Since your last contributions, much has happened in the world to make your comments even more relevant. During the past several months, the Catholic Church has been forced to take a close look at itself in the wake of the priest sex abuse scandals. Meanwhile, worldwide anti-Semitism is flourishing at a level that many describe as the highest since World War II. In an op-ed in today's New York Times, David Kertzer addresses the role Christian anti-Semitism plays in contemporary Arab anti-Semitism. As he explains, rumors of Jewish ritual murder appear frequently in Arab media, as they did in Europe during the 20th century. Kertzer accuses the Christian world of a "tepid response" to current anti-Semitism. He calls on church leaders to address anti-Semitism and condemn the increasingly prevalent anti-Semitic lies.
What can contemporary Christians do to address Christian anti-Semitism? And how can this help abate anti-Semitism in the modern world?
Eugene J. Fisher, Associate Director, Secretariat for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs, U. S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, responds:
I agree entirely with Professor Kertzer's conclusion that "the historical role of Christianity" in propagating what Jules Isaac called the "teaching of contempt" against Jews and Judaism must, as Pope John Paul II has stated time and again, be honestly faced by the Church. And I agree entirely that the Church today must be among the loudest voices condemning anti-Semitic lies from whatever source. The website of Boston College's Center for Jewish-Christian Learning, for example, already has a helpful section devoted to rebutting in detail anti-Semitic material that has appeared on one such radical Islamist website.
Kertzer's case would be strengthened, however, if he could control his own tendency to overstate it. He charges, for example, that in France and Italy, "Catholic priests were ... champions and publishers" of the Protocols. This is true but only half the truth. The rest of the truth is that Catholic priests were also in the forefront of debunking the forgery, producing analyses that were translated and published, for example, in major Jesuit journals both in Europe and in America. It is also not quite the whole story to say that "the Vatican actively promoted the ritual murder charge," especially given the fact that Popes over the centuries publically condemned the charge as false. Half truths, I believe, will in the long run provide poor antidotes to the lies that Jews and Catholics need to fight in common.
Church Leadership Must Speak Up
I do believe church leadership needs to speak clearly and decisively regarding the escalation of anti-Semitism in Europe. The French Bishops recently issued a short statement. But far more needs to be done. I know some feel this is part of the current Middle East conflict and do not want to take sides. In my judgment the issues can and must be separated. Neither anti-Semitism nor the terrorism it can breed can be tolerated by the world community, including the churches. One does not have to support all or even some of Mr. Sharon's specific policies to denounce both as unacceptable tactics in the current political situation. Racism can never be a tool for securing supposed justice. The Muslim community must be challenged forthrightly on this. But so must those within the Israeli establishment (such as the murdered cabinet minister who in effect was Israel's David Duke) who espoused racism towards Arabs.
Ruth Langer, Assoc. Prof., Theology Department, Judaica Scholar, Center for Christian-Jewish Learning, Boston College, responds:
The Church Can Challenge It
I am relieved to hear my colleagues Gene Fisher and John Pawlikowski calling so strongly for the church to respond forcefully to the outbreaks of anti-Semitism in Europe (and occasionally in the US also -- a synagogue was recently firebombed in Oakland, CA, causing little damage thanks to an alert neighbor). The statements that I have seen from the European bishops have focused almost exclusively on the Middle East, ignoring the situation in their own front yards.
But these calls need to be communicated to those in a position to make these statements. Anti-semitism must become as unacceptable as we want any kind of racism to be in Western society.
Yes, the current rise in overt anti-Semitism seems to be fueled by the problems of the Middle East, but it is ultimately more pernicious and if not stopped, will easily be separated from its immediate catalyst. And because the tools of this anti-Semitism are largely, if not entirely, derived from European anti-Semitism and its Christian origins, the Church is uniquely positioned to challenge it.