Anti-Jewish Sentiment

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Every year there is the commemoration of the Shoa as the Jews call the Holocaust. Holocaust means actually sacrifice or slaughter, see the Italian word olocausto. The anti-Jewish sentiment is the main cause that triggered the Shoa (I use the word anti-Jewish sentiment because Arabs are Semitic people too. Therefore anti-Semitism is not correct.) It seems to me to be important to discover what the background of the Christian anti-Jewish sentiment is, because Israeli authorities are not interested in Christian opinion or in any kind of criticism, even from inside their own people. But there is more. A question is also, why it looks as if Israeli authorities don’t want to make comprises in order to realize peace. Moreover, the law that calls Israel a Jewish nation-state makes it worse by excluding Arabs as equal citizens as they feel it.

I start with Jesus Christ, who was a Jew and a strictly religious leader. He didn’t interfere with politics, but one quote became for Him deadly: “Give to the Caesar what belongs to the Caesar and to G’d what belongs to G’d.” (The Christian Bible St. Mathew 22,15 -22) The Caesar had the pretention to be a god. The Caesar needed this title, because in the ruling Greek culture a human being had no meaning, only who is god, can have authority.

With this statement, Jesus said: Caesar, you are not G’d. On this way he attacked the position the Caesar thought to have. Therefore Jesus got the death penalty and was crucified.

The Jews could kill Him. The secular leader had the power to behead Him like St. John the Baptist (The Christian Bible St. Mathew 14,1-12). The religious leaders could kill Him like Stephane was stoned (The Christian Bible The Acts 7,54-60). But Jesus was crucified by the Romans. The idea of the Romans was also, that by killing Him the movement around Jesus should disappear like it happened in the past with other rebellious movements. But they were wrong, just because He was an inspiring religious person for the ordinary people. In the end, rulers can’t control the minds of people.

In this way, there arose a situation, in which the followers of Jesus, the Christians, blamed the Caesar for the death of Jesus and the Caesar saw the Christians as a threat for his position. This can explain the persecution of Christians during the first centuries.

Then Constantine became smarter and became a Christian like his successors. No longer could the Christians blame the Caesar as responsible for the death of Jesus. Rereading the Christian Bible they read that the Jews called for the death of Jesus (The Christian Bible St. John 19,14-16). So now the Christians started to blame the Jews for the death of Jesus. But we have to read carefully what has been written. I discover it, when a friend of our parish in Bethlehem told me, that when he was young and went with other young people to Nazareth, they looked down on the people of Nazareth. The same I have heard some years ago, when a Dutch woman who was at a party with two children from Nazareth, told me that one said: can come any good from Nazareth? (St. John 1,46), She left the party.

So Jews from Judea didn’t like Jews from Galilee. It means that where has been written Jews, we have to read the people from Judea. The consequence is that the people of Judea shouted: crucify the man from Galilee (not our man from Judea).

Jews were excluded from Christian society. The impact is known: Jews couldn’t have an ordinary job, but only in the money business, which was forbidden for Christians. It put Jews in a powerful but also a very vulnerable position. If you can’t pay your debts, kick them out.

Exclusion of people has always a bad impact. An example of the special position of Jews in society told once an old Swiss sister to me. She was born on a small farm in West Switzerland. Every year her father had to sell one or two cows in order to make both ends meet. Always there were Jews who bought the cows and always there were problems with the money. Later on, there came also Jews who sold stuff for making clothes. It was always good stuff. Both examples are not typically Jewish. Who buys something, looks for his own profit. Who sells something, deliver good quality in order to keep customers. But it is strange that Jews had the monopoly in buying cows and selling stuff for clothes. You can’t blame them for this.


In the Middle Ages anti- Judaism got a new impulse by the silly story that Jews used the blood of young boys in order to make matzos, which Jews eat during Pesach. Two stories were used to “prove” that this happened, both in England, in 1144, when little William was found stabbed in Lincoln and in 1255 when little Hugh was found dead in a Jew’s pit. The poor Jew named Copin confessed, in exchange for his life, that the boy Hugh was crucified. His life was saved -- 18 other Jews were hanged for their "crime".

People in Morocco developed another, more civilized habit during Pesach: because during Pesach Jews don’t back bread, only matzos, the Moroccan Muslims bake bread for them. It is known as the Mimouna festival.


Another fact that stimulated anti-Jewish sentiment is the Pest in the Middle Ages with the culmination between 1347 and 1351, which killed at least 1/3 of the population in Europe. Jews were much less affected by this plague. Their death rate was much lower. This led to the accusation, that Jews poisoned the wells, by which people fell ill and died. The fact was that by the Jewish prescriptions for purification the level of hygiene was much higher. This was an important prevention to the Pest spread by a bacteria. Pope Clement VI tried to protect them by the July 6, 1348, papal bull and another 1348 bull, several months later, but 900 Jews were burnt in Strasbourg, where the plague hadn't yet affected the city thanks to the river Rhine that flows through the city. Clement VI condemned the violence and said those who blamed the plague on the Jews (among whom were the flagellants) had been "seduced by that liar, the Devil."

This reaction on the Pest related to Jews fits with the accusation from around the 12th through the 19th century by some Christians that Jews possessed magical powers; some believed that they had gained these magical powers from making a deal with the devil.


In the early 1890's the Tsarist Police produced a false document supposedly written by "The Elders of Zion" and titled "The Protocols of the Elders of Zion" expressing the will of the Jews to dominate the world. This document fell in the fertile ground of existing anti-Jewish sentiment in Russia and other main countries in Europe. It was a further push for the Shoa. Who is not familiar with the Jewish community and doesn’t know how complicated the Jewish community is, falls easily into the trap produced by this document. The Jewish community is very difficult to organize because of tough different opinions and positions towards each other. Some Jewish groups don’t recognize some other Jewish groups as Jewish.

Carefully reading this document one thing is remarkable: for the most, it is written in plural, but at the end more and more in the single person. The suggestion is that the document was written by a group, but finally, it was one person, who was anyhow familiar with Jewry and Masonry. The suggestion of a conspiracy is a creation of the auteur. It is always difficult to prove the opposite and such a conspiracy theory creates, therefore, distrust between people, which we have to avoid. Distrust is creeping poison among people.

The Russian background is also interesting because there was a big Jewish community and a part of them were involved in the upcoming socialist and communist movement. They were a threat to the ruling Czars. Maybe, for this reason, Communism is also mentioned in this paper. It is also possible, that someone wanted to make him bigger than he is. (Anyhow, I suppose that the auteur was a man).

The impact of this document was a further growth of anti-Jewish sentiment and violence with the top during the Nazi regime.


How dealt the Church with this phenomenon of anti-Jewish sentiment during the Nazi-time? Pope Pius XI was clearly opposed to the Nazi regime. He wrote the encyclical “Mit Brennende Sorge” (With burning worry) against the Nazi regime, published on March 4 1937. It was written in the German language! The draft was written by Cardinal Pacelli (see https://www.britannica.com/biography/Pius-XII)

But I have to recognize that there was also the anti-Jewish sentiment in the Church, which was later on denied after the atrocities during the Nazi era. An example of this sympathy can still be seen in a church, which was built by us Franciscans in the south of the Netherlands in 1930. The Stations of the Cross in the church shows Jews, awful as I have seen on a poster in Auschwitz used for elections in Germany in 1919 with the slogan: choose your own government. A disciple of the artist, who designed and made the Stations of the Cross, told once that the persons, who referred to Jews, were taken from ordinary people in a nearby city as the example, obviously not according to the reality.

The question remains why Pope XII didn’t speak out against the extermination of Jews like Pope Clement VI tried to protect the Jews in 1348. Why didn’t he use his moral authority? The encyclical from Pope XI didn’t change anything. In a certain way, one can say that anti-Jewish West was in the war against anti-Jewish Germany. If the Pope knew about the killing of the Jews, the allies have to have known this too without an attempt to stop it by attacking the railroads to the extermination camps like Auschwitz. The late Clement Leibovitz figured out that there was a collusion between the British prime minister Chamberlain and Hitler during the thirties. He wrote a book about this issue.


Anti-Jewish sentiment doesn’t make from Jews saints. No one is a saint. A difficult issue is that Jews see themselves as Chosen People. Not every Jew is happy with this concept, because they see it as a burden. It is a matter of perception. I suppose that Jews developed this idea of Chosen People, when they looked back to their history in wonder, that they managed to escape from their slavery in Egypt, they survived the Babylonian exile, while other peoples disappeared as an entity and other events in their history. They concluded that they are obviously Chosen People based on their perception on their experiences as Jewish people. This is not a problem, but the point is how to interpret these experiences, and what means Chosen People. An interpretation as if they were saved because they are a better people, is a kind of self-overestimating and reduces God to a private god for only Jews, although He created the world for whole mankind. Another interpretation is, that G'd expects from them to show a way to Him by their example. For this reason, some Jews see to be Chosen People as a burden. It is more difficult to make a mistake.


Indirectly the survival of the Babylonian exile shows a previous form of anti-Jewish sentiment. At that time there were other people in exile who disappeared completely by their exile. It is a matter of maintaining their identity or losing it and as a consequence of disappearing as discerned people. Maintain their identity meant to show to be different. This can create inconvenient feelings: There are people unequal to me, which can create anti-feelings. The anti-Jewish sentiment was born. It is like nowadays. The massive transmigration of Muslims creates the anti-Muslim sentiment.


How to deal with this still existing anti-Jewish sentiment? This is a still actual problem because it is difficult to convince Jews that the time of anti-Jewish sentiment is over. Pope Clement VI showed that the position of the top of the Church wasn’t decisive for people on the grassroots level. We can’t underestimate the impact of 1600 years actually Christian anti-Jewish sentiment in almost all churches. I can understand that a number of Jews are not interested in any opinion from the Christian side. Seeing Israel as their final rescue against anti-Jewish sentiment, some say that any criticism shows still existing anti-Jewish sentiment anyhow. Nevertheless what we have to do is to show our own integrity and honesty in the way we deal with Jewish people, especially wherein the past anti-Jewish sentiment played a role. It is an investment for a more peaceful future.


A problem is the present influence of especially the American-Jewish organization AIPAC, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. There could be a temptation to say the AIPAC proves that The Protocols of the Elders of Zion are right. But AIPAC has been founded in the fifties as a reaction on the Shoa. It became more active after the six-day war in June 1967 and moreover after the Yom Kippur war in October 1973. From their point of view, I can understand that they try to control what is related to the safety of Israel. The point is if this approach from AIPAC is helpful for integration of Israel in the world society without assimilation, which means full protection as it is the guaranteed right for every other country or people. Nowadays Israeli politics shows a behavior as if it will say: in the past, the world didn’t care about us, so now we don’t care about the world. This is self-exclusion and therefore destructive. The result is the opposite of evaporation of anti-Jewish sentiment. AIPAC will not remain powerful forever.

AIPAC can also be understood as a reaction to the lack of resistance among Jews against the killing of themselves. The reaction is the opposite among members of AIPAC and its supporters and among Israeli´s. It blocks any agreement for a final peace solution. Any peace deal needs the willingness to solve problems. Any compromise can be seen as a weakness, which has to be avoided. But it can also be seen as a lack of self-confidence.

What is necessary and must be done step by step is the following: the Churches have to recognize their part of anti-Jewish sentiment and moreover why as above mentioned in order to show a change in the mind of the Churches, which is credible. A kind of education inside the churches is necessary. But more is necessary and lies on the societal and political level: I propose the development of a curriculum anti-Jewish sentiment for 15-year-old teenagers from countries with an anti-Jewish past and from the countries in the Middle East finalized with meetings between them spread over the participating countries.

Also, it is necessary that politicians change their way of dealing with Israel. Led by feelings of guilt because of the Shoa they don’t treat Israel in an adult way giving the opportunity to Israeli leaders to show a behavior of a spoiled child.

Moreover, they have to show credibility that ever human is save in the present world order like for instance the protection of Rohingya in Myanmar.


When we oversee the history of anti-Jewish sentiment, it is clear that a huge job has to be done in order to realize a world in which Jews are integrated instead of excluded without the condition of assimilation, and protected like every other human being has the right for. This is also an example for other peoples, who are a part of the world society with their own culture, convictions, and habits. Louis Bohte ofm

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Louis Bohte ofm

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