A year ago I delivered a four-part series on the Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth at Trinity Presbyterian Church in Hendersonville NC. This summer they invited me back and I gave a three-lecture series on Anti-Semitism and Reconciliation.
The reason for speaking at a church on anti-Semitism was not to send anyone on a guilt trip. I think that knowing something on the dark side of life is part of a defense against it. As it happens that dark side has been showing up lately, especially at Charlottesville. I think it is urgent that Jews and Christians know this history in order to avoid being submerged in it.
As I did last summer I am posting the series here in the form of the audio recordings of the lectures and the Power Point presentations that went with them.
The first lecture was on the origins of Christian anti-Semitism in the New Testament.
The second Lecture in the series started with the Early Church Fathers and surveyed sources up to Martin Luther. Most of the quotations were anti-Jewish, but a few were positive about Jews and expressed opposition to harming Jews or even disliking them.
The subject of the third lecture is Jewish-Christian reconciliation in the 20th century. Most of it is about Vatican II and the roles of Pope John XXIII and Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel.
- Do not deny God.
- Do not curse God.
- Do not murder.
- Do not engage in illicit sexual relations.
- Do not steal.
- Do not eat from a live animal.
- Establish courts/legal system.
Many years ago I was in the cast of a production of “Evita.” A woman in the audience from Argentina said it reminded her of exactly how things were under Peron. In that show (an opera really) is a song called “The New Argentina.” Trump’s campaign rhetoric and his inaugural speech yesterday reminded me of that. Here are two verses.
Now I am a worker, I’ve suffered the way that you do
I’ve been unemployed, and I’ve starved and I’ve hated it too
But I found my salvation in Peron, may the nation
Let him save them as he saved me
Peron has resigned from the army and this we avow
The descamisados are those he is marching with now
He supports you, for he loves you
Understands you, is one of you
If not, how could he love me?
And the chorus…
A new Argentina, a new age about to begin
A new Argentina, we face the world together
And no dissent within
What I heard and saw yesterday reminded me of every populist demagogue in the world and in history. Some compare Trump to Hitler, but that misses the point. Hitler is the worst of a class of national leaders. Trump sounds like Saddam Hussein, Vladimir Lenin, Mao, Chiang Kai Chek, and many, many more.
The inaugural address was very short and consisted of hostility to those he replaces and promises he can fix everything. He gives a dark view of America and promises to make everything right again. This is not optimism. Ronald Reagan was optimistic and he followed a President who was notably pessimistic. Here are two quotes from his 1981 inaugural.
Well, this administration’s objective will be a healthy, vigorous, growing economy that provides equal opportunities for all Americans, with no barriers born of bigotry or discrimination. Putting America back to work means putting all Americans back to work. Ending inflation means freeing all Americans from the terror of runaway living costs. All must share in the productive work of this “new beginning,” and all must share in the bounty of a revived economy. With the idealism and fair play which are the core of our system and our strength, we can have a strong and prosperous America, at peace with itself and the world.
The crisis we are facing today does not require of us the kind of sacrifice that Martin Treptow and so many thousands of others were called upon to make. It does require, however, our best effort and our willingness to believe in ourselves and to believe in our capacity to perform great deeds, to believe that together with God’s help we can and will resolve the problems which now confront us.
I disagreed with much about Reagan’s political views but his appeal to the entire country cannot be gainsaid. What did Donald Trump say yesterday? Reagan did not make accusations about the difficulties our nation faced when he became President. He did not lay blame, but indicated that government was not serving the people.
Now here is what Trump said yesterday.
This is his motto: America First. The first use of that term was The America First Committee in 1940. It’s spokesperson was Charles Lindbergh and they were explicitly anti-Semitic. Their claim was that the Jews (who ran everything, of course) wanted to get our country into the war against Germany for their own purposes. I still see this accusation today (and so will you, if you read on)
That expression was then the name of a political party in the 1940s while we were at war with Germany. They ran Gerald K. Smith, a racist and anti-Semite for President in 1944 and again, under the name Christian Nationalist Crusade, in 1948 (he got 42 votes nationally). The name America First has been used for far-right (and I mean really far right) organizations and parties since then. Most recently, in 2002, it was reborn when a group of Pat Buchanan supporters split from the Reform Party (Ross Perot’s).
The ADL appealed to Trump to stop using that phrase which is associated with anti-Semitism and racism. That was during the campaign. Trump ignored that.
Trump’s speech was co-written by Steve Bannon (did you think Trump wrote it?) who represents the right-most edge of American politics. We can see that this political adviser is the voice of the Trump administration.
Meanwhile David Duke responded to the speech with a declaration of war on Jews. Here is a quote from his web-site. http://davidduke.com/dr-david-duke-trump-inauguration-speech-declares-war-on-the-neocons-promotes-our-slogan-america-first/
Trump evoked my campaign slogan I used in my successful race for the House of Representatives, and I used in my quest for the Republican nomination in 1992, America First.
This is the historic slogan of the original Alt-Right and all patriotic Americans in days of Charles Lindbergh and the America First Party later that has stood up against both the Jewish globalist Commies and the Jewish globalist Capitalists.
Although there are a number of Jews around Trump, there is no doubt the Jewish-elite tribalist establishment hates Trump….
White people have the most basic human right of all: to live, and we have a right to govern our own nation rather than have these unelected Jewish tribalists run our politics, our foreign policy, our media, our banking institutions. An no one, no where will prevent us our right of self-preservation.
This is classic anti-Semitism and White Supremicism. This is the political voice of the new administration as voiced by our new President.
In such times, those of us who stand for humane values must be watchful and responsive. Silence is death.
This morning I thought about writing a letter to our local daily newspaper calling for patience. “Street demonstrations, ” I was going to say, “will only deepen the national divide. Our President-elect said he wants to be the President for all Americans.”
Now, this evening, I have seen the news on who will likely be in the new cabinet. Deplorables would be too gentle a term for this bunch of extremists, self-seekers, and incompetents. How about despicables?
Let’s see. Reince Priebus is the only reasonable choice on the list. The leader of the GOP is conservative, of course, but he has shown himself to be level-headed and, so far as I can see, competent. He is a reasonable choice for White House Chief-of-Staff. Alongside of Priebus Trump has named Steve Bannon, the bigot-in-chief of the Alt-right, the home of every kind of hatred and fear-mongering movement in this country. He is anti-Muslim, anti-Semitic, racist, misogynist – all of this is explicit from his own statements. Bannon will be reporting to Trump, so his power will be equal to that of Priebus. In doing this he follows his managerial policy of setting up rival forces just beneath him. I think this is to keep any potential rivals off-balance. Trumps own children are reportedly opposed to naming extremists to the administration. Ivanka, who is Jewish, should be especially upset about Bannon.
Among others being named as possible cabinet members are Rudy Giuliani, Newt Gingrich and (no joke) Sarah Palin. Palin is likely to be the only woman in a high position in this administration. Giuliani and Gingrich have both shown themselves to be men of poor character both in their personal and political lives. For Secretary of the Interior the name being mentioned is that of an oil industry executive – the fox guarding the chicken coop. Actually foxes in charge of chickens is pretty much everyone on the list of possibilities.
There is no hint of any attempt to unify our bifurcated people unless he means, “Everyone must do it my way.” This is historically the danger of electing populist demagogues of any political stripe. Minorities and women (who, of course, are not a minority) always suffer under populist regimes.
I am sometimes asked how the most civilized nation in Europe, Germany, could descend to such depths of national depravity. I suggest that we are seeing how that happens right now. Watch one of Hitler’s campaign speeches from 1932. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KqBEJweLV5s The parallels with the Trump campaign are striking. Watch Leni Riefenstal’s “Triumph of The Will” to see how familiar a 1935 film of a 1934 Nazi rally looks and sounds.
Anti-Trump demonstrations are promised for every day leading up to the inauguration. I now hope we see that happen. It was the silence of too many Germans that gave Hitler’s Nazi Party so much power. It was the self-delusion of German industrialists and her military that they could control Hitler that made them collaborators with evil. It was the collection of human misfits Hitler surrounded himself with that led Germany astray.
So what are those of us who are appalled by all of this to do. Violence is never the answer but neither is silence. If Trump’s followers will not extend their hands to heal the national divide then we must. Every action and policy that violates human dignity and decency must be met with public protest and with intelligent legal and political response. Basic to all of that is the power of love. Every human being is made in the Divine Image and that must be respected. Respecting that means appealing to that divine spark in everyone, even those who are against us.
I hope my fears are unjustified.
THE DEADLINE FOR THE ABRAHAM’S LEGACY INTERFAITH TOUR OF ISRAEL HAS BEEN EXTENDED UNTIL NOVEMBER 15.
This tour is not like most. We will be visiting many famous sites, but we will also be meeting people who can tell us about living in Israel and Palestine as people of faith. Having two tour guides – one Israeli and one Arab – will make this tour one that will provide a depth of understanding and experience that is not part of the usual Israel tour. I know it is expensive, but my research says this is what a tour costs these days. I am confident that this tour will be worth every penny. Please watch the video for an explanation of the philosophy behind this project.
In today’s local newspaper this was published on the editorial page. The author is Ronald Stephens, a member of Hendersonville’s city council. My response to the author follows.
In a Times-News editorial (Sunday, July 3), the headline admonished “Get the facts before reacting,” referring to my comments on hearing that St. James Episcopal Church is exploring the possibility of hosting Middle Eastern refugees in Hendersonville.
I had said in a television interview that I was concerned that St. James’ activities could open the door for Syrian refugees to be housed here.
The editorial did not tell the whole story, and it failed to support the conclusion it insinuated — that those speaking against what St. James is considering have a “witch-hunt mentality.” That’s untrue, and I applaud those in our community who are speaking out on this matter. Opinions I’ve received through social media, phone calls and in person are thoughtful and heartfelt.
Perhaps an article about “getting the facts before making a decision on bringing Middle Eastern refugees here” might be in order.
• Fact 1: Mayor Barbara Volk indicated our concerns were “overblown” because it would take a long time for St. James’ plan to come to fruition. But that doesn’t mean a plan isn’t going forward.
Overcoming the one hindrance cited — Hendersonville’s distance from an approved resettlement office — is exactly what is being considered. In a June 23 email, Mayor Volk said: “… They (St. James) are applying, through the Episcopal Church, to be a refugee resettlement agency.”
• Fact 2: There is good reason to believe that the refugees St. James would host would be Syrian.
Among print materials Mayor Volk received from St. James were two articles specifically referring to Syrian refugees: “Syrian Refugees Don’t Pose a Serious Security Threat,” published by the Cato Institute, and “Myths and Facts: Resettling Syrian Refugees,” from the U.S. Department of State.
• Fact 3: Notwithstanding those two articles, there is serious concern that Syrian refugees cannot be properly vetted.
On Nov. 17, 2015, the Washington Post reported in part:
“FBI Director James Comey (said) in congressional testimony last month that ‘a number of people who were of serious concern’ slipped through the screening of Iraq War refugees … . ‘There’s no doubt that was the product of a less than excellent vetting,’ ” he said.
“Although Comey said the process has since ‘improved dramatically,’ Syrian refugees will be even harder to check because, unlike in Iraq, U.S. soldiers have not been on the ground collecting information on the local population. ‘If we don’t know much about somebody, there won’t be anything in our data,’ he said. ‘I can’t sit here and offer anybody an absolute assurance that there’s no risk associated with this.’ ”
• Fact 4: Not being able to properly vet refugees increases the risk of bringing in potential terrorists.
It is reported that in the past fiscal year, 1,682 Syrian refugees were admitted to the U.S., and roughly 23 percent were adult males (U.S. Department of State: “Myths and Facts: Resettling Syrian Refugees”). That may seem like a low percentage, but applying it to President Barack Obama’s goal of admitting 10,000 this fiscal year, we’d be admitting 2,300 men.
• Fact 5: It is unlikely that bringing refugees here is the best means of helping them.
In “The High Cost of Resettling Middle Eastern Refugees” (November 2015), the Center for Immigration Studies stated that resettlement in the United States for one Middle Eastern refugee costs American taxpayers an estimated $64,370 over the first five years, 12 times the U.N. estimate for caring for one refugee in a neighboring Middle Eastern country.
Dr. Steven Camarota, the center’s director of research and lead author of the report, commented, “Given limited funds, the high cost of resettling refugees in the United States means that providing for them in neighboring countries in the Middle East is more cost-effective, allowing us to help more people.”
• Fact 6: In today’s environment, with people understandably concerned with matters of security, the question should be asked: Is helping refugees more important than helping with the needs of our community, i.e., homeless children, fallout from domestic violence, adequate/affordable housing, meaningful employment, to name just a few?
The refugees’ plight is terrible, but there are real hardships here just as worthy of concern. No doubt the people at St. James are honestly seeking to help with a serious problem, but I don’t believe it is witch-hunting to suggest that there may be safer and more cost-effective ways to apply our time and treasure.
Your column in today’s T-N reminded me immediately of Richard Nixon’s maiden speech to Congress in 1947. It was nominally about one individual but the context was the common suspicion that European refugees MIGHT be communists and therefore visas should not be issued for them to come here as refugees. This was two years after Ike had films made at the newly liberated concentration camps for newsreels shown in almost every movie theater in America. Everyone knew the truth about who these refugees were.
It reminds me of Breckenridge Long, a member of FDR’s administration before and during World War II and was in charge of immigration. He did everything he could to obstruct Jewish refugees from coming here because, he said, some of them might be German agents. He justified this in his diary by referencing the contemporary strict laws in the United States imposing quotas on the number of immigrants from particular countries, and his great concern about the possibility that Germany and the Soviet Union would introduce spies or subversive agents into the United States amidst the large numbers of refugees.
I wonder how many Jewish lives would have been saved if it were not for this hostility based on appeals to reason and security.
It reminds me of a dark side in American history going back to the Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798. It reminds me of a history of legislation, political demagoguery, and mob violence against immigrants ever since then.
You are no different from them.
The Syrian civil war, ISIS, and the rise of Iran are all direct results of our invasion of Iraq in 2003, a predictable result, by the way. This is a mess we made and which will trouble the region for some time to come. The Muslim countries in the region have taken in hundreds of thousands of refugees. Those countries, including Turkey, Jordan, and Iraq, are overwhelmed. There are 7.6 million refugees still within Syria and 4.1 million in neighboring countries. Europe has taken in 348,000. According to your essay we have taken in 1682 in the last fiscal year.
After the Viet Nam War we took in about 800,000 Vietnamese refugees and have taken in millions since. There might have been security concerns, but those were set aside because of the human crisis which was largely our creation and our responsibility.
Your “facts” are taken from The Center for Immigration Studies, which has been cited as a nativist hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. This organization is biased and not reliable, yet you cite them as authoritative.
This again places you on that dark side of American history.
This is not about political parties or ideologies. It is about morality. St. James congregation is answering the call of our faith traditions, which is very much founded on people taking care of each other including strangers and including even enemies.
Frankly, Mr. Stephens, I would rather have a family of refugees living next door than someone like you. The immigrant families I have had as neighbors appreciated and loved this country for accepting them. I think you take it for granted not recognizing what makes America something special in human history.
Rabbi Philip J Bentley
PS When I sign as “Rabbi” I am writing as a member of the clergy, not just as a citizen.
PPS I hope you will respond to this letter and in a civil manner. I have tried to be civil about something that is deeply disturbing to me.
PPPS Without doubt you are familiar with the following poem. You may not realize it was written by a young aristocratic Jewish-American woman on seeing the conditions of immigrants arriving in New York.
The New Colossus
Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door
I have wanted, for a long time, to lead an interfaith tour of Israel and Palestine. Now I have that opportunity. I discovered MEJDI tours which specializes in this kind of event.
Here is a description of this tour from its web page.
Abraham is the spiritual ancestor of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam including all their varieties and off-shoots. Nowhere in the world is this more clear than in The Land of Israel. This tour not only takes us to historic places but will bring us together with people of all three faith traditions and those who do the work of bringing together communities of the three Abrahamic faiths.
This tour will provide a fresh vision of the Holy Land. Led by two guides, an Israeli and a Palestinian, we will visit communities, holy places, and homes of three faiths. We will have opportunities to meet with many kinds of people and break bread with them while learning about their lives. Whether this is your first visit or your tenth, we are offering an experience that will both teach and inspire. Travelers who are seeking to understand this common heritage in all of its variety will find this tour an informative and exciting experience.
The site is at https://www.mejditours.com/open-tour/abrahams-legacy-tour/
Having been to Israel many times I have learned that just sight-seeing is not going to a traveler a good knowledge of that state. The same goes for Palestine. The best tours are those that provide opportunities to meet the people there.
By the way, the more people who sign on, the less the per person cost will be.
If you know people who might be interested, please pass this on to them.