Holy Hate: Religious Antisemitism’s History and Contemporary Political Influence
| by Mike S. Broschowitz
Read the full report here: Holy Hate: Religious Antisemitism’s History and Contemporary Political Influence
In recent years antisemitic conspiracy theories have played a significant factor in the large-scale radicalization of right-wing politics into outright fascism and religious nationalism, as well as contributing to the surge in militant accelerationism among the extreme right. With the rise of more overtly fascist worldviews from the political right, even the cynical “philosemitic” pretense of Christian Zionism has given way to the return of the explicit antisemitism that has defined the last two thousand years. As the Holocaust fades from living memory, the collective revulsion at its grisly horrors has been slowly eroded by the determined thrust of an assemblage of ethnic, racial, and religious nationalisms that constitute a major political force around the world. Thus, the crude and violent antisemitic invective of yesteryear returns with a fresh coat of paint in contemporary right-wing mass movements.
Historically, antisemitic conspiracy theories have provided a centralizing framework for other racist conspiracy theories (e.g., The Protocols of the Elders of Zion and the Great Replacement) and have contributed to violent manifestations of Christian nationalism during the pogroms and within the framework of the Holocaust. The phrase “never forget” is frequently invoked in reference to the pernicious legacy of the Holocaust that hangs over its survivors and descendants—but forget the world has, particularly when it comes to the wider lessons of the history of antisemitism in religion, culture, and politics. Consequently, we are ushering in a new era defined by the crimes, mistakes, and prejudices of the past. As written in Kohelet: What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.
The presence of antisemitism in political discourse exists across the world and predates contemporary political conceptions and movements. Thus, to tackle holistically and truly understand the depth and pervasiveness of the problem, the meanings behind certain symbols and tropes that might not be well-understood as contributing to radicalization into hatred and violence, and to provide reference points for why and how certain assumptions came to exist and how they have manifested throughout history, we must turn to the history of antisemitism. This report will attempt to lay out the particularities and nuances of antisemitic beliefs that originate in religious movements, their histories, and how they continue to influence and express themselves through political movements today.
The development of religious antisemitism was shaped by negative pagan attitudes towards Jews in pre-Christian classical antiquity being subsumed into and exacerbated within the early church’s theology, mythology, rhetoric, politics, and the construction of the New Testament of the Christian Bible itself. Seeking to differentiate themselves from Jews while ingratiating themselves with the initially hostile Roman Empire, many early Christians deployed antisemitic conspiracy theories and tropes that were already familiar within the societies they lived in. These conspiracy theories and negative perceptions that allege an ingrained corrosive, impure, diseased, impious, and scheming Jewish character that positions them as the primary antagonists against god and man alike, along with the deadly conspiracy theory of blood libel that developed in Medieval Europe—the ritual murder and consumption of non-Jews as a Jewish reenactment of the crucifixion of Jesus—were combined with the supersessionist belief of replacement theology and the charge of deicide. This religiously-motivated bigotry later had a direct and profound influence on the economic, nationalist, and racial antisemitism in the Western world, which in turn influenced religious antisemitism in a self-reinforcing feedback loop. In no uncertain terms, this is not to say that Christians as people are inherently antisemitic—this could not be further from the truth—though antisemitism, however, has a long and institutionally rooted history within these religious traditions and their histories. Antisemitism thusly functions as the nexus of radical religious and political ideologies, necessitating familiarity with the history, nuances, and dangers of antisemitism if one is to understand the form, substance, and transmission of anti-democratic extremism today, especially and particularly on the political right.