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  • Reverend James Squire

Antisemitism and Money




I Learned my first antisemitic caricature in English class when I was a senior in a public high school. We were studying Shakespeare’s, Merchant of Venice published in 1596. Shylock is a fictional character in this story. He is a Venetian Jewish money lender and is the principal villain. His defeat and conversion to Christianity form the end of the story.


Antisemitism has been linked to money and power. There was a conspiracy theory that the Rothschilds secretly ruled the world. A point has been made that antisemitism also comes in the form of blaming Jews for any downfalls that occur in the financial world where it is easier to blame the Jews and not systems of money that have failed to perform.


Fagin, Charles Dicken’s miserly Jewish pickpocket, paints another antisemitic example that link Jews with money. The cartoons paint the most unsavory pictures to fix this image of Jews and money in the culture.


Of course, it should be an embarrassment to Christians that since the time of Christ, Jews have also been depicted as “Christ killers.” The Roman Catholic Church didn’t address that terrible piece of antisemitic lore.


One of the reasons that I begin with this very abbreviated history of antisemitism is that it is not new which is part of the reason that it exists so powerfully today. Like all of the other “isms,” the reason that they stay in the culture is that it takes very little examples or hot buttons to set them off. We saw this clearly when DeSantis attempted to wipe out the “history of racism” in our country because he didn’t want to remind people of the sinful behavior. It is also the reason that he wanted to couch his approach by saying that “slaves learned a great many things during slavery that would benefit them later in getting a job.” He didn’t want to upset anyone with that mark on our nation’s soul.


I just saw a news segment that included why gay people were seen as not legitimate soldiers when they served in the armed forces. They were required to leave with no benefits until now when the government has realized how their history has created a move from “no ask, don’t tell” policy that attempted to make them invisible to their rightful status. Our nation has also made it difficult for women which has more history than we care to remember. Still, they are paid less than men. That was part of the history that SAG wanted to correct from a way of life that made women second class citizens.


History of this kind leads to antisemitism as well. It is steeped in culture. It lays dormant until an episode occurs that releases it into the mainstream.


An article from a Brandeis University professor, Jonathan Sarma, explores a recent expression of antisemitism captured in the protests in Charlottesville in 2017 with the chant “The Jews will not replace us.”


The professor points out that the simplest meaning is “the Jews will not replace us, i.e., white Christians in our job or our dominant place in society. We as whites will remain the dominant and supreme force in society.” This is part of the rise of white supremacy and Christian Nationalism. Another aspect of antisemitism occurred as early as the 1800(s) which was discussed by the Brandeis professor that people feared the takeover of America by a story that ends with a thought meant to inflame. We Jews will own you.”


We are in a precarious time with the Israel War on Hamas. It reaches to a deep ethical place that needs to be addressed. There is a danger that Jewish Ethics has not be heard or seen enough which will inflame antisemitism. The ethic embodies the best in humankind. There is a right to defend oneself but the other key is that it should be done in moderation. The Jewish Ethic is this life affirming. What you do in this life counts. This ethic is summarized in “The Law of the Pursuer.”


There have been ethical statements that are not being honored by Israel which counters their ethic. Recently, Emmanuel Macron wrote something that I agree with that “fighting terrorism can never be carried out without rules.” That is a direct reference to the Just War Clause in ethics. It is why, in my opinion, there is such division in our nation and college campuses on how the war is being fought. As the only Palestinian member of congress questioned, “Are not Palestinian lives just as valuable as Jewish lives? 11,0778 Palestinians have been killed. 4500 of those deaths were children. The Jewish death toll is 1,458. The world and Biden know this is wrong. Netanyahu has indicated that he will take over Gaza when the war is over. How is that different for the Palestinians than the antisemitic statement “from the river to the sea.”


The Palestinians have no place really to go and no time to get there. Three Refugee camps have been bombed leading to many deaths. The entire medical system in Gaza has been compromised with surgeries done without pain medications. As I write this Blinken and Biden want to see a change in Israel’s behavior. The world sees us supporting Israel who is not acting in an ethical way therefore we are operating in an unethical way. We have played into Hamas’ hand. See world what Israel and the United States are really about. Our lack of intervention leaves us with no defense for our actions. Not to act is to act. There is no neutral ethical ground. We can support Israel without supporting their approach which I believe is being led by the right-wing government of Israel. Netanyahu just wants to impede his path to prison in the same way that Trump is currently doing.


I started this blog with antisemitism and money. Two Jewish super financial supporters of Harvard and Penn blackmailed both universities with money. What that did was to communicate that it is support of Israel only. One wanted the students’ names posted so that they could never be hired by his firm or others. We own you! I found it offensive. They should have made a strong case for pro-Israel and stopped there. The blackmail cheapened their communication and provided grist for the white supremacy mill and gave greater fuel for the fire of the replacement theory and Christian nationalism.


You only have to look to the Jewish ethic and the Just War Clause to find a way out. You won’t find a road to settling the crisis in the Middle East without ethical rules of engagement.


Regarding Christian nationalism, I have never forgotten the words of one of my professors at Berkeley at Yale who was a world expert on theology, existentialism, and phenomenology. He attended Vicki’s and my wedding in Raleigh. During one class that I didn’t understand at the time but I now know what he meant when he said, “Be careful of those Christians. They will get you every time.” We need to look no further than the recently elected Speaker of the House as well as Christian nationalism to see this happening in front of our eyes.


Macron’s words contain the gift of wisdom, “Fighting terrorism can never be carried out without rules.”


Being against Israel’s strategy in fighting Hamas with Palestinian civilian deaths rising and hospitals destroyed with, no place for the civilians to go that is safe, is not antisemitism. It is unethical to conflate the two. Personal attacks on Jewish people in our nation for example and the creation of an unsafe environment for Jews here is antisemitism. Understanding that will help get healing started.

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