Magazine article The Spectator

Christians Who Hate the Jews

Magazine article The Spectator

Christians Who Hate the Jews

Article excerpt

IT was one of those sickening moments when an illusion is shattered and an ominous reality laid bare. I was among a group of Jews and Christians who met recently to discuss the Churches' increasing public hostility to Israel. The Jews were braced for a difficult encounter. After all, many British Jews (of whom I am one) are themselves appalled by the destruction of Palestinian villages, targeted assassinations and other apparent Israeli overreactions to the Middle East conflict.

But this debate never took place. For the Christians said that the Churches' hostility had nothing to do with Israel's behaviour towards the Palestinians. This was merely an excuse. The real reason for the growing antipathy, according to the Christians at that meeting, was the ancient hatred of Jews rooted deep in Christian theology and now on widespread display once again.

A doctrine going back to the early Church fathers, suppressed after the Holocaust, had been revived under the influence of the Middle East conflict. This doctrine is called replacement theology. In essence, it says that the Jews have been replaced by the Christians in God's favour, and so all God's promises to the Jews, including the land of Israel, have been inherited by Christianity.

Some evangelicals, by contrast, are `Christian Zionists' who passionately support the state of Israel as the fulfilment of God's Biblical promise to the Jews. But to the majority who have absorbed replacement theology, Zionism is racism and the Jewish state is illegitimate.

The Jews at the meeting were incredulous and aghast. Surely the Christians were exaggerating. Surely the Churches' dislike of Israel was rooted instead in the settlements, the occupied territories and Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. But the Christians were adamant. The hostility to Israel within the Church is rooted in a dislike of the Jews.

Church newspaper editors say that they are intimidated by the overwhelming hostility to Israel and to the Jews from influential Christian figures, which makes balanced coverage of the Middle East impossible. Clerics and lay people alike are saying openly that Israel should never have been founded at all. One Church source said that what he was hearing was a `throwback to the visceral anti-Judaism of the Middle Ages'.

At this juncture, a distinction is crucial. Criticism of Israel's behaviour is perfectly legitimate. But a number of prominent Christians agree that a line is being crossed into anti-Jewish hatred. This is manifested by ascribing to every Israeli action malevolent motives, while dismissing Palestinian terrorism and anti-Jewish diatribes; by the belief that Jews should be denied the right to self-determination and their state dismantled; by the conflation of Zionism and a `Jewish conspiracy' of vested interests; and by the disproportionate venom of the attacks.

`When I hear "the Jews" used as a term, my blood runs cold - and I've been hearing this far too often,' says Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Wales and a contender for the see of Canterbury. `Whenever I print anything sympathetic to Israel, I get deluged with complaints that I am Zionist and racist,' says Colin Blakely, the editor of the Church of England Newspaper.

Andrew White, canon of Coventry cathedral and the Archbishop of Canterbury's representative in the Middle East, is heavily engaged in trying to promote dialogue and peace between Israelis and Palestinians. He says of attitudes in the Church, `These go beyond legitimate criticism of Israel into hatred of the Jews. I get hate mail calling me a Jew-]over and saying my work is evil.'

The reason, he says, is that Palestinian Christian revisionism has revived replacement theology. `This doctrine was key in fanning the flames of the Holocaust, which could not have happened without 2,000 years of anti-Jewish polemic,' he says. After the Holocaust the Vatican officially buried the doctrine, the current Pope affirming the integrity of the Jewish people and recognising the state of Israel. …

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