The Story: Several dozens anti-Semitic threats and acts of vandalism have occurred over the past few weeks, causing Jewish Americans throughout the country to fear for their safety.
The Background: Over the weekend vandals toppled about 170 headstones at a Jewish cemetery in St. Louis, Missouri. The FBI and Department of Justice are also investigating a rash of bomb threats to Jewish centers across the United States. Since January, 54 Jewish Community Centers (JCCs) in 27 states and one Canadian province have received 69 bomb threats, including 11 on Monday.
According to ABC News, David Posner, director of strategic performance at JCC Association of North America, said that while the JCCs that received the threats have all resumed operations “with a heightened level of security,” he added, “we will not be cowed by threats intended to disrupt people’s lives.”
“While we are relieved that all such threats have proven to be hoaxes and that not a single person was harmed, we are concerned about the anti-Semitism behind these threats, and the repetition of threats intended to interfere with day-to-day life,” Posner said. “Local JCCs serve not just the Jewish community but the entire community. Participants from all different backgrounds come to their local JCCs.”
These incidents follow a rise over the past few years in anti-Semitic violence. As Matthew Hawkins of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission notes,
Lest we think this is only a European problem, violent anti-Semitic assaults in the U.S. saw an increase of over 50 percent in 2015. Anti-Semitic incidents on American college campuses alone doubled in 2015. Those numbers eclipse 2014, which was already a disturbingly high year for such incidents. That was the year the FBI reported that 56 percent of all anti-religious hate crimes were anti-Semitic in nature, though Jews make up a mere 1.8 percent of the population. That year also included the murder of three people by a white-supremacist gunman who opened fire at two Jewish institutions in Kansas, a day before Passover.
Why It Matters: The German journalist Wilhelm Marr, founder of the Antisemiten-Liga (Anti-Semitic League), coined the term “anti-Semitism” in an 1879 pamphlet opposing the influence of Jews on German culture. Marr was an instigator of anti-Jewish sentiment in 19th-century Germany who came to regret his animus. Toward the end of his life, he published another pamphlet, Testament of an Antisemite, renounced his own hatred of the Jewish people, and expressed concern that anti-Semitism in Germany was becoming entangled with mysticism and nationalism.
Marr had reason to be worried. Over the next 66 years, the German people showed the world how Judenhass (“Jew-hatred”) could lead to Auschwitz and other Nazi extermination camps. But the problem was not just with Marr and other Germans. The road to the Holocaust was paved by centuries of anti-Semitism, and crosses through a large swath of the history of Christianity. Even after the scandal of Shoah it took until the end of the 20th century for the Christian community to finally and forcefully repudiate anti-Semitism and repent of our sinful disdain, prejudice, and hatred toward the Jewish people.
Unfortunately, while the “longest hatred” has been significantly quelled in the United States, it has not been eradicated from within the hearts of men. We may not be able to directly stop the violence and harassment ourselves, but Christians can, as a community of believers, calm some of the concerns of Jewish Americans by showing we are in solidarity with them. We can say, as the Southern Baptist Convention did in 2003, that we “denounce all forms of anti-Semitism as contrary to the teachings of our Messiah and an assault on the revelation of Holy Scripture” and that “we affirm to Jewish people around the world that we stand with them against any harassment that violates our historic commitments to religious liberty and human dignity.” We can send them the message that we Americans who worship the King of the Jews will no longer tolerate anti-Semitism in our country.