In Theory: Why the rise in Anti-Semitism?

Anti-Semitism is on the rise throughout the world, according to a report by the State Department, which is taking the increase so seriously it's appointing a special envoy to monitor the rise.

The increase was revealed in the department's annual report on religious freedom around the globe. The report revealed that it's not just ordinary citizens who are expressing anti-Semitic opinions; many government officials and religious leaders are, too, especially those from Iran, Venezuela and Egypt. "Even well into the 21st century, traditional forms of anti-Semitism, such as conspiracy theories, use of the discredited myth of "blood libel" and cartoons demonizing Jews continued to flourish," the report said.

Q: What do you think are the reasons for the rise in anti-Semitism?

The current hostility toward Jews emanates primarily from Islamic countries, dictatorships and Muslim population centers of the European Union. The recent rise of anti-Semitism in the world can be directly attributed to the demonization of Israel — and by proxy, the Jewish people. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. declared in 1968 that "anti-Zionist is inherently anti-Semitic."

Certainly not everyone who criticizes Israel is anti-Semitic, but it is becoming increasingly clear that a large majority of opponents of the Jewish State have simply substituted anti-Israel sentiments in place of age-old bigotry. What is particularly dangerous and vile is the state-sponsored anti-Semitism and anti-Semitic programming prevalent among Palestinians and commonplace in the school systems of Arab countries such as Egypt and Saudi Arabia.

Despite being the only democracy in the Middle East, Israel routinely faces more criticism and condemnation at the United Nations than any other country, including those that systematically kill their citizens and deny them the most basic of human rights. Even today, both the General Assembly and Security Council continue to pass one-sided resolutions that single out and vilify the Jewish state. Additionally, an overwhelmingly powerful bloc led by the Arab nations has met little resistance in promoting a narrow and slanderous agenda meant to isolate Israel.

History has shown that people of ill will and evil intent first target the Jews, but then continue on to menace other innocent people as well. The Nazis offer a prime example: They initially persecuted the Jews, but then went on to conquer many European countries and declare war on the United States. The death and destruction that Hitler wrought upon humanity is incalculable. Had the world stepped in and stopped Hitler when he was only targeting the Jews, the entire story of the 20th Century may have been far more positive.

It is high time that the nations of the world stop singling out Israel in the U.N. and focus instead on the true offenders of human rights such as Syria, Iran and Saudi Arabia. I believe it is imperative that civilized countries do everything in their power to stop the continuous demonization of Israel and the Jewish people.

Rabbi Simcha Backman
Chabad Jewish Center


I can say with no anti-Semitic feelings that Scripture said such would be the case. This doesn't affirm the "blood libel" doctrine declaring Jews guilty of Christian blood rituals. What modern Christian would countenance such a notion? However, God warns "if you or your descendants turn away from me and do not observe the commands and decrees I have given you and go off to serve other gods and worship them, then I will cut off Israel from the land I have given them and will reject this temple I have consecrated for my name. Israel will then become a byword and an object of ridicule among all peoples" (1 Kings 9:6-8 NIV).

When the Messiah came, the Jewish majority rejected him. A Jewish minority received him and became God's elect. So when Jews rejected the Messiah (God incarnate) who they were to receive, they became guilty of an unforgivable sin. Only in Christ is anyone (Jew or Gentile) saved; there is no other and there's only one God. Today, the temple is destroyed from Israel and unbelieving Jews are apparently increasingly recipients of ridicule.

Let's talk about the world. Pagans worldwide hate Jews for their biblical connection. Nobody likes being second-string, so Muslims hate the biblical God, Yahweh, and choose instead to worship an idol, the moon-god Allah. For them, Jews are sworn enemies, as are any who might support their democratic homeland (e.g., America). And those who are disenfranchised may lean toward WASPy supremacist sensibilities to scapegoat the already earmarked. If anti-Semitism is on the rise, it's a rise of ugliness that shouldn't be.

I dated a Jew, married a half-Jew, and produced two quarter-Jews. Jewishness to me is synonymous with Germanness or Irishness. Faith is a thing of individuals from any culture, but it's always bad to join the rabble in ridicule. Even so, what should we expect?

The Rev. Bryan Griem
Montrose Community Church


It seems like it goes along with the general rise of intolerance, hysterical suspicion and meanness in the world today, and the concurrent loss of civil behavior. It also seems a natural part of the much-discussed polarization of religions into their most extreme expressions. And maybe it's another iteration of that old historical trend that saw anti-Semitism rise whenever economies fell (all those deadly, resentful stereotypes about Jewish bankers).

It's certainly not up to me to conjecture about anti-Semitism in other religions around the world, but I can speak briefly about Christianity's responsibility along these lines: We've done a little and need to do more.

Many Christian leaders, as a personal commitment, correct the language traps of Bible and liturgy that invite ill-will. We translate on our feet, as we read John's gospel especially, and substitute "religious authorities" or "the crowds" for "the Jews" when we read aloud the story of the angry mob at Jesus' arrest and execution.

But we shouldn't have to do that on our own. The version of the Bible that my church uses for public reading, the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV), was revised primarily to remove patriarchal language (God didn't create "man" but "a human being"). How hard would it have been to change the derogatory language about "the Jews" at the same time? Or revise the passage in Acts from "this Jesus whom you crucified" to "this Jesus who was crucified" (Acts 2:36)?

And how hard would it be for the church to leave out altogether, from the scheduled lessons for Sundays, that handful of texts that have classically taught and encouraged anti-Semitism? A member of my congregation whose family is Jewish asked me that question and I didn't have a good answer for her.

It isn't enough for Christianity simply to put the kibosh on the old passion plays that would rev people up into an anti-Semitic lather. It's time for us to do more.  

The Rev. Amy Pringle
St. George's Episcopal Church
La Cañada Flintridge


If anti-Semitism is on the rise in Iran or Egypt, I'm not surprised. The Venezuelan rise does surprise me, however. As far as Israel's traditional enemies in the Middle East are concerned, they have hated the Jews since the formation of the Jewish state in 1948, and probably well before that time. Some of them deny that the Holocaust ever happened.

I don't know the answer to the question of how we as a people reduce anti-Semitism in others. Folks in some parts of the world (such as the Middle East) hold onto grudges longer even than the Hatfields and the McCoys in this country. And I believe they'll continue to do so as long as the nation of Israel continues to prosper.

In the interests of full disclosure, I should point out that my wife is Jewish, born right here in Los Angeles. So I may have a built-in, pro-Jewish prejudice. However, I am perfectly capable of prejudice against others, too. I say that with tongue-in-cheek, of course, but if you look at the misery throughout the Arab world, and as the Arabs contemplate their own misery and compare themselves with the way things are in democratic Israel, I'm guessing they're just a little bit jealous. But instead of thinking, "Hey, why don't we become a democracy like Israel or even Turkey?" it's much easier to blame someone else.

What's more, many of the Arab leaders continue to stir up their people with hatred of Israel. So the vicious cycle continues. Don't get me wrong: Israel itself could do more for peace in the region; it has even been suggested that Israeli leaders don't really want peace but just pretend that they do. So nobody's hands are clean in the region. But really, hasn't the "Blame the Jews" argument gotten just a little stale by now?

There is an old Pogo cartoon, drawn by Walt Kelly, and a famous line from that strip is, "We have met the enemy, and it is us."

The Rev. Skip Lindeman
La Cañada Congregational Church
La Cañada Flintridge


National, ethnic and religious intolerance is promoted by leaders in time of challenge, change or stress. The world is experiencing social, political and economic change and challenge today. Political and social leaders use the call to intolerance to increase their power and the loyalty of their followers. Unfortunately, we are again in a period when anti-Semitism is on the rise.

All leaders should speak out against religious and ethnic intolerance. We see again and again in history how rising tides of hate hurts us all. As the report says, the condoning of anti-Semitism by political leaders sets a tone for its persistence and growth around the world. So action should be taken by all of us and our leaders to reverse the rise of intolerance.

One worry about the finding in the International Religious Freedom Report for 2012 by the U.S. State Department is that it reads like a laundry list of countries that the United States is not happy with at the moment. Perhaps this is just a coincidence, but I don't see mention of anti-Muslim or anti-Semitic intolerance by U.S. allies in Europe and around the world. So, while we should speak out and act against anti-Semitism, we should remember this is not the only intolerance that is being supported by powerful leaders in the world today.

Steven Gibson


A recent New York Times headline stated, "Rise in Anti-Muslim Behavior," referring to events in England following the recent murder of a U.K. soldier by Islamic killers. I mention this not to downplay the incidence or significance of anti-Semitism, but to point out the wide-spread nature of religious hatred. Christians, Jews, Buddhists, Sikhs, Muslims, Hindus and others are targeted.

The State Department's International Religious Freedom Report doesn't attempt to quantify all religious intolerance worldwide. The eight countries "of particular concern" because of "severe violation of religious freedom" include the usual suspects for human rights violations: Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Uzbekistan. I'm sure that being a women's-rights or labor-union activist in these countries is as difficult as being part of a religious minority.

Would that our inhumanity to each other could be readily explained and, knowing why, we could stop it. Asking "why" gives anti-Semites and other haters too much credit. It implies that there is justification.

There is one thing I feel safe in saying about anti-religious hatred — my irreligious, atheistic, free-thinking ilk are not involved. It is a religion-on-religion crime. Sane believers must not give cover to those who do violence in the guise of religion.

Roberta Medford


I don't really know what the reasons for the rise in anti-Semitism in the world could be, but stories and statistics confirm the belief that it is real. The sad thing for me is the realization that the hatred that fueled the Holocaust has not died and that people seem to have forgotten the atrocities that were perpetrated against Jews and others prior to, and during, World War II. What is even more terrible to me is that there are people who continue to deny that such events happened, even in the face of insurmountable evidence.

As a Unitarian Universalist I have a very personal connection to this horrible period in our history through the now recognized symbol of our tradition, the Flaming Chalice. For those who do not know, this symbol was created by an Austrian artist for our Unitarian Service Committee, a group that rescued large numbers of Jews, many of them children, from almost certain death at the hands of the Nazis. In fact, three of the members of that group are now recognized at Yad Vashem as Righteous Among the Nations in Israel. And I am honored to represent a religion that put its faith into action for the survival of others.

My hope is that people of faith will work to eradicate prejudice against all minority groups, particularly those who are being persecuted because of their religion. Just because we do not share the same theology is not a reason to commit acts of physical or psychological violence against each other. I believe that we are called to act with love toward all people and to welcome the stranger as a friend we have not met. Anti-Semitism is against my religion, and I will do everything I can to loosen its hold on the minds and hearts of others.

The Rev. Dr. Betty Stapleford
Unitarian Universalist Church of the Verdugo Hills
La Crescenta


"And you shall be unto me a kingdom of priests and an holy nation." (Exodus 19:6) These words were spoken to Moses by the Lord God shortly after Israel's exodus from Egypt. They confirm his covenant with their patriarch, Abraham.

While factors, like the Israeli–Palestinian conflict, contribute to its current expressions, anti-Semitism remains the longest, most intense and irrational hatred in human history. Therefore, I think we must look deeper than psychological, sociological or political explanations for anti-Semitism.

In the documentary "Jewish Pathways," historian and teacher Rabbi Ken Spiro notes that Israel was the first people group to have revelation of the monotheistic Creator God. They were given a national commission by that God to not only believe, but also live out and teach spiritual values like life, peace, social responsibility and universal education.

Spiro states that evil, as a spiritual force in the world, struggles against these values because they are antithetical to the goals of the self-centered and power-hungry. He cites Adolf Hitler, who stated, "The struggle for world domination will be fought entirely between us, between Germans and Jews. All else is façade and illusion." Hitler felt Jewish cultural values supported the development of democratic cultures that respected national borders and took care of the sick and weak. This was diametrically opposed to his idea of a political system in which a super race would dominate the weak.

Because he saw these values as embedded within the Jewish character, they could not be eradicated by simply dismantling the Jewish religion. Extermination of the Jews became the ultimate solution.

Scripture clearly indicates an everlasting covenant exists between God and the Jews. He refers to them as the apple of his eye. They have long been the target of all the forces of hell, but they will never be overcome.

Pastor Ché Ahn
HRock Church

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