Many people are drawing comparisons between the current financial crisis and the Great Depression. A few are even comparing it to the economic crisis of 89 BC. Fewer are noting the parallel rise in anti-Semitism, but the historical comparisons are striking.
In ‘30s Germany anti-Semitism began with boycotts and intimidation. Attacks on European synagogues are rising, and most have had armed guards posted outside since 9/11. Then the Nazis passed the Nuremberg Laws (1935), which codified and extended this status quo. The death camps were only the final solution to a long campaign of anti-Semitism.
Muslim newspapers may be full of anti-Semitic editorials. The people themselves in Muslim countries tend to be more tolerant after a brief conversation about the Koran. And once I've explained that no, honestly Jews don't slaughter babies and use their blood to make Passover cakes.
Europeans are increasingly less willing to be objective. The result is a scrabble to assimilate, with people suddenly declaring that they are 'only' half or a quarter Jewish, as if they will only be half as likely to encounter hatred. The advice of Jewish ‘leaders’ in Europe is to keep a low profile, not to make a fuss. We can have peace in our time if we practise appeasement; turning the other cheek rather than retaliating by taking an eye or a tooth.
In the early first century AD Judaism was a proselytizing religion, and attracted a large number of followers. The main reason it did not close the deal with more converts was that the rabbis were intransigent about one issue: circumcision. Men were reluctant to give up a piece of themselves.
Early Christianity under Paul was more flexible. At the Council of Jerusalem (ca. AD 50), the followers of Jesus re-stated that most of the laws of Moses were to be kept - such as the requirement to keep kosher. There were two major departures from Jewish law, which would in effect change the course of history.
The first was waving the circumcision requirement, which immediately let to a flood of converts.
The second was discussing the concept that Jesus was Christos - the Messiah.
The Messianic nature of Jesus was not affirmed as universal orthodoxy until the Council of Nicaea (AD 325). The Council was itself called to repudiate Arianism. This form of Christianity, which refused to accept the divine nature of Christ, remained popular in the Byzantine court and was the dominant form of Christianity in the West for several centuries.
The question of Jesus as Messiah is at the root of anti-Semitism. Early Christians may have seen their new religion as superior, but they did not persecute others' to the same extent. The issue with Judaism is that it is an intrinsic part of the religion - and what differentiates it from Christianity - not to accept that Jesus was the Messiah. Since Christians believe that Jesus was the Messiah of Israel, as their core belief ... when Israelites deny this, they were seen as effectively striking at the heart of Christianity. Therefore Judaism, by its very being, was a threat to Christianity worse than any heresy, and intolerable to those whose faith was not built on solid foundations.
Oh, and the Jews killed Jesus.
The Vatican may no longer sanction this idea, but several friends’ children are being taught it at London kindergartens. Various Jesuits are said to have claimed "Give me a child until he is seven and I will give you the man;" Ignatius of Loyola, Francis Xavier, etc. Joseph Goebbels understood that if one caught children young, one could shape them through education. This month Olav Nielsen, the headmaster of Humlehave School in Odense, Denmark, announced the ban of Jewish children from his school.
Anti-Semitism has always been an issue in Europe, but until recently it was largely confined to blue collar workers. In the past we had to listen to rants from taxi cab drivers. Now it is rearing its ugly head amongst the educated elite. Bernie Madoff has given them more ammunition. European media coverage is overwhelmingly about the repression of the harmless, oppressed Palestinians by the terrorist Israeli oppressors.
In private people are no better. Questioning Islam may make one a pariah – one English school moved their Nativity play to after Christmas in order not to offend Muslim school children – but openly expressing anti-Semitism is not only perfectly acceptable, but becoming all the rage.
A Patrons' dinner at a museum (I was a guest, not a Patron of course). Conversation flowed smoothly until I said, in reference to academic research, that I try to avoid reading German. My fund manager neighbor turned on me - "You're a Jew, aren't you" - and launched into a diatribe of abuse. I avoid reading German because my German is particularly poor. I now avoid such dinners, as I did not appreciate being called “you bloody --- bitch” by his wife when I tried to leave.
A leading auction house had been trying to hire me for years, and I agreed to an interview. The interviewer asked me the origins of my surname. I said Jewish. He proceeded to tell me that I wasn't 'qualified' to be a secretary there. My CV is ... but let’s not even go into that one. The Nuremberg Laws made employment for Jews illegal, though Jews had been having difficulties finding employment before that.
Foolishly, I was prepared to write it off as one bad egg at the auctioneers. I subsequently agreed to give a lecture for some of their clients. Whilst we were waiting, the charming blue eyed blond man assigned to look after me announced that "Seinfeld" should be banned from television. Possibly – I don’t watch it. Then he added that "Friends" should be too. My curiosity aroused, I asked why. "Because it makes Jews look normal" came the response. Part of Goebbels’ propaganda plan involved firing Jewish actors and censoring works of art created by them: "Entartete Kunst", degenerate art, was mocked and banned.
My boiler broke down last December. A nice man from the landlords refused to fix it because "You Jews don't understand. Christmas is a very important holiday to us Christians; the whole country closes down for four-six weeks". I studied a little theology at university, and sometimes go to church with friends, my uncle was a priest, I’ve lectured about Christianity - but this was a new one to me. The boiler was finally fixed in May, and then only thanks to the help of a lawyer and The Equality and Human Rights Commission.
Whilst Evangelical Christians in the US have embraced Judaism, Europeans are following in the footsteps of Hitler. Germans Jews in ‘20s Berlin could not imagine concentration camps. In ‘00s Europe, I keep my passport in my handbag and wonder when we’ll be forced to wear a yellow star.