
“Antisemitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of antisemitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.”iv
The European Union’s President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen made a recent statement on dealing with antisemitism in Europe saying: “Today we commit to fostering Jewish life in Europe in all its diversity. We want to see Jewish life thriving again in the heart of our communities. This is how it should be. The Strategy we are presenting today is a step change in how we respond to antisemitism. Europe can only prosper when its Jewish communities feel safe and prosper.”v
The recognition that Europe can only flourish if the Jewish community flourishes is an unexpected reflection of God’s promise to Abraham in Genesis 12 that ‘God blesses those who bless Israel.’ While the UK accepts the IRHA definition on antisemitism, some additions have been added by the UK in 2016.
“Antisemites frequently use the word ‘Zionist’ when they are in fact referring to Jews, whether in Israel or elsewhere. Those claiming to be “anti-Zionist, not antisemitic” should do so in the knowledge that 59% of British Jewish people consider themselves to be Zionists. If these individuals genuinely mean only to criticise the policies of the Government of Israel, and have no intention to offend British Jewish people, they should criticise “the Israeli Government”, and not “Zionists.”vi
The guidance says it could be considered antisemitic to accuse Jews of being more loyal to Israel or their religion than to their own nations, or to say the existence of Israel is intrinsically racist. In May this year the former Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi said: “I am seriously concerned to hear of so many reports of alleged antisemitism linked to the NUS.” And as a result, the UK published a statement explaining that Government has temporarily disengaged with the National Union of Students (NUS) following recent antisemitism allegations.vii
The Pandemic also highlighted some modern examples of antisemitism. For example, during the COVID-19 pandemic, we saw a surge in anti-Semitic incidents where Jews were blamed for profiting from the virus, as well as the trivialisation of the Holocaust, as evidenced by anti-vaccine proponents donning yellow stars, or comparing lockdowns to the experience of Anne Frank.
Holocaust survivor Margot Friedlaender denounced the wearing of yellow Jewish star that the Jews were forced to wear by anti-vaxxers, saying:
“Today, I see the memory of what happened being abused for political reasons, sometimes even derided and trampled all over”.viii
The Washington Post denounced it also saying that the “appropriation of the yellow Star of David badge is a gross false equivalence” and also went on to explain that:
“….in appropriating deep symbols of Jewish pain, these bad actors undermine not only the gravity, nuance and suffering of the Holocaust, but also of centuries of historical antisemitism, in service to their need to be public martyrs. They cast about for some touchstone for their perceived injustice, landing on the Holocaust as the ultimate exemplar of persecution in the modern era. In so doing, Holocaust-invokers add themselves to a long and sad history of borrowing the pain of others to lend credence to their own.” ix
Unfortunately, antisemitism is alive and well and as even impacted Christian theology. However, there are sections of the Body of Messiah who stand with the scriptural view of Israel, as laid out in the Bible.
In 1948 the Council of Churches (WCC) met in Amsterdam. Six million Jews were murdered in Europe’s concentration camps– the WCC stated that anti-Semitism “is a sin against God and man.” They upheld the Church’s Commission to preach the Gospel to all men.
“All of our churches stand under the commission of our common Lord, “Go ye into all the world and preach the Gospel to every creature”. The fulfilment of this commission requires that we include the Jewish people in our evangelistic task.”x
The International Missionary Council stated in 1957:
“Judaism is as much without Christ as Mohammedanism and Hinduism, Buddhism and Confucianism. Either all people need Christ or none.” xi
“We believe that it is only through Jesus that all people can receive eternal life. If Jesus is not the Messiah of the Jewish people, He cannot be the Saviour of the World(Acts 4:12).”
I have heard the following many times:
If Jesus is not Messiah for Israel, He is not Christ for the nations. He is either Messiah for all or not the Messiah at all.
Franz Delitzsch, the well-known Old Testament scholar, wrote, “For the church to evangelize the world without thinking of the Jews is like a bird trying to fly with one broken wing.”
The call to share the Gospel with Jewish people is one of the ways that we reflect the Saviour’s love. He came first to the House of Israel but declared that He had also other sheep to tend. Today the Body of Messiah must reflect that love in reverse. Finding a place in our mission strategy to include the Jewish people and in so doing, reflect the biblical mandate set out in Romans 1:16:
“For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.”
The Black Lives Matter was a movement that shook the world and exposed the racial bias that many people had against black people. But the anti-Judaism bias within Christian circles and Christian theology also needs to be discussed. Supersessionist theology, also known as Replacement theology, promotes or teaches the belief that the New Covenant mediated by Jesus means that Christians have replaced the Jews as the People of God. Or that the Church is now entrusted with the promises that were originally entrusted to Jewish Israel. And that the Church is now the New Spiritual Israel.
So how do we combat anti-Semitism within the wider Church? Or deal with our own personal bias, that we may have inherited as a result of the influence of such teaching in the Body of Messiah? It is not my job or even my right to expose this – my responsibility is to simply to teach God’s Word. And it is God’s Word that should guide and teach us what our response to antisemitism must be.
A little background here will help us understand why, despite the claim to love Israel, Jewish evangelism isn’t a priority. Franz Rosenzweig, a German Jewish philosopher of religion declared: “We are wholly agreed to what Christ and His Church mean to the world; no-one can reach the Father save through Him. No-one can reach the Father! But the situation is quite different for the one who does not have to reach the Father because he is already with Him, and this is true of people of Israel.” (1913)
This has led to pluralism; Dual or Two Covenant theology, – in which there are separate covenants for Israel and the gentile nations. The net result is the end of Christian mission to Jewish people and the Christian conscience salved over their failure to evangelise them.
Over the years. I have met many Christians who tell me that they love Israel, pray for the nation regularly and often support projects of humanitarian aid there. While this is helpful and is even necessary, this love without the Gospel is not love. We would never claim to love any other people group and yet withhold the Good News from them. And all this because we have believed Jewish propaganda which states that preaching the gospel amounts to spiritual genocide or another Holocaust. What we have succeeded in doing through this faulty theology, is to take the Jew out of Jewish person, in order to make him a Christian. But the Messianic Jewish community proves that this is a lie, because we can be followers of Messiah and still be Jewish!
Our message to all believers is simply this; we must not only take the Gospel call to make disciples of nations, but also agree with the Apostle Paul so that our mission strategy reflects the Gospel imperative, to take the Gospel to the Jew first:
- Romans 1:16: “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.”
The reason this remains important is because the Jewish people remain important to God because He chose them
- Deuteronomy 7:6-8: “For you are a people holy to the LORD your God. The LORD your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth.”
And His love and His choice of Israel cannot be overturned because this love is just for a period of time and be replaced by another love. If this were so: then God would be unfaithful to His Word and therefore not to be trusted:
- Jeremiah 31:35-26: “Thus says the Lord, Who gives the sun for light by day And the fixed order of the moon and the stars for light by night, Who stirs up the sea so that its waves roar; The Lord of hosts is His name: if this fixed order departs from before Me,” declares the Lord,“ Then the offspring of Israel also will cease from being a nation before Me forever.”
When we grapple with these truths, they will impact our own response to the place of the Jewish people; helping us to love Israel as the people God and recognise their need for salvation and the Gospel.
i Leon Saltiel is the World Jewish Congress representative at U.N. Geneva and UNESCO, and its coordinator on countering antisemitism.
ii Government Response to Home Affairs Committee Report: ‘Anti-Semitism in the UK’
vi Government Response to Home Affairs Committee Report: ‘Anti-Semitism in the UK’
vii Department for Education, The Rt Hon Michelle Donelan MP, and The Rt Hon Nadhim Zahawi MP Published13 May 2022
x Online, http://www.jcrelations.net/en/?item=1489
xi Göte Hedenquist, Twenty-five Years of The International Missionary Council’s Committee on the Christian Approach to the Jews (Uppsala: Almquist & Wiksells, 1957), 5.