Sunday Sermon: Antisemitism

Every year around easter, the christians would sometimes explode into violence, blaming the jews for killing jesus.

Never mind, it was the Romans, and it was more complicated than that, jews in old Europe had to deal with christians occasionally slaughtering them in great numbers. Islam was late to the game and never had the whole “you killed jesus!” meme to any significant degree.

1394 – christians versus jews in Cologne

Antisemitism is so deeply embedded in christianity that it’s not possible to pick the ideas apart; it’s irrelevant (except as historical curiousity) whether Martin Luther was antisemitic (he was!) or whether a particular pope was (Pius XII was!) or even if the Russian orthodox church was – they all were. It’s very rare indeed when a modern lutheran/baptist ministry decides to categorically disown Martin Luther’s antisemitic teachings [lutheran] – you’ll notice that even they don’t attempt the herculean task, they simply say “any antisemitism Martin Luther might have shown – we reject it.” So what? Part of the founding myth of christianity is that there were jews and there was jesus and the jews rejected jesus and they’re going to suffer forever for it. And christians have been making sure of that since as long as there were christians.

“I prefer to see in our midst nations professing Mohammedanism and paganism rather than Jews. They are rogues and cheats. It is my endeavor to eradicate evil, not to multiply it.” – Peter the great, on establishing the Russian orthodox church as the state religion of the Russian empire

Waves of pogroms against jews accompanied the crusades, with the crusaders yelling that the jews killed jesus, while simultaneously looting everything they could get their hands on. One of the reasons antisemitism is hard to separate from politics as usual is its nature as an excuse for aggressive property re-allocation or land re-allocation. When Stalin collectivized agriculture, and millions died, was he aiming specifically at the jews (“boyars”) or was it a more full-spectrum democide? Between Peter The Great and Stalin’s antisemitism we see the danger in state-sponsored religion – Stalin was trying to replace religion with a cult of his own personality – the personality flaws (and that is what racism and antisemitism are) are projected across an entire culture.

The problem of racism and antisemitism is much more complicated than that it’s just a matter of opinion. It’s either a divine opinion, in which case it’s bullshit, or it’s an opinion based on some kind of real-world experience. What throws people is that there are sometimes political reasons for hating another tribe or people: they may be identified as someone that is a threat, or has wronged one’s tribe. Never mind that’s an over-generalization (i.e.: prejudice) and is an error, people do that all the time. One of the calumnies often raised against jews is that they like money. As if protestant capitalists don’t? When Stalin wiped out the property-owning class he also explicitly targeted them as jews – it makes it a bit harder to figure out what his real target was. The answer is probably that Stalin didn’t care much either way, though as a young seminary student he probably imbibed a stiff dose of the antisemitism that is built into christianity’s founding principles. It’s the real world experience that is confusing: it also drives our beliefs and responses to other tribes and peoples. In my decompilation of Sam Harris’ article on “Why Don’t You Ever Criticize Israel?” [stderr] we see Harris wrestling with this issue: he wants to blame “islamists” (as a religion) for the actions of Hamas (a religiously-framed political organization) – Hamas has a concrete political agenda which Harris does not like (neither do I!) but Harris dismisses Hamas’ very real politics as just being religious hatred.

That’s the same kung fu flip that Ilhan Omar was just subjected to: she has political opinions and expressed them, only to be told that her opinion was invalid because it can also be interpreted as based in antisemitism. It doesn’t take a trip to Argument Clinic to recognize that this is a rhetorical strategy being employed. None of this hides the fact that antisemitism is very real or that there are undoubtedly antisemites in the US Congress. In fact, the christian members of the US Congress are antisemites, by definition – unless they want to claim they have their own brand of antisemitism-free christianity, in which case they are “not true christians.” It’s also a fact that an unknown percentage of American evangelicals are explicitly pining for the “end times” and tribulations in which the jews build another temple in Jerusalem and jesus comes again and the battle of Megiddo2.0 is fought, and all the jews go to hell for eternity. Personally, I can’t think of anything much more antisemitic than wishing for a great battle to kill lots of jews and then a second coming that finishes the job.

At various times there have been calls for “moderate muslims” to speak out against islam’s hatred for ${whoever} – often Israel. This conflates religious beliefs with religious framing of political opinions, Sam Harris style. Perhaps some muslims hate jews because that is their religious interpretation, but perhaps some people who happen to be muslims resent the politics of Israel, which is – strongly anti-muslim and/or anti-Palestinian. Unpacking this is complicated because when Israel declares that it is the home of a religion, and a racial ethno-state it’s open to being hated for either one. I think racism/ethnic hatred are ridiculous, since they are based on a misunderstanding of human population genetics [stderr] – “bloodlines” are bullshit and none of them are “pure”. Notice how carefully I am treading around that topic: I don’t want someone to say “waaa! You are antisemitic, you just tried to say ‘there is no such thing as a jew!'” That sort of rhetorical kung fu has been deployed on both sides of this issue: “the palestinians are a made-up people” is apparently not hatred enough for Congress to care about, but the implication that Congresspeople take money is. [g]

[Newt] Gingrich differed from official US policy that respects the Palestinians as a people deserving of their own state based on negotiations with Israel. “Remember, there was no Palestine as a state. It was part of the Ottoman Empire” until the early 20th century, Gingrich said.

“I think that we’ve had an invented Palestinian people who are in fact Arabs and who were historically part of the Arab community. And they had a chance to go many places, and for a variety of political reasons we have sustained this war against Israel now since the 1940s, and it’s tragic,” he said.

Memo to Gingrich: races and tribes are all fictions. That doesn’t mean they don’t matter – but they’re opinions. Sometimes opinions people find it worth dying or killing for. Gingrich, as a self-professed christian, is antisemitic, and was part of a process of using the people in Israel as part of a power-political scheme of “divide and conquer” in the Middle East. If he cares about the lives – jewish or muslim, Israeli or Palestinian – destroyed by the government he participated in, it’d be news to me. As he said, it’s all power politics stemming from the European colonial powers dismantling the Ottoman Empire after WWI. What Gingrich is doing is the Sam Harris trick except he conflates politics with Arab ethnicity instead of islamic religion.

Do you see how I parsed the divisions in the preceding paragraph? “jewish or muslim, Israeli or Palestinian” – those are two of the axes of a many-axis problem. And one of them leads us to a discussion about religion and ethnicity, while the other leads us to a discussion about politics. When I see someone conflating the two axes I check to see if they’re ignorant and otherwise I assume they’re dishonest. Nobody who’s concerned enough with politics to be a member of the US Congress has any excuse for ignorance and I always assume professional politicians are lying and allow myself to be pleasantly surprised if I find traces of sincerity in the noise.

Ilhan Omar’s comment about taking AIPAC money ignited a mini-firestorm because it was interpreted as being antisemitic by the people who had been taking the money. It makes me fantasize a world in which Ilhan Omar’s response was “no, I was being unfair to sex workers, because I was calling you a bunch of whores.” I would actually not like that, because of splash damage and demonizing sex work with that crude label, but it’s inescapable that those who complained loudest about Omar’s remarks are the ones who have taken the most money. [guard]

House Democratic leaders who drafted a resolution initially aimed at condemning Omar’s remarks received millions from the pro-Israel lobby throughout their congressional careers. Congressman Eliot Engel, who accused Omar of using “a vile antisemitic slur”, has taken about $1.07m throughout his career, or about $107,000 per election.

Presidential candidates who received significantly more money from the pro-Israel lobby include Senator Cory Booker, who called Omar’s comments “disturbing”. He received $445,000 during his only Senate campaign, while Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, who has received about $367,000, or $91,750 per campaign, said criticisms of Israel should be made “without employing antisemitic tropes about money or influence”.

Perhaps the antisemitism kung fu flip is a rhetorical dodge by a bunch of bought and paid politicans who are attacking someone for pointing out where the wads of money they are collecting, came from.

This is what congress finally came out with: they deplore hatred

“whether from the political right, center, or left, bigotry, discrimination, oppression, racism, and imputations of dual loyalty threaten American democracy and have no place in American political discourse”

They just said that American political discourse has no place in American political discourse, and I agree with that. If they want to get more specific, let’s see them condemn christianity and colonialism and stop taking any money from any lobbyists at all. Imputations of dual loyalty are a critique on the political axis, not religious/tribal – perhaps today’s congresspeople don’t remember America’s big concern that John F. Kennedy’s catholicism might mean he was going to secretly take orders from the pope. They should, some of them are so ancient they were probably in congress at that time. When Joe Lieberman was candidate for Vice President on Al Gore’s ticket, was there a big discussion about whether or not his tribal/religious identity would influence his politics? [it] Of course! That’s why Gore invited him on the ticket in the first place! Gore didn’t make a big deal out of being christian (he pretended to be just christian enough not to be accused of being an atheist) but, as a christian, Gore’s an antisemite in principle; it’s just un-examined.

I think that the mainstream democratic party was thrilled to have an excuse to hammer Ilhan Omar, who was going to come under attack for being a woman and a muslim if she asked “what time is it?” in the wrong tone of voice. Sure, she could have been more cautious in wording her objections – Twitter is a notoriously bad communications channel if you’re talking about anything of consequence where you need to set up and support an argument. It’s sad that she cannot voice her opinion on certain matters of fact without doing it extremely carefully, but that’s the world we live in.

What I’d like to see is a study mapping the political leanings of politicians voting based on who they take money from. Of course, it would be a huge undertaking because – oddly – both congresspeople and lobbyists work fairly hard to make it non-obvious. Does a congressperson who takes money from the NRA tend to vote the way the NRA wants them to? (hint: yes) Does a congressperson who gets a junket to Israel and money from AIPAC tend to vote the way AIPAC wants them to? Remember: the entire premise of lobbying is that it influences politics; otherwise they would not do it. I believe that what Ilhan Omar said amounted to pulling back the edge of the lid of a very nasty can of worms, and the people who wanted to keep the lid on that can smacked her down hard because they cannot afford to have what’s under that lid examined more closely. Consider, for example, Gilens and Page’s study on what congress does compared to public opinion: they don’t actually “represent” the will of the people at all. [princeton] Well, who do they represent, then? The lobbyists, apparently. It’s not antisemitic to say that money has too much influence on American politics, unless the accusation of antisemitism is just a quick way of changing the subject while congress keeps stuffing gym bags of money in its cash lockers.

A great deal of empirical research speaks to the policy influence of one or another set of actors, but until recently it has not been possible to test these contrasting theoretical predictions against each other within a single statistical model. We report on an effort to do so, using a unique data set that includes measures of the key variables for 1,779 policy issues. Multivariate analysis indicates that economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on U.S. government policy, while average citizens and mass-based interest groups have little or no independent influence. The results provide substantial support for theories of Economic-Elite Domination and for theories of Biased Pluralism, but not for theories of Majoritarian Electoral Democracy or Majoritarian Pluralism

It goes without saying that the reason it has been impossible to test Page and Gilen’s hypothesis is because congress works as hard as the lobbyists do to obscure those facts. That’s not antisemitism; that’s coincidence.

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Disclosure: I have donated in the past to BDS because I support Palestinian rights and I do not support religious/ethnic states in general, it’s a bad precedent and you can see the consequences of religious/ethnostates in Gaza and the United States.

In the course of thinking about this, I was digging around about the core antisemitism in christianity and found one group of Lutherans who went so far as to declare their non-support for antisemitism in Luther’s beliefs, categorically: [lu]

WHEREAS, Anti-Semitism and other forms of racism are a continuing problem in our world; and

WHEREAS, Some of Luther’s intemperate remarks about the Jews are often cited in this connection; and

WHEREAS, It is widely but falsely assumed that Luther’s personal writings and opinions have some official status among us (thus, sometimes implying the responsibility of contemporary Lutheranism for those statements, if not complicity in them); but also WHEREAS, It is plain from scripture that the Gospel must be proclaimed to all people–that is, to Jews also, no more and no less than to others (Matt. 28:18-20); and

WHEREAS, This Scriptural mandate is sometimes confused with anti-Semitism; therefore be it

Resolved, That we condemn any and all discrimination against others on account of race or religion or any coercion on that account and pledge ourselves to work and witness against such sins; and be it further

Resolved, That we reaffirm that the bases of our doctrine and practice are the Scriptures and the Lutheran Confessions and not Luther, as such; and be it further

Resolved, That while, on the one hand, we are deeply indebted to Luther for his rediscovery and enunciation of the Gospel, on the other hand, we deplore and disassociate ourselves from Luther’s negative statements about the Jewish people, and, by the same token, we deplore the use today of such sentiments by Luther to incite anti-Christian and/or anti-Lutheran sentiment; and be it further

It’s true that Luther’s argument with the catholic church was a power struggle and I doubt that his racist/ethno-prejudices had much to do with it. Why not? Because the catholics are fucking antisemites, too.


  1. Reginald Selkirk says

    whether Martin Luther was antisemitic (he was!)

    What, the author of On the Jews and Their Lies anti-semitic? I refuse to believe it.

  2. Reginald Selkirk says

    Gingrich: And they had a chance to go many places

    A chance? They had a necessity to go to other places, because their land was being stolen for purposes of Zionism.

  3. says

    When Stalin wiped out the property-owning class he also explicitly targeted them as jews – it makes it a bit harder to figure out what his real target was.

    I’d say the target was the property-owning class. In addition to Jews, Stalin also killed Poles, Lithuanians, Estonians, Latvians, Ukrainians, Russians, etc.

  4. says

    Ieva Skrebele@#3:
    I’d say the target was the property-owning class

    I agree. But – according to those who are criticizing Ilhan Omar, saying “property-owning class” is probably an antisemitic dog-whistle.

    Stalin was an equal opportunity absolutist; I don’t think he cared about anything except power and maintenance of power – anything else was secondary.

    Stumbling around in the history of Stalin is pretty horrifying. I read Sebag Montefiore’s The Court of the Red Tsar a number of years ago and it leaves one a bit numb. [wc] Did you know that Stalin’s executioner, Vasily Blohkin, set the record for most people personally killed in a day in modern recorded history? He shot 7000 polish prisoners at Katyn. He had a team of people walking behind him reloading clips for his pistol so he didn’t have to pause. [wik] I hope the Guiness Book of World Records omits him but I’m now scared to check.

    (To be fair, it’s possible that the actual record is held by some Mongol who is now lost to history. The mongols were pretty impressive at the mass killing and you don’t have to reload a knife.)

  5. says

    I’ve been trying to figure out how and why a Somali immigrant would be expected to know mainly Western and mostly right-wing anti-Semitic tropes. I think you pretty-well covered that (i.e., she really shouldn’t).

  6. efogoto says

    @4 Marcus: The wiki article you linked says Blohkin “named the Guinness World Record holder for ‘Most Prolific Executioner’ in 2010.”

  7. says

    Did you know that Stalin’s executioner, Vasily Blohkin, set the record for most people personally killed in a day in modern recorded history?

    Yes, the horrors of the Soviet regime are a topic I’m very familiar with. That was very prominently featured in Latvian history curriculum for school children. Apparently, current Latvian politicians and those who decide what to teach at schools want kids to learn to hate the Soviet regime, communism, and maybe Russians too.

    Speaking of politicians indoctrinating their citizens to hate some other group of people, have you ever wondered about whether racism and ethnic hatred are just tools for those in power? I frequently wonder about how much prejudice there would be in the world if rulers and politicians didn’t actively propagate it. Definitely much less. Maybe even none at all.

    Whenever I observe two groups of people that dislike one another, I frequently notice how this hatred serves a political purpose and how rulers actively encourage and maintain it. Examples:
    (1) Nazi Germany—Hitler wanted to take all the property owned by Jews. On top of that, he could use Jews as a convenient scapegoat that could be blamed for various problems within Germany. And, on top of that, he also created an enemy figure that he could rally against in an attempt to increase his own popular support.
    (2) Racism in USA—in order to successfully enslave other human beings, it was necessary for white people to proclaim that blacks are inferior, stupid, incapable of independently taking care of themselves. It was also necessary to hate them—after all, unless you hate some human being, you will feel empathy towards them and won’t be so willing to abuse and enslave this person. Creating a narrative that blacks must be despised and segregated from white people also helped to maintain the institution of slavery.
    (3) In Ramp Hollow: The Ordeal of Appalachia the author described the exact same pattern—those who had political power wanted to confiscate the land where a bunch of other people already lived. Thus, before taking the land, they spent some decides talking about how those people who lived there were bad people thus justifying their abuse.
    (4) Trump’s rallying against Mexican citizens. For him it serves a political purpose, namely getting the support of people who already have some prejudice against these people. Yet Trump keeps on talking about how these people are lazy criminals thus further increasing and nurturing whatever prejudice his supporters already had.

    I can see this pattern wherever I look. Some ruler wants to start a war, wants to take other people’s property or land, wants to enslave other people, wants to find a scapegoat to distract public attention from his own shortcomings, wants to ponder to existing ethnic or racial prejudices in order to gain popular support, wants to create an enemy figure for his political campaign, and then, in order to serve this purpose, the propaganda machine starts spinning and citizens are taught to hate this other group of people.

    After all, as long as some other group of people is seen in a positive light by the population, a ruler cannot simply take their property. Then his own citizens will perceive these people as victims and sympathize with their ordeal. Therefore you demonize these people, teach your citizens to hate them, and then it’s OK to abuse them.

    Speaking of ethnic hatred being a tool for politicians, it’s a pretty damn versatile tool. You can use it in so many ways. You can even accuse somebody else of being racist in order to silence the opposition and stop any legitimate criticism about your own policies.

  8. says

    I forgot to mention one more important way how ethnic conflicts are used for political purposes: divide and conquer. If inside a single country there are citizens of several different ethnicities, politicians can create a conflict among them. While the citizens are busy fighting against each other, they won’t have time to pay close attention to how the politicians engage in corruption, appropriate national resources, and steal from their citizens.

  9. says

    The wiki article you linked says Blohkin “named the Guinness World Record holder for ‘Most Prolific Executioner’ in 2010.”

    I didn’t read the wikipedia article closely; I was going by memory. When it comes to Blokhin, I’m happy to let my aging brain erase some of the details. Or, I was.

  10. says

    Ieva Skrebele@#7:
    Religion and tribalism are the two things that political leaders have that they can “divide and conquer” with. There’s also class – which is referred to as “populism” by the defenders of the upper class. Religion and tribalism are easier weapons to wield than class, because causing a class war is often fatal to politicians unless the people are remarkably easy to fool or the class war has already been won and the victors are mopping-up.

  11. brucegee1962 says

    The way I heard it was that Luther didn’t start out anti-Semitic. He thought that the only reason they hadn’t all converted to Christianity ages ago was due to the evils of Catholicism. Once they were exposed to the true Christian doctrine as HE taught it, he’d just have to sit back and wait, and they’d all convert en masse.

    It was only when that failed to happen, that he decided that they all ought to be killed.

    Sometimes Luther doesn’t strike me as the sharpest toothpick in the box.

  12. Roj Blake says

    Never understood why xtians hated jews for killing jesus. No crucifixion = no resurrection = no xtianity. Same as they revile Judas, but Judas was an essential part of the plan.

  13. says

    Roj Blake@#12:
    Never understood why xtians hated jews for killing jesus. No crucifixion = no resurrection = no xtianity. Same as they revile Judas, but Judas was an essential part of the plan.

    Their hatred is also part of the plan! Checkmate, atheist scum! It’s plans all the way down!

    PS – Eve was framed.

  14. John Morales says

    What’s most amusing is that Jesus was a professed Jew, who upheld Judaic Law.

    (Matthew 5:17 – 5L18)

  15. Pierce R. Butler says

    “Remember, there was no Palestine as a state. It was part of the Ottoman Empire” until the early 20th century, Gingrich said.

    [shocker warning] For a former college history professor with a Ph.D., NG doesn’t know much about history.

    A hint, Newt: the “Palestinians” (under a name spelled and pronounced slightly differently) feature prominently in what you probably call “The Old Testament” (I just found 247 verses mentioning them). Noteworthy among them were Goliath and Delilah, just to pick a couple of names you might find familiar from Sunday School.

  16. says

    Pierce R. Butler@#15:
    A hint, Newt: the “Palestinians” (under a name spelled and pronounced slightly differently) feature prominently in what you probably call “The Old Testament”

    You can’t expect a philistine like Gingrich to know something like that.

  17. bmiller says

    John Morales: The reason for that, of course, is modern Christianity is really PAULIANITY. Paul never met Jesus, feuded terribly with those (Jews) who had, and his ministry focused on the Gentiles. Hence…Judaism is deemphasized pretty heavily in Paulianity.

  18. bmiller says

    PIERCE: My understanding is that there is very little difference between the different subsets of Canaanites. It’s politics all the way down! :(

  19. John Morales says

    bimiller, perhaps.

    Hence…Judaism is deemphasized pretty heavily in Paulianity.

    Yet the misleading term Judeo-Christian gets bruited about.

    Its main social purpose is, I think, to attempt to exclude Islam; the other of the three Abrahamic religions.

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