The Re-emergence of Anti-Semitism:
A view from America
by Theresa Newell, LCJE Coordinator for North America


“Things have been bad, but they could get worse.” This bit of Jewish dark humor might well describe the worldwide re-emergence of a frighteningly virulent anti-Semitism. Rising not from a country that had known something of democratic ideals (Germany) but from the Islamic world of autocratic despots and reinforced by today’s European media, this new brand of anti-Semitism is bringing fresh threats to Jews universally and particularly to the existence of the State of Israel.

            Anti-Semitism cannot be ignored by those involved in Jewish evangelism. On the one hand guilt over historical anti-Semitism can lead to amelioration of the need to bring the Gospel to the Jews. On the other hand, emerging anti-Semitism leads the Jew to a place of mistrust for all that is not Jewish. Those involved in Jewish evangelism are called to combat anti-Semitism on every front in concert with their Jewish brethren while not compromising their Gospel mission.

            The paper calls attention to the details of re-emerging anti-Semitism in the prayer that awareness will lead to action on the part of the readers to confront the lie of anti-Semitism and to continue in love to share the Gospel with those who need to know that the Jewish Messiah has come in the person of Jesus Christ. To do that, I will look at: 1) current anti-Semitic trends; 2) the persistence of anti-Semitism after the Holocaust using France as a short case study; 3) historic anti-Semitism as a reflection of the persistence of evil, and; 4) current issues in the church and Jewish evangelism. Clearly, the resurgent threats against the Jewish people from the Islamic world today hold danger for Christians as well. [1]

The New Anti-Semitism

“I grew up thinking I was living in the post-Holocaust world and find it sounds more and more like a pre-Holocaust world as well.” Thus wrote Jonathan Rosen in The New York Times Magazine, November 4, 2001 reflecting on post-9-11 terror attacks that brought down the World Trade Center in Manhattan and severely damaged a portion of the Pentagon in Washington, DC. [2] Rosen’s paternal grandparents, Viennese Jews, perished in the Holocaust. Rosen’s seminal essay puts a finger on some of the traits of the “new” anti-Semitism today with Israel at the center between a virulent Islam and an elitist Europe. He reflects on the rising anti-Semitism worldwide, his response to it as an American Jew and a Zionist, and comments on the complexity of it all: the long history of anti-Semitism in Europe, often theologically-based, the current Israeli-Palestinian struggle in the Middle East, and the rising tide of fundamentalist Islam with its anti-Israel rage. “That the solution to one century’s Jewish problem has become another century’s Jewish problem is a cruel paradox,” he notes.

            Commentary, a monthly magazine published by the American Jewish Committee, ran four articles on anti-Semitism in 2002. In the October issue, Ruth Wisse, professor of Yiddish literature and professor of comparative literature at Harvard, writes that the Arab variety of anti-Semitism is even worse than the German variety because  “the sincerity and the steadfastness of this genocidal hostility, proliferating through the press, the visual media, literature, and the schools, are much greater in Arab lands than they ever were in pre-Hitler Europe.” [3]

            The following are some recent examples of the use of media used to stir anti-Semitism:

C                      Al-Riyadh, Saudi Arabia’s government supported newspaper, published a variety of the blood libel – the Jewish use of the blood of Gentile adolescents for – not Passover matzah – but for Purim pastry with the goriest of details.

                      CThe Protocols of the Elders of Zion, the Russian forgery about demonic Jewish power, was dramatized in a 30-part series on video by Arab Radio and Television with a cast of 400 and aired during the second half of Ramadan last year. [4]

                      CIn France, today’s runaway bestseller is Thierry Maysson’s The Awful Scare “whose thesis is that what we saw on television last September 11 was a hoax, carefully staged by American rightists and the Israeli Mossad.” [5]

                      CIslam Versus Ahl al-Kitab (people of the Book) by Maryam Jameelah, an American woman who converted to Islam and who now lives in Pakistan, is “extremely popular among the Islamist communities in Western Europe. Her thesis: Judeo-Christian values are contaminating every Muslim country,” and there is no way for the two groups (Judeo-Christian and Muslim) to be reconciled. [6]

Another facet of the new anti-Semitism is the blurring of definitions: anti-Semitism now equals anti-Zionism. Wisse noted that it is difficult to maintain the distinction between anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism. Without exception, the articles that I read discussed the current issue of Israel and Palestine as the main cause of the current upsurge in anti-Semitism. For the first time in Israel’s existence there are those fearing for its very existence. An August pan-Arab seminar held in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, not only promoted “revisionist historical ideas aimed at redefining Jewish identity but had dropped the distinction between Jews and Zionists” thus removing the distinguishing mark between being anti-Semitic and anti-Israel. [7]

           In both the Arab and European press Israel stands accused today of perpetrating terrorism and genocide against the Palestinians. In a strange twist of media hype, Israel has become Hitler and the Palestinians the victim. Anti-Israel demonstrations with this theme took place in cities across Europe in Spring 2002 when the mid-east crisis was at a pitch point. In Tuzla, Bosnia, some 1,500 demonstrators carried placards reading “Sharon and Hitler, Two Eyes in the same Head.” In Paris posters read: “Hitler Has a Son: Sharon” and “Mort aux Juifs” (death to the Jews). In the US, political cartoons began appearing on editorial pages with similar themes. One such example by Gene Payne appeared April 25, 2002 in The Charlotte (NC) Observer of two drawings side by side of burned down villages. The caption over the first read: “This was Poland after Hitler invaded”; and, over the second, “This is Palestine after Sharon invaded.” A “feedback” article was published soon after from a local rabbi calling the cartoon “morally and factually wrong.”

           Israeli essayist Hillel Halkin states: “The new anti-Israelism is nothing but the old anti-Semitism in disguise.” [8] Having said this, Jewish writers did not believe that if the Israeli government agreed to pre-1967 boundaries, removed settlements, etc. that anti-Semitism would disappear or that pressure on Israel would end. Rosen put it this way: “the anti-Zionism of the Arab world has adopted the generalized anti-Semitism of the European world.” [9]

           What does the average American read in its press today about the streams that underlie anti-Semitism, following September 11, 2001 attacks by Islamic fundamentalists? A random search through major US newspapers indicate several areas where the topic is discussed:

C                   On September 26, 2002, a Washington DC paper congratulated Harvard’s president, Larry Summers, “for standing up to the anti-Semites in Harvard Yard.” Summers had delivered a bold speech admonishing all those whose actions are ‘anti-Semitic in their effect, if not their intent.’ The article noted, “Petitions have been circulating on campus demanding that Harvard divest its endowment of any investments in Israel. Harvard is not alone. The divestment movement has been gathering momentum on many college campuses …”

                        COn June 3, 2002 The Washington (DC) Times carried a story [10] written by an American visitor to Paris which began: “The day after I arrived in Paris a ferocious fire ran through the Israeli Embassy near the Champs-Elysees. More than 150 firemen couldn't save it from the flames that raced up its wooden staircase and across wood paneled rooms. Speculation in the street naturally centered first on terrorists…”

C                      Six weeks later, on August 16, the same paper reported,  “France is planning a major campaign to rebut accusations of anti-Semitism and ease the concerns of Western Europe's largest Jewish community in the face of rising violence. The recently appointed conservative Cabinet has warned that ‘to attack the Jewish community is tantamount to attacking France.’ The statement, prompted by a rash of attacks on Jewish property and places of worship, comes amid a debate about the identity and loyalty of France's estimated 600,000 Jews…”

Americans, feeling the sting of anti-West hatred from Al Jazeera broadcasts aired on CNN since 9-11, are just waking up to the anti-Semitism imbedded in radical Islamic rhetoric.

                        COn July 15, 2002 The Boston Globe reported: “In the past year, as a result of the attacks on America, the war against terror, and the crisis in the Middle East, the American public has become much more aware of the disturbing prevalence of virulent anti-Semitism in many Islamic countries. There is widespread and well-founded concern that a steady diet of anti-Jewish (and often, anti-American and anti-Western) propaganda in the Arab media is fueling extremist violence and sowing hate in the hearts of millions…” [11]

At the same time there was a report that Jewish college students were finding a rise in US campus hate crimes.

C                      The Washington Times, on May 19, 2002 reported: “College campuses around the country are seeing a rise in hate crimes against Jewish students - a trend that many Jewish leaders attribute to rallies organized by pro-Palestinian student groups. A ‘Peace in the Middle East’ rally last week at San Francisco State University, organized by Jewish students, turned into a violent demonstration when a group of pro-Palestinian students surrounded them and yelled racial epithets at them …”

C                      On February 6, 2002, a Los Angeles paper carried a story “Schools’ Quran Shelved by Concerns over Anti-Semitism” and read: “Potentially anti-Semitic commentary contained in a translation of the Quran distributed to every middle school and high school in the Los Angeles Unified School District prompted school officials to remove the Muslim holy books from school libraries. Nearly 300 copies of The Meaning of the Holy Quran printed in English and Spanish will be reviewed for content. They were donated to the school district last week by the Omar Ibn Khattab Foundation…”

An Example: French Anti-Semitism

While one could cite many examples of European anti-Semitism, none is more obvious than in France. As early as March 1899, an article appeared in the “Salvation” magazine that quoted from The New York Observer: “Few evidences of the thinness of our civilization are more discouraging than the unreasoning hatred of the French people for the Jewish race.” This late 19th century article pointed out that while Jews were full citizens of France, a large class of that society was “imbued with communistic ideas, which, envious of all wealth, hates the Jews chiefly as possessors of capital.” [12]

            It was 35 years ago at the outbreak of the Six Day War that Charles de Gaulle cut off French support for Israel, denouncing its audacity in fighting for its life over his objections. He went on to denounce the Jews as “an elite people, sure of itself and domineering.” Columnist Charles Krauthammer noted: “The French can tolerate the Jew as victim but not as historical actor.” [13]

            A recent article, titled “Surge of Anti-Semitic Crime Worries French Jews,” [14] recounts the story of one Paris suburb, Garges-les-Gonesse, where anti-Semitic acts are on the rise. Blue school buses that carry children to a Jewish school had been attacked three times in 14 months. Confirming Professor Wisse’s comments about the thin line between anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism, the NYT’s article reported that a Tunisian Jew had both “Dirty Jew” and “Vive Hezbollah” spray-painted in the stairwell of his apartment building. With more than 5 million Muslims in France to 600,000 Jews (Europe’s largest Jewish population), Jews feel threatened afresh.

            The level of denial on the part of various French governments in the face of anti-Semitic acts escalating in the country is indicated by the use of euphemisms such as “a problem of community relations”, “racism”, “xenophobia”, or “the denial of human rights.”

            Gurfinkiel concludes his article with this insight: “The present anti-Semitic crisis in France should not be construed as a repetition of the past but rather as a thoroughly modern or, one might say, postmodern or postliberal development. France is not ‘racist’ in the neo-Nazi or Ku Klux Klan sense of that word. But it is on the front line of what Samuel Huntington has termed the clash of civilizations, and both politically and culturally it is especially ill-equipped to deal with it” [15]

            While France has been called “the epicenter of aggression” in the current upsurge of European anti-Semitism, it is not alone. The American press reports incidents of vandalism, personal assaults, fire bombings of synagogues, cemetery desecrations, etc. taking place in such places as Kiev, Italy, Berlin, and Denmark.

Historic Anti-Semitism

Should we be surprised by the persistence of anti-Semitism? Only if we are surprised by the persistence of evil. The Book of Esther records that Haman looked for a way “to destroy all Mordecai’s people, the Jews, throughout the whole kingdom of Xerxes” (3:6).

His description of the Jews has lingered through the ages: “There is a certain people dispersed and scattered among the peoples in all the provinces of your kingdom whose customs are different from those of all other people and who do not obey the king’s laws; it is not in the king’s best interest to tolerate them…let a decree be issued to destroy them…” (vv. 8, 9). 

            Based on Haman’s definition, anti-Semitism has been called “the dislike of the unlike.” Pinsker and Herzl, founders of modern Zionism, saw anti-Semitism as the “hatred of the world for the ‘eternal minority’ and the ‘eternal stranger’.” [16]

            At the time that Herzl was forming his views on Zionism, Germany gave the world the term “anti-Semitism,” a misnomer that stuck. [17] It appeared first in 1879 in Wilhelm Marr’s The Victory of Judaism Over Germanism, a German racist’s somber warning of Jewish domination of German life. The theory of racial inferiority can be traced to Hegel’s apotheosis of the German state and spirit and to Christian Lassen’s (1800-76) extension of the linguistic distinction between Aryan and Semitic to racial characteristics. In France, Ernest Renan (1823-92) relegated the Jews to an inferior racial status. [18] Flannery writes in his introduction: “The distinguishing mark of all anti-Semitism in the strict sense is hatred or contempt and a stereotyping of the Jewish people as such.” [19]

            The current rise in anti-Semitism has its roots in both historical anti-Semitism and the post-Holocaust creation of the State of Israel. In a 1973 paper, Arthur Hertzberg made several foundational points about the nature of anti-Semitism and saw Israel and Zionism as the crucial issues. Theoretically, forming the State of Israel should have ended anti-Semitism, he wrote. Rosen reflected: “I had somehow believed that the Jewish Question, which so obsessed both Jews and anti-Semites in the 19th and 20th centuries, had been solved – most horribly by Hitler’s ‘final solution,’ most hopefully by Zionism. But more and more I feel Jews being turned into a question mark once again.” His fears are not ungrounded. British novelist and biographer A. N. Wilson announced recently in the British press, “…the state of Israel no longer had a right to exist.” [20]

            Halkin’s essay in Commentary squarely faces the issue that plagues Jewry: if the State of Israel has not solved the problem of anti-Semitism, what is left? If giving the Jewish population a spot of their own on the globe does not cause irrational anti-Jewish hatred to cease, what can be concluded? He comments: “The persistence of anti-Semitism after the Holocaust must be even more bitter for the committed Jewish secularist.” Traditional anti-Semitism never surprised Jews because they had a framework based on their worldview. They surmised “that hatred of them was hatred of the God Who chose them; and that the Gentile who ‘in every generation rises up to destroy us’ was acting a role in a conflict that would end only in the fullness of time. It was devastating but not demoralizing. But for the Jew unshielded by religious belief, the demoralization caused by the persistence of anti-Semitism is profound.” [21]   Given the statistic that most of the world’s Jews today are self-identified as “secular,” an awareness of this deep void should help direct the work of Jewish evangelists.

            In his paper Hertzberg points out the difference “between anti-Semitism and group conflict.” He differentiates antipathies between, for example, the French and the German or Christians and Muslims. In these examples, Hertzberg writes, the combatants “regard themselves as species of the same genus . . . Anti-Semitism presupposed that the Jews are radically other.” [22]

The Church and Jewish Evangelism today

At the time of the introduction of “anti-Semitism” into the national language of late 19th century Germany, clerics, both Catholic and Protestant, still looked upon Jews as “aliens and catalogued them with the secularist and anti-clerical enemies of the Christian order.” [23] Since World War II, the Christian Church has been seeking to reach an accommodation with the Jews largely rooted in the guilt of its silence during the Holocaust. The Vatican finally gave diplomatic recognition to the State of Israel in 1994 to a great outcry from the Islamic world. [24]

            Hertzberg was able to say in 1973 that in “not a single one of these [Church] declarations has the dream of the Church to proselytize the Jews ever been abandoned.” He cites that in the very first meeting after the Holocaust when Protestants gathered in Amsterdam in 1946, their declaration was that “the highest testimony of their contrition for the murders and the sign of their love for Jews was to continue to bring them the greatest gift in their possession, salvation through the founder of their religion.” Hertzberg noted the exception: “the abolition of a bureau of Christian Missions to the Jews that had long existed in the central body of American Protestantism, the National Council of Churches.” [25] Liberal mainline churches had begun abandoning the cause of Jewish evangelism even before World War II. [26]

            Recently, on August 12, 2002, leaders of the Jewish and Roman Catholic communities in the United States issued a document, “Reflections on Covenant and Mission,” stating: “A deepening Catholic appreciation of the eternal covenant between God and the Jewish people, together with a recognition of a divinely-given mission to Jews to witness to God’s faithful love, lead to the conclusion that campaigns that target Jews for conversion to Christianity are no longer theologically acceptable in the Catholic Church,” [27]   Where the Church had a history from the Middle Ages of forced conversion of Jews to Christianity under the threat of death or deportation, now the pendulum has swung in the opposite direction: the Jews do not need to accept the Gospel to be saved.

            Less than a month later, The Boston Globe reported that “A prominent group of Protestant and Roman Catholic scholars, in a major boost to Christian-Jewish relations, yesterday declared that Jews, like Christians, have a covenant with God and that a belief in the divinity of Jesus is not necessary for salvation.” [28]

            Such recent agreements among high-level American church and synagogue leaders may be seen as an attempt to do away with theological anti-Semitism. This is a complex subject for another paper, but reverse anti-Semitism is at least part of the root of such decisions.


It is not difficult to conclude in the face of the re-emerging anti-Semitism that the historical problem will not soon go away.

            Addressing the issue of the hope that Jews everywhere put on the formation of the state of Israel following World War II and the Holocaust, Jakob Jocz writes: “A political answer to the Jewish problem can never satisfy Israel’s aspirations. Many Jews now realize that a political solution is insufficient to solve human needs. National renaissance cannot be separated from spiritual revival.” [29]

            Jocz was, of course, correct in his assessment. The question of “who is Jesus?” is unavoidable for Jews, Jocz declared, for several reasons: 1) his Jewishness; 2) his worldwide influence; 3) the suffering they have endured at the hands of those who profess his name. [30] The Jewish search and their finding Jesus as their Messiah will be the only real answer, as He is for all others.

            Living in the reality of anti-Semitism today, what is the evangelist to the Jews to do?

C                      The evangelist must be aware of the confusion in the church as it seeks to understand itself in relation to the Jews in the light of virulent anti-Semitism. Awareness of the confusion can confirm afresh the need of the evangelist to confront anti-Semitism in all its forms and to strengthen the need to present Jesus as the Jewish Messiah. The evangelist must be known to oppose anti-Semitism and must seek ways in which to do that.

C                      The evangelist must keep bringing the Gospel to His people – with an even greater urgency. For as the storm clouds gather once again, as pressure against the Jews builds again, as lies about Jewish people are surpassing even those of pre-Holocaust Germany, the need is even greater to reach out in love and in truth with the Gospel of Jesus to His people.

Jesus said as the clouds of death gathered near Him: “As long as it is day, we must do the work of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work” (John 9: 4 NIV). It is the time to do the Father’s work while there is yet light.

Theresa Newell

[1] See Bat Ye’or, The Dhimmi: Jews and Christians under Islam  (London and Toronto: Associated University Presses, 1985) which documents this history.  Persecution of Christians today under Islam in Sudan, Nigeria and Islamic countries confirms her thesis. 

[2] “The Uncomfortable Question of Anti-Semitism: Waking up to my father’s world,” p. 48-51.

[3] “On Ignoring Anti-Semitism,” Commentary 114, no. 3 (2002): 27.

[4] Hallel Halkin, “The Return of Anti-Semitism,” Commentary  113, no. 2 (2002): 31.

[5] Michel Gurfinkiel, “”France’s Jewish Problem,” Commentary,  114 (2002): 44.

[6] Yossef Bodansky and Vaugn S. Forrest, “Islam Versus Christianity and its Eastern Salient: Israel.” Find at

[7] “Arab Forum Assails Jews, 9/11 ‘Propaganda’,” Los Angeles Times, Aug 31, 2002, A-1.

[8] Commentary, 113, no. 2 (2002): 36.

[9] Rosen, The New York Times Magazine, Nov. 4, 2001, 51.

[10] “Fanning the Flames of anti-Semitism European Politicians Play with Fire”

[11] “Demonization  in the Mirror” by Cathy Young.

[12] I am indebted to Dr. Rich Robinson  of Jews for Jesus, for use of this article.

[13] Column in The Charlotte Observe, April 28, 2002, 3D.

[14] The New York Times, February 26, 2002.

[15] “France’s Jewish Problem,” Commentary, 114, no. 1 (2002): 46.

[16] Arthur Hertzberg, “Anti-Semitism and Jewish Uniqueness.” This paper was presented at the 11th annual B. G. Rudolph Lecture in Judaic Studies, delivered at Syracuse University on April 11, 1973 and published in the 1975-76 Yearbook of the Encyclopaedia Judaica, (Jerusalem: Keter Publishing House, 1976) 211-218

[17] Ironically, at a Pan-Arab conference on “Semitism” last summer, the Arab League representative, Ahmad Sajeem Jarad, head of Israeli affairs, was quoted as saying, “Only a few Jews can genuinely claim to be Semites.” (Los Angeles Times, Aug. 31, 2002. p. A1). This was to undermine any claim that Jews have to the land of Israel.

[18] Edward H. Flannery. The Anguish of the Jews: Twenty-Three Centuries of Antisemitism. (New York: The Paulist Press) 1985, p. 179.

[19] Ibid., p. 4.

[20] Gabriel. Schoenfeld, “Israel and the Anti-Semites,” Commentary, 133, no. 6 (2002): 17.

[21] Halkin, 37.

[22] Hertzberg, pg. 213.

[23] Flannery,  180.

[24] Syria’s official media sharply criticized the Vatican’s “accord with those who betrayed Jesus and seized the holy places by force.” (See Y. Bodansky, “Islam Versus Christianity” cited above).

[25] Hertzberg,  p. 213.

[26] Ariel, Yaakov. Evangelizing the Chosen People: Missions to the Jews in America, 1880-2000. pp 79-87.

[27] From Communications Office, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, news release “Reflections on Covenant and Mission Issued by the National Council of Synagogues and Delegates of the Bishops’ Committee on Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs: Says Targeting Jews for Conversion Not Acceptable.” 

[28] “Panel of Christians rejects attempts to convert Jews” by Cindy Rodriquez, September 6, 2002.

[29] The Jewish People and Jesus Christ After Auschwitz.(Grand Rapids: Baker Book House) 1981, p. 8.

[30] Jocz, p. 196.