Christmas, Christianity and the rise in antisemitism

December 22, 2014 at 5:16 pm (anti-semitism, AWL, Christianity, Christmas, Islam, israel, Judaism, Middle East, New Statesman, palestine, posted by JD, religion, stalinism, zionism)

A Palestinian man wearing a Santa Claus costume is confronted by an Israeli soldier during a demonstration in village near Bethlehem, 19 December. Photo: Getty

A Palestinian wearing a Santa Claus costume is confronted by an Israeli soldier at a demo near Bethlehem

Christmas is, at its best, a time of good will to all peoples regardless of creed. But it is also, unfortunately, an excuse for antisemitism – a form of bigotry that Christianity has fostered for over 2000 years and successfully passed on to Islam.

Mehdi Hasan (who I do not believe is consciously antisemitic), for instance, uses Christmas as an opportunity to launch into one-sided and in some respects, factually inaccurate attack on Israel (tracing its original sin back to its creation in 1948),  in an article for the Huffington Post (where he is political editor), also carried in the current New Statesman.

Sean Matgamna wrote about this sort of Christian-inspired antisemitism fifteen years ago, in a piece introducing an excerpt from Karl Kautsky’s The Foundations of Christianity. I reproduce Sean’s 1999 piece below:

2000 years of anti-Jewish lies

In the last few years, undisguised anti-semitism has again become a force in Europe, especially in Russia and the east. It has re-emerged both in its racist, zoological, 19th century form, and in its earlier Christian, “native Russian”, form.

Why does this happen? Why, again and again, in one form or another, time after time, does Jew-baiting become a force in history? There are always “immediate” historical reasons, but one central, continuous, underlying “cultural” reason is this: anti-semitism is threaded into the very fabric of Europe’s 2000-year-old Christian civilisation.

Christianity is saturated with anti-semitism. The Christian New Testament is one of the main documents of historical anti-semitism.

As the classic Marxist writer Karl Kautsky shows in the excerpt from his book The Foundations of Christianity […] the New Testament writers set out, deliberately and systematically, to demonise the Jews and foment hatred against them as the murderers of Christ. They did it by inventing fantastic and self-contradictory tales about the death of Christ.

The events he analyses are set 2000 years ago in Roman-occupied Judea. The vast Roman Empire united Europe, much of North Africa, and parts of Asia. The Judeans resisted Roman rule fiercely. While the upper classes tended to make peace, the people refused. The Jews were divided into parties and factions – Sadducees, Pharisees, Zealots. Eventually, in 70 AD, the Romans razed the city of Jerusalem to the ground, completing the dispersal of the Jews, who already had settlements all over the empire.

The early Christians were one sect of Jews, feeling sectarian hatred towards the others. As time wore on, the dominant Christian faction, led by Paul of Tarsus, ceased to be Jews, no longer, for example, requiring converts to be circumcised. By the time the four gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John were written, decades after the events they purport to depict, the antagonism between Christian and Jew was very bitter.

Christianity grew stronger in the next 300 years, until it became a mighty power in the ossifying Roman Empire. At the beginning of the fourth century Christianity became the official religion of the empire, and its priesthood merged with the immensely powerful bureaucracy of the Roman state. Over time it got to the position of not having to tolerate other religions, or Christian factions other than the dominant one.

Thereafter, the New Testament and its stories, ideas and motifs became, for well over a thousand years, the main subject of art and literature.

Many dozens of generations of children were drilled in the New Testament’s malignant tales, presented as the word of God. “Who condemned Jesus Christ to death?” went the question in the Catholic catechism which, until recently, children from the age of five or six learned by heart. The answer? “Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor, did it at the desire of the Jews.” Recently the Catholic Church has “exonerated” the Jews of guilt for Jesus Christ’s death – 2000 years and many millions of victims too late. An imaginary parallel will make the point clearer. Suppose that our own civilisation has broken down, as that of Rome did in the fifth and sixth centuries in Western Europe. Most of the survivors regress to subsistence farming. Literacy is almost lost, becoming the special expertise of ideologising monks and priests.

Most of our great books of learning and science are lost. Those we have saved acquire great authority in a world where scientific observation and experimentation have gone out of fashion, and where venerable authority is again, as in the Middle Ages, considered sufficient. One of the books which survives, preserved by its devotees, is The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. This book purports to be a Jewish account of Jewish plans to take over the world. It was forged early this century by the Okhrana, the political police of ultra-Christian Tsarist Russia.

It recast the traditional Christian Jew-hatred, with which Tsarist Russia was saturated, into a venomous modern political fantasy. It has had immense influence in this century. It has rightly been called a “warrant for genocide”.

Suppose then that in our imaginary world, thrown back to the level of barbarism, a new religion takes shape, a sort of primitive evangelical neo-Christianity, organised by a powerful caste of priests. It worships, as one of its central “holy books”, the Protocols of the Elders of Zion.

And then, as society evolves and develops over many hundreds of years, slowly redeveloping a civilisation, generation after generation would learn the divine truth concocted by the Okhrana policemen. It would form the subject of paintings and literature and drama. When a new Enlightenment arose, and drove this nonsense off the highways of intellectual life, it would survive as prejudice and folk-wisdom. Living Jews and their behaviour would be judged not according to everybody else’s standards, but according to the patterns of malevolence outlined in the Protocols.

This fiction is horribly close to the true story of our civilisation and its development. The New Testament – with whose vicious anti-Jewish libels we are so familiar that they can and do go unnoticed – has down the centuries been the warrant for generations and ages of anti-semitism in Eastern Europe and Russia.

The Stalinist rulers did not fight anti-semitism but fomented it. They took Christian anti-semitism and wove it into their “Protocols”, according to which the great evil conspiracy is not Jewish exactly, but “Zionist”, and centred on Israel. Many on the left, misled by their justified and proper sympathy with the Palestinian Arabs who are in conflict with the Jewish state of Israel, uncritically accept this Stalinist reworking of the old anti-Semitism.

Karl Kautsky’s detailed analysis of the anti-semitism threaded into the New Testament, and therefore at the heart of 2000 years of European civilisation, is part of the necessary antidote to this poison, which, in its “anti-Zionist” mask, still infects much of the left today.

30 Comments

  1. The same excuse is wearing thin said,

    Rhetorical question, but, unless I’ve got the wrong end of the stick, WHY are the people who write on this website so obsessed with trying to highlight antiSemitism in the left-wing ‘quality press’, rather than, for example, for want of a better term, Islamophobia in the mainstream press, not to mention consipicuously silent re Israeli govt atrocities etc. If one of your primary (as in above all others) aims is to try to highlight antiSemitism, you have a right to do so, but you should at least come clean about it…….And the language you use beggars belief given that I presume you consider yourself intellectuals – antisemitism – a form of bigotry that Christianity has fostered for over 2000 years and successfully passed on to Islam.

    Religions don’t pass on prejudices. Would you like it if people started making wild generalizations like this about ‘judaism’. That definitely WOULD be a case of antiSemticism. And before you ask, no I haven’t had time to read the article you mention yet – but my point still stands.

  2. Jim Denham said,

    “And before you ask, no I haven’t had time to read the article you mention yet – but my point still stands”: a remarkable admission of ignorance, prejudice (or perhaps just intellectual laziness) that pretty much sums up your level of “argument” , ‘same excuse’.

  3. ZINR said,

    That’s right Jim. Don’t write about antisemitism whatever you do. No such thing exists. It was eliminated in 1945 and all that remains is justifiable outrage about the continued existence of the Zionazi Entity. Write about Islamophobia instead, where it exists and even where it doesn’t. Otherwise you and the AWL will be cast out of the Great British Socialist Club for not obeying the rules. In fact there is a fair trial scheduled for last Tuesday – your case was put before representatives of Respect, the SWP and the Start the War Coalition. Yvonne “aren’t the Taliban simply marvellous, darling?” Ridley and Tariq Ali condemned you to 10 years in a North Korean re-education camp (as endorsed by George Galloway). There will be a column in tomorrow’s Guardian approving the decision. Best of luck comrade.

  4. Ben said,

    The Gospels are wrong not only in their account of the death of Jesus but also in their account of his disputes with the Pharisees. Far from being antagonistic to Torah law, Jesus upheld it and just opposed the attempts to add to it that some Pharisee factions promoted. His positions were very close to those of Rabbi Hillel, the inspirer of the Pharisee school of thought who preceded him by 110 years, and he saw himself as being in the same camp as the Pharisees. The contemporary Christian derogatory usage of the term “Pharisaic” would have offended and bewildered him.

  5. The same excuse is wearing thin said,

    I don’t need to read the article to work out that this blog has nothing to do with Socialism. Yes this blog clearly has very little interest in ‘Islamophobia’ or other forms of prejudice other than alleged AntiSemitism. If the people who’ve commented here cannot see that, they are clearly even more stupid or disingenuous than I thought.

  6. Jim Denham said,

    “I don’t need to read the article to work out “… Ie: You are an ignorant, stupid, bigoted asshole.

  7. The same excuse is wearing thin said,

    I’ve read it now. Your article is so badly put together and mis-representative it verges on the absurd. There is no attempt to explain in what way Mr Hasan’s article could be in any way construed as antiSemitic and what follows is a long explanation of, as I understand it, Christiian antipathy/antisemitism towards jews, which got ‘passed on’, like a contagious disease, to ‘Islam’, as if a prejudice can be spread, virus-like. towards a set of beliefs…….The writers of this blog are clearly only really interested in one form of prejudice and have no interest in the common rights of man or woman.

    • Jim Denham said,

      “I’ve read it now. Your article is so badly put together …”

      Good. Pity you haven’t learned anything. Still, you are entitled to your own ignorance,
      But we don’t have to humour you in your prejudice, ignorance and stupidity.

      • The same excuse is wearing thin said,

        That’s pathetic. I’m ‘racist scum’ because I ask if and why yourself and some other writers on this blog are primarilly concerned with antiSemitisim as opposed to other forms of prejudice (?) Hmmm……..

  8. The same excuse is wearing thin said,

    And you haven’t done anything to answer my main point – i.e. why is this blog so concerned with trying to highlight antiSemitism and yet seeminlgly so unconcerned, for example, with more commonplace forms of prejudice e.g, anti-Muslim prejudice.

    • Jim Denham said,

      Because it’s a stupid, ignorant question; unworthy of an answer; and we don’t accept the proposition. So fuck off.

      • Mike Killingworth said,

        Spirit of goodwill, eh, Jim?

      • I'm not answering the question cos I don;t like it!!!! said,

        Btw, of course The Sun and The Daily Star are pretty obvious targets which you consider not worth your time criticising, but how about so-called ‘intellectuals’ like Christopher Hitchens who made alot of money etc by suggesting that there was a realistic possibility that Sharia Law was a threat to ‘The West’. Do you consider that other forms of prejudice are not as important as antiSemitism. Another simple (in this case ‘yes/no’ question to which a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ would be abit more ‘intellectual’ than ‘fuck off’. If you’re able to answer it without throwing more gratuitous insults, so much the better!

      • I'm not answering the question cos I don;t like it!!!! said,

        I would expect a better answer down the pub. Short answer – I’m not willing or able to answer this relatively simple question. Case closed……

      • Jim Denham said,

        Short answer: I don’t, as a matter of principle, engage with racist scum on their own terms: I tell them to fuck off.

  9. Islamism is a ticking time bomb said,

    Anti-semitism is a serious issue but I’m more concerned about Islamism (and Islamists tend to be anti-semitic). The nasty right wing own this and it’s a shame the left seem to have a their head in the sand regarding this major issue. http://vidble.com/GjpDwJJaPA.png

  10. Rilke said,

    A couple of small points Jim. Hegel makes very interesting and plausible arguments in the Philosophy of History as to why, as you say ‘Christainity grew stronger in the next 300 years, until it became a mighty power in the ossifying Roman Empire’. He tends to stress the kenosis and the embodiment aspects that allow interpretation and ‘ sacred meanings’ to become terestrial as in the allegorical system of interpretaion and so on. The fact of the anti-semitic strands, as repulsive as they are, are not sufficient to account for the rise and spread of Christianity. The empire adoption is not Chrsitianity is not enough to account for it either, as this only pushes the question back a stage – the empire more or less opted for the fastest growing and most dynamic religion. All religions have their backward aspects otherwise they would not be religions, but the rise of Christianity is worthy of dialectical historical analsysis, but Kautsky’s is comparative and more or less philological.

  11. damon said,

    This article doesn’t quite add up for me.
    Ignore Mehdi Hazan’s piece. It’s not antisemitic, it’s just his view – and his argument about Joseph and Mary is quite silly. If he wanted to talk about the wall around Bethlehem he should have just done so.

    The idea that antisemitism is rising also needs to be talked about clearly.
    It’s not ”rising” in the UK amongst the general population, otherwise the Miliband brothers would have never had a look in. Ed might be suffering a bit of being considered ”other” for his geeky ways, but anyone who’s ”a bit foreign” can experience that too. Michael Portillo had his Spanish background raised often.

    There’s a problem amongst Muslims, because so many Muslim countries practically encouraged their populations to ignore their own country’s politics and focus on I/P instead. And they have brought this with them to Europe as migrants.

    And then there is Israel itself – and how much that polarises.
    It has to be the dirtiest and most sectarian stand-off between opposing factions – for and against. But that’s what it is I think. A sectarian dispute.
    And they get vicious.

  12. Jim Denham said,

    Today’s ‘Graun’ editorial waffles, bleats … and evades the issue of Islamic antisemitsim:
    http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/dec/25/guardian-view-religious-intolerance-burden-cross

  13. victor said,

    Antisemitism is on the rise because jewish power in on the rise, particularly in the US. It is a catch 22. It will be “resolved” by another wave of antisemitism where Jews will lose most of what they have, even freedom and life. Is deja vu all over again. Jews can never see it coming; they are unable to understand what triggers antisemitism. To them antisemitism are the acts of irrational evil people. It is not that, antisemitism are the actions, some irrational, of people who do not like to have their countries run by a group that does not share many of their important values and beliefs, therefore they become worried and, since they are the majority, they act.

    How comfortable would Israelis if Palestinians in Israel constituded 3% of the popilation and had on Israel the inlfuence Jews have in the US? Of course, it can never happen becaus, at least in terms of acquiring knowledge, power and money among people of other cultures nobody outsmarts the Jews. But it is irrelevant the Jews acquire influence, knowledge in the US because they work hard and in clever ways at it. The end result is a majority that sooner or later will not tolerate Jews. It has nothing to do with Jews being good or bad, it is a tribal territory control thing.

    For Jews to prevent antisemitism rhey should lay low and not try to influence the polticas, beliefs or social life of the host society. They should leave the host society to its own devices and not attract undue attention. No matter how convinced Jews might be some Christian, Moslem, Pagan practices and customs Jews consider wrong. They should stop their “social mission” work.

    As long as Jews are not seen as controling key aspects of public life o reject what others believe and show true respect towards the beliefes of others, they are much more likely to be left alone. Putting Menorahs in Berlin oublic spaces and in Washington, together with running so meny other public institutions is not a smart strategy.

    Jews have to ask themselves; do we want to be right about antisemitism or solve the problem, be truly accepted?. So far they seem to be choosing being right and end up at the worng end of th stick over and over.

    As long as Jews consider antisemitism as belonging to evil and derranged people they show they are irrationakl about it and never ever will they defeat antisemitism. History makes it clear, Whuy Jews choose, over and over to kive among alien cultures who always turn on them is absolutely irrational. It proves that indeed there are all sorts of intellinges and stupidities.

    • Jim Denham said,

      A truly vile piece of modern anti-Semitism (above) dressed up in “rational” guise. I’ve left it in place soley for educative purposes. I don’t know who “victor” is, or where, politically, he’s coming from, but sadly sections of the nativist/”anti imperialist” left share his underlying opinions. It may do them some good to see those opinions spelled out so plainly

      • Mike Killingworth said,

        Of course it’s vile, Jim: you forgot to say that it’s also cowardly. But also, as you suggest, instructive: to the extent that, as we all process the world into “us” and “them” – yes, all of us, not least Marx and Lenin – there is always going to be the temptation to sink to Victor’s depths.

        But none of us are wholly innocent or ever can be. You and I, Jim, would surely be more perturbed by an airliner sinking into the North Sea than the Java Sea. It is natural, it is human, to care for our own children more than for the children of others, particularly if those children live (and even drown) on the far side of the world. Socialist Internationalism does itself no favours by pretending otherwise.

        As for the more immediate issue, what else is there to be said beyond Edward Said’s comment that the Palestinians are victims of victims?

  14. Rilke said,

    I am truly amazed at ‘victor’s’ writing. I am genuinely astonished that a person who appears to be capable of seemingly connected thought processes and can construct reasonably logical sentences can actually put them to such incoherent, vindictive and manic uses. I am still not utterly convinced that it is not a parody. I think it was G.B. Shaw who said that we are apt to say that people who commit the most terrible crimes have ‘lost their reason’, but in fact it is all the other human capacities and capabilities they have ‘lost’ such as ’empathy’, decency’, ‘care’, ‘understanding’, ‘sympathy’ and so on. Maybe ‘victor is one such. He still has a garbled version of apparent ‘reason’, but has lost all the other human stuff!

  15. ZINR said,

    No, there isn’t ever going to be the temptation to sink to Victor’s depths.

    As for the sainted Eddie Said – there’s lots more to be said beyond The Palestinians are victims of victims”. Plenty more. If it isn’t said, well…you end up like Victor.

    • Mike Killingworth said,

      How do you work that out?

  16. damon said,

    That quote by Edward Said has to be considered antisemitic.
    I’m pretty sure people from the ”Israel support movement” would say so.
    It’s actually quite close to what Bradford MP David Ward said – that had people jumping up and down demanding he be sanctioned.

    He had said that he was saddened ”that the Jews, who suffered unbelievable levels of persecution during the Holocaust, could within a few years of liberation from the death camps be inflicting atrocities on Palestinians in the new State of Israel and continue to do so on a daily basis in the West Bank and Gaza.”

    I never saw that as overt antisemitism myself, but got some abuse on an Israel supporting website for saying so.
    If you mention WW2 or the Nazis – and Israel in the same argument, that’s considered antisemitic – I think.

    • Mike Killingworth said,

      “Has to be considered”? By whom? The clinically certifiable?

      It’s an entirely natural thing: I get a shellacking from my line manager, so I go off and bully my direct reports.

      Anyway, I’m a gentile, so it stands to reason (as it were) that I’ll be anti-Semitic. The real question is: what does the fact that I bother with any of you say about my own mental health?: Nothing kind, I fear.

      • damon said,

        “Has to be considered”? By whom? The clinically certifiable?

        The mainstream of (what I call) the Israel support movement.
        Like the people at the Harry’s Place website.

        This was them on David Ward – and it’s a pity they delete their reader’s comments after a week or so, because they work themselves right up over issus like that.
        People who disagree get called Jew haters quite quickly.

        http://hurryupharry.org/2013/01/25/holocaust-memorial-day-abuse-part-3-david-ward-mp/

        What Ward said is similar to Edward Said’s quote I think.

  17. Eric said,

    If factual inaccuracy and one sidedness are expressions of (unconscious) racism then we are all racists.

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