Anti Judaism

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I will start by thanking the organizers of the conference for their invitation to speak here but immediately go on to say that the subject has led to many difficulties, some personal and others inherent in the material and context.

The personal ones chime in with those familiar from the work of Judith Plaskow and Susannah Heschel. I am a Jewish woman who reached adulthood with the outbreak of the Second World War, and here I am standing in Germany with the intention of talking about anti-Judaism. For over twenty years as a journalist it was my job to attend the Frankfurt textile fairs. The first time I visited Germany (in the early 1950s) it was to be shown a synthetics and plastic plant at Leverkusen, by Bayer, the organization that had been part of IG Farben Industries, the major chemical manufacturers in Germany during the war. I was taken round the plant by a manager older than myself who obviously had been in charge during the war, and who referred, as we stood by the river Rhine looking at the factory chimneys and the long line of buildings, to the wartime "labor from the east," which, he said was "unreliable" but which could be "controlled" into reasonable averages of production.

I had taken a crash course in German in order to speak at least simply but when I heard his words my throat constricted, such knowledge of German as I had achieved left me, and I have been unable, despite real effort, to learn it since.

During the times I visited Frankfurt, I would sometimes go out to the river bank and look at "Father Rhine" and often thought not only of the events of the Second World War but how I had read as a child that Frankfurt had offered asylum to Jews from Eastern Europe during the Czarist persecutions for several hundred years, and how the descendants of those poor destitute Jews had settled into prosperous German citizens - yet with the outcome we know so well.

I am telling you this, because my major problem in standing here is a mixture of real fear, and also hope; hope because you have in fact asked me to do this, and because this event is in fact happening. Yet the hope is also fearful, because of what I have found in my research for this review.

I must tell you that there are many areas in which I have little expertise in this context. My own work as a long-term feminist lies in the field of adult education, women's workshops, women's spirituality and research on a particular female aspect of God in Judaism. I have talked to many people and received a great deal of help for this paper and I know that there are those in this audience who have assisted me and who, with others, know a great deal more about the subject than I do. In thanking them I hope they will add to and comment on my remarks and indeed point out any errors.

The Problems

The major problem presented itself to me immediately. I was asked to speak about anti-Judaism. The word anti-Semitism was not mentioned and I do not think that Judith Plaskow mentioned it in her address. At first it was no more than an irritation which I tried to shrug off. As I worked on, I realized that it was connected with the subject intimately. In fact, this question of anti-Judaism vs. anti-Semitism seemed to me to be of very wide significance and linked closely with the other issues I met.

These were connected with the extensive and passionate debate in Britain on Israel and Palestine questions, the Intifada, what is meant by Zionism, anti-Zionism, Christian and Jewish anti-Zionism and, lately, a new political movement led by Muslim women against religious extremism. The fallout from questions of Zionism, Palestine and Israel dominates the whole climate of opinion and is, among much else, a focus for anti-Semitism. In other parts of the scene, it has been a source and a sustainer of the rise and trajectory of "identity politics" in the women's movement in Britain with special references to Jewish feminism. In the mainstream political field the major right-wing contention of a "holocaust denial" meets and feeds leftwing anti-Jewish sentiment. In the New Age and pagan worlds it nourishes an animus against the Jewish God who is seen as the source of all oppression. There is even an identification of a kind of Wiccan or Gaian paganism with a new "Christianity" from which the Jewish element has been purged. In the women's spirituality movement with its reclaiming of goddesses, Britain has not followed the path of German matriarchalists but there is still an underlying assumption that patriarchy is the result of actions by followers of the Jewish God.

Anti-Semitism or Anti-Judaism?

I will start with the definition of anti-Semitism given in the Encyclopedia Judaica, published in Jerusalem in 1971: "Anti-semitism is a term coined by the German, Wilhelm Marr, in 1879, to designate the then current anti-Jewish campaign in Europe. Anti-semitism came into general use as a term denoting all forms of, hostility towards the Jews throughout history." The encyclopedia adds that it is often qualified by an adjective denoting specific anti-Jewish passion, for example, "economic anti-semitism," "racial antisemitism," and so on.

I found, in all the discussions I took part in, that the word anti-Semitism was used by Jews (including myself when I was not on my guard), and anti-Judaism by Christians. On the whole, Jews did not know how anti-Judaism was supposed to differ from anti-Semitism, while Christians felt that they did - that it was a technical term describing Christian antagonism to Judaism as a religion and in particular to Jewish/Christian religious differences as distinct from any social effects. No Jew I spoke to, with exceptions I will discuss in a moment, thought that Christian anti-Judaism was limited or could be so limited in this way. The encyclopedia definition of anti-Semitism was thought to be accurate and inclusive of so-called anti-Judaism.

Christian anti-Judaism was considered to be a form of hostility not only to the Jewish religion as such, but impossible to divorce from those who practice it even if Christian speakers might disclaim anti-Semitism with statements about "Jewish friends" and "good Jews" that they know The exceptions I thought were extremely interesting. These were Jewish women, born and brought up in Israel and now living in Britain; they identified as "anti-Zionist Israelis" and are politically active in raising consciousness in Britain among women concerning the Intifada and supporting Muslim women against fundamentalism. One of these Israeli women asked me what I meant by anti-Semitism, suggesting that it could be used about all Semitic races. I realized that Jews who have lived their lives in Israel are the only ones who could have asked that question. This woman thought, having heard me, that the Israelis were anti-Semitic about Arabs - although this discounted the long Jewish history and its burdens.

The use of the word anti-Judaism seems to me to be very new in Britain. A 1986 issue of the Journal of Jewish/Christian Relations 1 concentrated on questions concerning Christians, Jews and the women's movement - incidentally all the contributions were from the United States. Most writers did not use the term anti-Judaism at all, but Katerina von Kellenbach did once refer to it in her paper on Christian feminist theology, averring that much of it was the remnant of Christian exegesis and dogmatics. She then went on to criticize the work of Christian feminists today for its anti-Jewish tendencies.

The fact is that Jews, myself among them, find it almost impossible to distinguish between texts of Christian anti-Jewish polemic and actions derived from them. John Cobb, Jr. (quoted in the journal) wrote: "The ugliest of all Christian crimes is our crime against the Jews." I am not sure I would go along with that. Beside that crime is the crime against women and witches, and all are connected. It is my opinion that an attempt to concentrate solely on anti-Judaism in academic terms without any appreciation of the effects and history in terms of violence and prejudice, unending over the generations, that stem directly from it, adds to a Jewish sense that yet again we are being at best, marginalized, and at worst dismissed entirely in terms of history and suffering. Anti-Judaism seems to me to be anti-Semitism made respectable.


This brings me to the politics that provide the climate, or perhaps are a result of, the climate, produced by the current debate on Zionism and the Intifada. I had been hesitant at first to include this area, since it seemed not to be immediately relevant, but it was inescapable and pervaded every conversation and every piece of research I attempted.

Concern and even despair about the current situation in Israel and Palestine are not the prerogative of non-Jews in Britain. Just as Israel itself is divided almost on a fifty/fifty basis, so there are in Britain huge numbers of Jews coming together to protest against Israeli government and army actions; while those who do not openly protest, to a woman and a man suffer a form of heartbreak over it. However their action and pain is not acceptable in a climate of opinion that condemns what is called "Zionism," often as "racism" or "nazism" and holds all Jews individually and collectively responsible for the Israeli government's actions. There are many examples of this. Perhaps a most telling one occurred at the National Union of Students Conference last year. A resolution had been proposed to support Soviet Jewry. A row of major proportions broke out and an inordinate amount of time was taken up in the argument against the resolution which was on the lines of "Why should we help Jews? See what they are doing in Israel."

I am indebted to Dr. Margaret Brearley for information concerning Christian concern with the Palestinian cause, resulting in both anti-Zionist and anti-Jewish action. She writes: 'A new anti-Zionist theology has begun to gain ground, espoused by influential churchmen ... highly anti-Israel articles appear in Christian papers ... from December 1987 to April l988 no leading Christian journals carried a positive article about Israel." She refers to the censorship (against the advice of the Archbishop of Canterbury) by the New Zealand Church of all references to Zion and Jerusalem in the new Psalter and liturgy. She describes the "new championing of the Palestinian cause to the exclusion of historical truth and any semblance of objectivity" and declares that "a common factor in the Christian Aid and YMCA/YWCA approach is that they show no sensitivity to Israel; suffering or concern with the harm done to Israel or Jews." 2

Perhaps there are those listening who feel sympathy with this stance. But it is necessary to point out just where it leads. For example, the second conference of Jewish, Christian and Muslim women in Britain (following the successful ones held in Germany), broke up in disorder and distress. Muslim women had stated that they forbade any mention of the Holocaust or Shoah. They believed such mentions would be used to justify the State of Israel and to deny the sufferings of the Palestinians. In fact some Christian women did mention the Holocaust. Immediately all the Muslim women walked out and the conference was a disaster.

One may take this further. Support for the Intifada and for a "two state" solution is a cause espoused by the Left and radicals of all kinds in Britain, including feminists, Jewish and other. There is, however what one can only call an unholy alliance being forged between adherents of the Left and traditional anti-Semites on the Right. The Fascists in Britain have a history going back to the pre-war era. I myself was affected by them when I was a schoolgirl, and the father of my first child was beaten up at the famous Olympia London rally in 1936 with the police looking on and clearing the way for the fascists.

Today a major plank in their theory and propaganda is "holocaust denial." They have created a so-called Centre for Truth in History and they send out from there well presented and apparently academically sound material to libraries, colleges and universities throughout the country. The most recent and perhaps the most dangerous is the Leuchter Report, which "proves" that no gas was ever used at Auschwitz and no Jew died there.

While, standing on this German ground I may feel that such an assertion is ridiculous and cannot be taken seriously, in fact academic staff do file and use this material and put it on students' reading lists. It feeds into the discomfort and animus against Jews that such students feel passionately because of Israel and the Intifada. Again, it appears there is no sense of balance. The climate of opinion among radicals - whether student or staff - is such that with Israel being equated with the Nazis, Holocaust denial and disparagement can only too easily be accepted.

The Women's Movement

This perception that all Jews should feel individual and collective guilt for the actions of the State of Israel found a ready response in the women's movement and led to the formation of the Jewish Feminist Group. Women like myself who had participated on a universalist sisterly basis found we were being rejected and silenced. The Spare Rib affair in 1982-83, where this most long-standing of feminist journals did not allow Jewish women to publish any replies to attacks on them unless they specifically declared they were anti-Zionist, led to anger and to a uniting of women of Jewish backgrounds, evens though previously this had not been important to them. Even today, although the group is less strong and somewhat divided, the silencing of Jewish women continues. An example of great importance involves the 1987 publications in the respected journal Race and Class of an analysis of "identity politics," in the form of an attack on Jewish feminists, by an anti-Zionist woman, Jenny Bourne 3. While some of Bourne's analysis was hard-hitting but fair, much of it used inaccurate data, was badly biased and tendentious. The Jewish Feminist Group answered it in a pamphlet called A Word in Edgeways. Whereas the Bourne article received a wide response, with many full review articles and extended comment, A Word in Edgeways is still waiting to be reviewed alter well over a year of silence 4. Spare Rib and other women's journals have promised to look at it, but nothing occurs. At the same time the Bourne article has been put on at least one university reading list. This is only one example among many.

Within the women's spirituality movement there is an underlying assumption that Jews may be blamed for something both in the past and the present. At one end of the spectrum, Christian feminists, as has been pointed out by Susannah Heschel, take up their liberation at the expense of Jews, with a perceptions that relies upon prejudice rather than academic inquiry. 5

At the other end of the spectrum Jews are still being blamed to some extent "for the death of the Goddess," although it must be stated that in Britain this concept is somewhat different from that reported elsewhere; In general, the British movement perceives patriarchy as the enemy and believes that a male-defined monotheism related to a male-dominated society overthrew more egalitarian societies in which female deities and a Great Mother were worshipped. The work of Marija Gimbutas is very influential; and concentrates on Old Europe of 7000-2000 BCE and the patriarchal invasions from Asia that overthrew a more settled and philogynic society 6. Jane Harrison's brilliant work elucidating ancient Greek rituals and drama from a feminist perspective in the early part of this century is felt to be a precious heritage. Also Rachel Levy, writing in 1947, expounded a world picture of prepatriarchal religion in which the events of the Ancient Near East were only one section. While it is easy and simplistic for women to believe that "the Jews killed the Goddess" - helped unfortunately by Merlin Stone's influential 1976 book The Paradise Papers (in the United States; When God was a Woman) - this is not the dominant perception. The work of the Matriarchy Research and Reclaim Network whose understanding of the complexities helps to discredit such references has been helpful. It is usually accepted in these circles that the biblical Jewish and Hebrew hierarchy attempted to rout and destroy Goddess religions but in fact never succeeded, and it is thought that it was the Christian Fathers who fulfilled that task.

So this brings me to where I started. The virulent anti-Semitism, and I use that word, of the Christian traditions may have softened in Britain but it has not departed. The extraordinary unanimity with which women, radicals, researchers, politicians, theologians and others have taken up an anti-Jewish stance, belongs I think to the fact that the soil was already prepared. Anti-Semitism in a mild form is endemic in Britain. My own grandsons (with a Catholic mother, they were brought up as Catholics) tell me that they heard anti-Semitic jokes constantly at school and that it is "not OK to like Jews." They say they would not at school have been brave enough to admit to having Jewish grandparents.

This is on the anecdotal level. What is not anecdotal is the number of synagogues today daubed and violated - even with shreds of glass inserted into door handles; that Jewish schools have to be guarded day and night against attack; that petrol bombs have recently been thrown at the Sinai Reform Synagogue in Leeds and the Heaton Park synagogue in Manchester, while the Grimsby synagogue was daubed with the words "Kill the Jews Liberate Palestine." At a recent Muslim demonstration in London the Shield of David with the word Jew beneath it was equated with a swastika and the word Nazi.

Many Jewish observers believe that there are links between British Fascists and extreme Muslim groups in the Middle East and that they cooperate in producing and disseminating material that is acceptable to a "soft left" audience in Britain - such an audience includes Christian feminists among many others.

Christian/Jewish Relations

However; there are Christians who, far from being deluded by such propaganda are fighting mightily for a real acknowledgment and recognition of Jewish identity and an end to anti-Judaism and anti-Semitism. Most notable are the Sisters of Zion. Founded in 1840 to work "for" Jews, today and since some time before Vatican II, they altered their purpose to struggle with Jews against anti-Semitism. They cover a wide spectrum of Jewish-Christian relations and in particular conduct study days and seminars at universities for theological students and ordinands to expedite real Jewish/Christian dialogue.

The Council for Christians and Jews aims at a wide public and brings together those who are interested in acknowledging the past and working for a better present and future. Yet among those Christians who are most sincerely disposed towards effecting a true concord with Jews, there can arise a certain type of "Christian imperialism." A recent event illustrates this. The Bishop of Oxford, the Reverend Richard Harries is known for his far-reaching ecumenicism. But in July of this year he offered a suggestion to a conference in his city, later backed up by an article in the Independent newspaper, that Jews should join Christians in saying the Lord's Prayer together. He acknowledged that "their [the Jews] hesitations about praying a prayer so long associated with Christian oppression is totally to be respected." Even so he asked them to overcome this hesitation in order to help Christians "stand with Jews in the modern world" 7. This article has caused a good deal of offence to Jews of varying attitudes to traditionalism. My own opinion is that Bishop Harries has disparaged the oppression he mentions. Perhaps at some far future date when all persecution has ceased and is just a long lost memory, Jews may be able to do as he requests.

Yet another example of much the same type is to be discerned in the continuing distress and argument over the presence of the Carmelite nuns at Auschwitz. In the summer of this year the Sunday Observer of London reported that over three hundred Jewish students from all over Europe marched round "an elderly brick building in southern Poland, blowing the Shofar." The newspaper stated that they were trying to attract attention to "what they consider to be a scandalous Catholic outrage against Jewish feelings" 8. I do not need to go into the situation here. I am sure you are all aware of the presence of the nuns at Auschwitz, that in 1986 and 1987 they had agreed to leave and the Christian churches were to erect an ecumenical center outside the camp's limits. No such thing happened and the nuns are still there. The sense of offence is very strong in the hearts and minds of Jews;

From another standpoint, Jews also view with great disapproval the activities of a pressure group calling itself "Jews for Jesus." Strong in the United States, this organization periodically descends upon Jewish students in Britain and also conducts door to door canvassing in Jewish districts. Their message is that as Jesus was born a Jew and grew up in a Jewish household, all Jews should turn to him and recognize him as the Messiah. They are not called upon to become "Christians" or to attend Church, but only to accept Jesus as Messiah and proselytize on his behalf. The organization is very strident and employs harassing tactics.

Among Jews themselves there is a growing new feeling of strength and exhilaration, which is an unexpected consequence of the negation of their previous dreams of universalism on the left and in the women's movement; Cast together again, many without any formal knowledge of Judaism, they have adopted the themes of tikkun olam and tikkun) chavurah as a way of establishing their Jewishness and relating not only to each other, but to the new politics of greenness and ecology. Rabbi Rachel Montagu has kindly sent me some material from a book by Robert Seltzer 9. He states that the word tikkun, "repair", is used in rabbinic literature with reference to improving the social order, while in the Kabbalah it is broadened to cover a wide range of mystical happenings and even the sustenance of the world. The tikkun movement, according to Rabbi Montagu, seeks to explore and deal with prejudice. "We can't come to any future healing without it," she says.

The Tikkun Chavurah are groups of nontraditional Jews who meet to celebrate Judaism and Jewish festivals in a new and alternative way. They are often led by women and join in Green and ecological issues as Jews seeking and finding halachic and biblical material to support this activity, They appear to have found a way of raising Jewish spirituality in a radical setting and taking part in new politics at the same time.

Before finishing I need, however, to draw attention to a new and disturbing element. While most of the "Greens" are activated by the best of motives, it appears there may be a dangerous down side. A television program last Easter showed a group of "Christian Pagans" who declared that Judaism is accursed. They carried a huge cross and held a Wiccan style ceremony using the cross, and referring to a kind of "Celtic spirituality." They specifically made the point that such Christianity discards all Jewish elements.

While pagan and pagan type groups are the first to espouse the "green" cause there is obviously here yet another avenue for anti-Jewish, anti-Semitic feeling and action. Dr. Brearley, who has made a study of paganism and antiJudaism, has said she believes that such groups and those who control them are laying the foundations of an ideological Holocaust against first the Jews, but eventually Christians too. These implications are very disturbing. AntiSemitism shows itself in such unlikely places. We need to be very aware of it wherever it is and however it appears. Not only will my grandsons otherwise, not escape another Shoah. None of us will. 10


1. Journal of Christian Jewish Relations, vol.19, no.2 (Institute of Jewish Affairs, London) June 1986).

2. Margaret Brearley, "Note on the Centre's Place in Combatting the Recent Rise in Christian Anti-Zionism and Anti-Judaism," Private Newsletter of the Centre for Judaism and Jewish-Christian Relations (Selly Oak Colleges, Birmingham, December 1988).

3. Jenny Bourne, "Homelands of the Mind: Jewish Feminism and Identity Politics", Race and Class (Institute of Race Relations, London) 29(1987).

4. "A Word in Edgeways: Jewish Feminists Respond" (London: J; F; Publications, I988).

5. Heschel, in Verdrangte Vergangenheit, die uns bedrangt, ed; Leonore SiegeIe-Wenschkewitz (Munich: Kaiser, 1988).

6. Maria Gimbutas, Goddesses and Gods of old Europe (1974; reprint London: Thames & Hudson, 1982);

7. R. Harries, "The 'Our Father' for Jews and Christians," The Independent (London) 22 July 1989.

8. N. Ascherson, "One More Horror at Auschwitz," The Observer (London) 23 July 1989.

9. R. Seltzer, Jewish People and Jewish Thought (London: Macmillan, 1977).

10. Although this account was as accurate as possible when researched in the summer of 1989, world events have caught up with it and changed many perceptions. In particular Israel's restrained behavior under attack by Iraqi missiles in the Gulf war attracted admiration, while the breakdown of hard socialism in Eastern Europe has changed many perceptions on the Left in this country. Anti-Semitic attacks by right-wing elements however, continue to increase. Students today seem more concerned with economic difficulties and employment prospects than the Arab-Israeli question.

My most profound thanks go to the many who have helped me with this inquiry. In particular I wish to thank Rabbi Rachel Montagu of the North West London Synagogue, Rabbi Sheila Shulman of Leo Baeck College, Ms. Julia Bard of the Jewish Socialist, Dr. Margaret Brearley of the Centre for Judaism and Jewish Christian Relations, Sister Margaret Shepherd and Sister Martha Maria of the Sisters of Zion, Naomi Goldman of theNational Union of Students, Dr. Jenny Goodman and Karen Swirsky of Tikkun Chavurah, Nira Yuval Davis, Diana Lam, Lillian Mohin of Onlywomen Press and Dr. Daniel Cohen.

© Asphodel P. Long (Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion 7.2 Fall 1991)


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