To the Editor:
Melanie Phillips confuses the political and theological in her essay on “The Return of Christian Anti-Semitism” [June 2014]. Her definition of anti-Semitism is merely assumed as a univocal weapon to be hurled at opponents of her political and theological assessments. Anti-Semitism, anti-Judaism, and anti-Zionism are not necessarily synonymous.
The term anti-Semitism was coined in the 19th century and has racial overtones. One could be anti-Jewish or anti-Judaizing—in a theological sense or as a response to ethnic tensions—without being racist. Zionism, being a political movement with theological overtones, can generate political and theological opposition, which is not per se anti-Semitic. Not all Jews are Zionists.
The notion that the Church is the new Israel is a theological point and not necessarily “vicious,” as Phillips claims. It is the crux of the Jewish-Christian theological argument. Certainly the Talmud takes a theologically anti-Jesus/anti-Christian stance, conveying a theological opposition going back to the expulsion of Jewish Christians from the synagogue both before and after the destruction of the Temple in 70 C.E. Is this vicious?
Ms. Phillips assumes that Jews play no part in conflicts with Christians past and present. No long-standing conflict is ever that black and white. That being said, I don’t disagree with her assessment of the current scene in the Middle East. I consider Israel more of an ally and a better refuge for Christians than the lands of an increasingly violent Islam. Jesus was certainly not an anachronistic Palestinian, but the Man from Galilee.
Fr. Leonard F. Villa
Yonkers, New York
To the Editor:
The excellent cover article by Melanie Phillips is as important for Gentiles as for Jews. It is filled with crucial truth, which sadly cannot be found in either Christianity Today or World magazine. The British evangelical John Stott is especially dangerous, having at one time taught the truth before moving the Lausanne Congress steadily toward “holistic mission.” He had become such a respected leader that few complained even when he concluded that the biblical doctrine of eternal punishment should be ignored in favor of so-called annihilationism. As Ms. Phillips writes of such people, they are “unwilling or unable to preach the literal truth of scripture” and thus “have turned themselves into campaigners for the poor and oppressed.”
This is the real issue in the return of “Christian anti-Semitism.” We are certain to see it grow as the church concludes that no one is lost but is instead either wounded or hurting.
Carol K. Tharp
To the Editor:
The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) explained its divestment from corporations doing work in Israel by arguing that the Israelis are supporting “non-peaceful pursuits.” This raises suspicion that, for example, Caterpillar is being targeted not because its bulldozers are moving earth in Syria but because they are used by the Israel Defense Forces. Likewise, Motorola and Hewlett-Packard are targets not because they sell printers and cell phones to Iran but because they have large operations in Israel. Notice there have been no initiatives on divesting from the (many) companies manufacturing in China, which occupies and oppresses Tibet. Such double standards have a name: official, traditional, Christian anti-Semitism.
The Reverend Larry Grimm of PC(U.S.A.) hoped for much more than divestment from a few companies: Grimm let the “everyone would be better off if there were no Israel” cat out of the bag on his Facebook page when he wrote: “America is the Promised Land. We all know this. Come to the land of opportunity. Quit feeling guilt about what you are doing in Palestine, Jewish friends. Stop it. Come home to America!”
PC(U.S.A.)’s Mideast committee also passed a resolution urging the Church to reconsider its support for a two-state solution, a position that certainly follows from Grimm’s view that there should be no Jewish state. Eliminating Jews is a tried and true anti-Semitic play.
East Windsor, New Jersey
To the Editor:
Melanie Phillips has written an excellent, thorough article. I note her description of the particular pervasiveness and virulence of the Anglican Church’s hostility to Israel. As a student of the British Mandate period, I have long thought that the bad experience the British had as rulers of Palestine colors British attitudes toward Israel and Palestinians to this day.
For most of the 30-year Mandate, British–Jewish relations were strained. Most of the British ruling elite were anti-Zionist and anti-Semitic, often openly so. In the late 1930s, Palestine’s Arab community openly rebelled and the British responded brutally, using methods such as mass hangings. Just before the Holocaust began, the British did a volte-face and barred Jewish immigration, cutting off the last possible haven from Nazi genocide. Following World War II, the Jews revolted and the British tried to suppress them as well. Eventually, the British abandoned Palestine, leaving it in chaos and conflict. To add insult to injury, Britain’s Arab clients lost the ensuing war.
Eventually, the British government made peace with Israel and became a close ally of Israel’s. But the bitter memories of what could be called Britain’s Vietnam still rankles somewhere in the national consciousness, and that humiliation feeds into what is going on in Great Britain today.
To the Editor:
Melanie Phillips’s brilliant and much-needed essay on the erosion of support for Israel among Christians is accurate. The point should be made, too, that the influence of the “Palestinian narrative” is most critically being felt not in the Catholic and mainline traditions, but within evangelicalism. Arab propagandists are burrowing straight into the heart of the Pentecostal, Charismatic, Southern Baptist, and Nondenominational circles. People like Sami Awad are working with his friends in the American evangelical community to dupe the rank and file. They are targeting Millennials, who are not aware they are being lied to in this propaganda war. The situation is critical.
Bella Vista, Arkansas
To the Editor:
To characterize evangelical Christians as Christian Zionists would be incorrect. Christian Zionists are but a small part of the evangelical movement, such as Pastor Hagee’s group. It would be more accurate to break down the evangelicals into “social” and “scripture” evangelicals. The latter are older and far more sympathetic to Israel. Social evangelicals are much more social-minded and are critical of Israel. While they might not dislike Israel, they are more sympathetic to the Palestinians.
It has been negligent of the Jewish community to take evangelical support as a given. Social evangelicals are more closely aligned with mainstream Christianity and are a growing proportion of the evangelical movement. That is the critical split in this conflict.
Melanie Phillips writes:
Leonard F. Villa mistakenly assumes that I use the term anti-Semitism as some kind of all-purpose weapon against intellectual opponents. I do not. I use it with precision. The term was indeed coined in the 19th century—by an anti-Semite. Despite the linguistic illiteracy of the term, it is commonly understood to mean prejudice against, or hatred of, Jews.
This Jew-hatred goes back to the earliest times but is commonly understood to have taken two distinct forms in history: first theological and then racial anti-Semitism. I would argue it has now mutated into a third manifestation: hatred of Jewish peoplehood and their corresponding right to self-determination in their historic homeland of Israel.
Zionism is nothing other than the movement for the self-determination of the Jewish people in that homeland. Zionism as a political movement may have started only in the 19th century, but the self-determination of the Jewish people in the land of Israel is fundamental to Judaism.
The distinctions Fr. Villa attempts to draw between anti-Semitism, anti-Judaism, and anti-Zionism might have a superficial plausibility but are in fact spurious. Judaism is a kind of three-legged stool, made up of the people, the book, and the land. Remove one of these legs and Judaism loses meaning.
It is true that not all Jews are Zionists. So what? Not all Jews keep the Sabbath or the dietary laws. That doesn’t mean the Sabbath or dietary laws are not intrinsic to Judaism. They are. So too is Zionism. To be anti-Zionist is therefore to be anti-Judaism. The fact that some Jews evince this unfortunate prejudice does not make the correspondence any less true.
If Fr. Villa is claiming that supersessionism is intrinsic to Christianity, there would seem to be many Christians who disagree. Surely a more accommodating approach is reached by those Christians who believe that Christianity was grafted onto the Jewish tree rather than being planted in its place. And if he is suggesting that Jews have hated Christians just as Christians hated the Jews, I think he has missed the point. The theological opposition in the Talmud to which he refers was essentially defensive against a creed that clearly, and explicitly, threatened Judaism. To equate that with the baseless hatred in anti-Semitism is to misunderstand the essence of prejudice.
The points made by David Shayne and Manuel Lazerov in particular are well taken. I am grateful for other supportive comments.