Statements on Antisemitic Violence: 2019-2020

Reflections on the Recent Explosion of Antisemitic Acts

The following remarks are adapted from an interview given on the website Profiles in Catholicism. Dr. Eugene J. Fisher served for thirty years as the staff expert on Catholic-Jewish relations for Catholic bishops of the United States. 


There has been a dramatic escalation of antisemitic rhetoric and attacks on individual Jews and synagogues in New York and around our country. This is also tragically true in Great Britain and throughout Europe, and even Australia. There have also been violent attacks on Churches, Mosques and other religious sites in this country and around the world. So one factor is a rise in racial, ethnic and religious hatred and violence in general, of which antisemitism is, sadly, a key element.

One factor is the rise of extremism, on both the right and the left, partly in response to the migration of large numbers of people seeking sanctuary and a better life, both in the U.S. and in Europe. In the U.S., the largest immigrant group is from Central America. Hence the controversies over our border with Mexico. Some Americans also fear immigrants from other places, such as Muslim countries and even China. In Europe, the immigrants are largely Muslims from Africa. In both the U.S. and Europe some people believe that these refugees will weaken the White nature of their countries.

In the U.S., these people forget the very nature of our country as a nation of immigrants, as the famous statement (written by an immigrant American Jew, Emma Lazarus) on the Statue of Liberty (given to us by France in honor of the French refugees our country admitted). This inscription, part of a larger poem, rightly defines our country as one welcoming all those in need and those looking for a better life, many, as is the case of Central Americans today, fleeing from violence and oppression in their own countries.

America was created by and has prospered because of immigrants. Its original sin was and is racial: the near extermination of native Americans and the enslavement of African Americans. Our society has still not fully repented for and resolved the after-effects of this great American sin.

Historically, during the period of voluminous immigration in the late 19th and first half of the 20th centuries, Jews were classified by most Americans (i.e. White Anglo-Saxon Protestants – WASPs) not as a separate “race” but as a lower and different ethnic/religious group to be kept out of the “best” neighborhoods, schools, jobs, etc., along their fellow second-class citizens, Catholics, which is why dialogue between Jews and Catholics began earlier in our country than in Europe. It was only in World War II when our country was fighting a war both across the Atlantic and the Pacific oceans, that WASP Americans began, reluctantly, to realize that we Catholics and Jews were needed to win, and so, gradually, came to be accepted.

Now, however, the anti-immigrant rhetoric, which began as a fear of the immigration of “colored” people from Central America, has whipped up rhetoric, and hatred of minorities such as Jews, Muslims, and others. Concerning Jews, the hate-mongers have fallen back on the ancient and sadly contemporary anti-Jewish and antisemitic tropes that have been condemned by the Catholic Church (if not all Catholics) beginning with the historic declaration issued by the world's bishops during the Second Vatican Council, Nostra Aetate in 1965.

Over the centuries in Europe Jews were convenient scapegoats for the powers that be to “explain” problems facing society. This reached extreme levels at times. If the water from a well went bad, for example, Jews were blamed for poisoning it, even though it was their only source of water. As Europe today faces difficulties assimilating immigrants from Africa and the Middle East, Jews again are used as a convenient scapegoat, and so antisemitism is on the rise there. Similarly, Jews are an all too convenient scapegoat for Americans who fear that African-Americans and colored folks may in the not too distant future become the majority of the citizens of this country.

As I noted above, antisemitism can be found in the extremes of both the right and the left. On the right, a resurgence of “traditional” antisemitism can be seen in such groups as the KKK, which hates, as it did traditionally, “Koons” (African Americans), "Kikes" (Jews) and K(C)atholics (Central Americans). On the left, sympathy for the Palestinians (who do deserve sympathy and support, as many American Jews will strongly attest) has morphed into anti-Israel hate. One can see this in the comparisons of Israel with the now-abandoned apartheid of South Africa. Israel is seen as the sole cause of the troubles of the Palestinians, despite the fact that the overall Arab/Muslim refusal to accept even the existence of a tiny Jewish state in the Middle East is a core part of the difficulty of Palestinians have had in accepting a reasonable two-state solution.

The Holy See, since the establishment of the State of Israel, has been both pro-Palestinian and pro-Israel and has called, again and again, for a resolution of the conflict that will meet the core needs of both peoples. But all too many on the extreme left in this country, have joined the chorus of voices blaming only Israel and, indeed, calling for a “solution” that would end the very existence of the State of Israel from the antisemitism that rationalized Nazi Germany's attempt to annihilate the entire Jewish people.

A great irony of antisemitism is that it calls the Jews a “race.” But the Jewish people are a people, originally composed of 12 differing “tribes.” And one can become, as many have over the centuries, fully Jewish by converting to Judaism. “Your people will be my people, and your God my God.”

Central to antisemitism is a rejection of Christianity. The bible of the Jews, the Hebrew Scriptures/Old Testament, was inspired by God and written by Jews, for Jews. The authors of the New Testament were also Jews, writing about the Jew, Jesus/Yeshua, primarily for their fellow Jews, but through Paul open to gentile converts (as Judaism was and is, of course). To hate Jews as a “race” is to hate Jesus, Joseph, Mary and their faith, first-century Judaism. So a rejection of Christian as well as Jewish faith is a central factor in antisemitism, both in Europe and in the US.

Christians need to speak out, as they have been, to condemn in no uncertain terms antisemitism and Islamophobia, as well as anti-Hispanic and anti-immigrant rhetoric and actions.  We need to live up to the words on the Statue of Liberty which were, it should be noted, written by Emma Lazarus, a Jewish woman.  Also Christians should raise funds to assist the repair and rebuilding of mosques, synagogues and Jewish cemeteries, and personally go to the affected communities to help in that work.