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Causes vs. Excuses

Causes vs. Excuses

Can we determine whether a possible reason is a valid cause or is it just an excuse?

The Chosen People Theory

Knowledge of Jewish "choseness" is undeniably widespread. Several years ago, the University of California conducted a study of anti-Semitism. Non-Jewish Americans were presented with 18 unfavorable statements about Jews, and asked whether they believed any of them. By far the most widely-held belief among those surveyed (59%) was that "Jews consider themselves to be G-d's chosen people."

Let's test whether this belief is indeed a legitimate cause of anti-Semitism - or whether it is merely another excuse. If Jewish "choseness" is in fact the cause of anti-Semitism, then hatred against the Jews should disappear when Jews drop the claim that they are chosen.

Late in the 19th century, the Jews living in Germany and Austria collectively rejected their "choseness" and were assimilated by their host nation. In fact, they believed that the non-Jews among whom they lived were the true chosen people. "Berlin is our Jerusalem!" they loudly proclaimed. Gentile society was their social environment of choice, and Germany their beloved motherland.

Did anti-Semitism disappear? We all know the tragic answer to that question. The Jews in Germany and Austria experienced the most vicious outpouring of anti-Semitic hatred in history. Precisely when Jews rejected their claim to "chosenness," they suffered the most virulent forms of anti-Semitism.

Clearly, the Chosen People Theory does not pass this litmus test.

Other "Chosen" Peoples

Another test of the Chosen People Theory is to see how humanity responds to other peoples who claim to be "chosen." If the claim that Jews are chosen gives rise to anti-Semitism, then all groups who make similar claims of having been "chosen" should also become targets of persecution and hatred.

Christianity and Islam represent two other major religious groups that claim to have been chosen. Christian theology accepts that G-d gave the Bible to the Jews and made the Jews His special messengers. However, it is the Christian belief that once the Jews rejected Jesus, the Christians became G-d's new chosen people.

Muslims likewise believe that the Jewish Bible is the word of G-d. However, Muslim theology claims that when Mohammad appeared on the scene, G-d made the Muslims His chosen people.

If Christians and Muslims both claim that they are chosen, then why hasn't this historically generated hatred against them?

Indeed, nearly every nation on earth has at one time or another claimed to be chosen. Americans claimed Manifest Destiny - that their actions were divinely willed - when they annexed Texas and Alaska, against the wishes of the inhabitants of those areas. The Chinese chose to name their country China because the word means "center of the universe." The name Japan means "source of the sun." For Native Americans, the same word means both "human being" and "Indian" - implying that every non-Indian belongs to some subspecies.

These nations are not hated for having claimed superiority. A claim that one is chosen does not in and of itself cause hatred. If it did, then so many other nations would be the targets of the intense, universal hatred that is in fact unique to the Jews.

The Scapegoat Theory

The Scapegoat Theory is cited frequently as a cause of anti-Semitism. Some historians use it to account for the emergence of German anti-Semitism in the late 1930s.

Their reasoning is as follows:

Hitler, like many totalitarian dictators before him, needed to divert blame for his nation's problems by ascribing them to an innocent victim. He randomly selected the Jews as his scapegoat and launched a massive defamatory campaign to alienate them from mainstream German society. He succeeded in his efforts, and as a result, the overwhelming majority of Germans came to hate Jews.

The Scapegoat Theory gives rise to a time-worn question: Which came first, the chicken or the egg? In other words, does a group become hated as a consequence of being singled out as a scapegoat, or is it selected as a scapegoat because it is hated?

The first prerequisite for a prospective scapegoat is someone that the citizens of the country are willing to hate from the start. If we would attempt to divert attention from our own shortcomings by blaming a group that is not already hated by society, the people would not accept it. A fair portion of the population will demand to see evidence of the group's guilt and refuse to let us off the hook.

Imagine what would have happened if Adolf Hitler would have stood before one of those huge crowds in Nuremberg National Coliseum and declared:

My fellow Germans, there is a group among us that is the scourge of humanity! They are dominating the German people and destroying our motherland! If Germany is to regain its esteemed status, these people must be persecuted and ultimately eliminated. Who are these people? They are the midgets among us!

Because there is no preexisting hatred against midgets, people with freckles, or bicycle-riders, governments don't try to scapegoat them.

The Jews are chosen consistently as scapegoats because it is so easy to rile hatred against them. Jews are a people that everyone is more than happy to persecute.

Therefore, the Scapegoat Theory is not the cause of anti-Semitism. Rather, anti-Semitism is what makes the Jews a convenient scapegoat target. If anything, the Scapegoat Theory is simply a barometer indicating the level of hatred that already exists against Jews in any given society. It reveals how much anti-Semitism is already present, waiting to be stirred up.

The Scapegoat is obviously an excuse, not a reason.

Deicide: The Killers-of-Jesus Theory

Christians have long claimed that the Jews killed Jesus, and that is why they hate Jews.

Is this the real cause for hatred? If it is, why were Christians not angry at Jews 2,000 years ago, at the time the Jews supposedly killed Jesus?

Christian anti-Semitism did not begin until long after the death of Jesus. It was not until several centuries later that the Church fathers decided that Jews as a group should be persecuted because they "killed Jesus." Bernard Blumenkranz, author of Jews and Christians in the Western World, documents that the intense and ongoing Christian persecution of the Jews did not truly begin until the advent of the Crusades - over 1,000 years after Jesus' death!

Furthermore, once Christian hatred for Jews got under way, it became worse with the passage of time. Logically, time should have eased the strong feelings, as all of us can attest to the fact that anger gradually decreases with time. Time has a way of healing all wounds.

For example, in 1866, following the Civil War in America, a Northerner would have felt much tension if he had visited the South. Today, a visit to the Southern United States arouses no such emotions. Have you ever heard of a resident of New York feeling apprehensive about vacationing in Florida?

The farther away one is from an event, the less rage one feels - provided the event is the actual cause of the rage!

Therefore, if Christians hate Jews because they killed Jesus, that rage should have climaxed following Jesus' death, and petered out during the two millennia since then. History indicates the very opposite pattern - there were no recorded incidents of anti-Semitism immediately after Jesus' death, yet there were thousands of such incidents many centuries later. From this we see that Jesus' death is not the cause of Christian anti-Semitism.

Who Killed Jesus?

According to the New Testament, it was only the Romans who killed Jesus. While Jews are mentioned as accomplices, the Gospels of Matthew, John and Mark all specifically state that the Romans killed Jesus.

If the killing of Jesus is the cause of Christian hatred, why have only the Jewish accomplices been categorically persecuted? Christians should hate Romans at least as much as they hate Jews!

Obviously, Jesus' death is an excuse, not the reason for anti-Semitism.

Read the next installment of “Why the Jews?” – an exploration of more theories of anti-Semitism.

Published: January 28, 2010

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Article 2 of 5 in the series Why The Jews?

Visitor Comments: 5

(4) Scott R, September 23, 2011 12:20 PM

Possible Cause

The reason the Jewish faith is targeted is because Jews know what its like to be slaves and under the thumb of all sorts of rulers. They learned long ago that saving food and money was an important aspect of their survival. They learned early on about the deceit of the elite and of the rulers and their true intentions. Just like today most of the world is waking up to the cruelty of corporations and greedy elites. In order for the rulers to deflect the outrage they learned how to reflect the anger of the masses towards those that rejected their doctrines and beliefs.

(3) Ann, December 19, 2010 9:56 PM

Christians Don't Hate Jews

Predominantly Roman Catholics, rather than all Christians, targeted the Jews over the centuries. (Window dressings aside, that sentiment continues to this day.) In fact, in Middle Ages France, the Protestant French, known as the Huguenots, sided with and often supported the French Jews, whom they considered kindred souls under G-d. The Huguenots were hated for their affinity for the Jews, and both groups suffered severe persecution, were massacred, were banished, expelled and forced to convert, by the Roman Catholic Church. Regarding First Nations Peoples, whose words for "human being" are used to name them, the author is not fully familiar with First Nations languages and culture. The naming of themselves as human beings was not to exclude other humans as "a subspecies," but to differentiate themselves from the rest of G-d's creation, particularly animals, thus affirming the belief of the specialness of human beings in relation to our Creator, which all Jews also believe. Hope this clarifies an otherwise informative article.

Anonymous, May 9, 2013 8:00 AM

why antisemetism

I think it would surprise you then, if you read the letter Martin Luther , the founder of the Lutheran church in Europe wrote about the Jews. That is where Protestantism originated from. I also saw a famous Televangelist using an "ex-Jew" , a convert to Christianity , to say derogatory things about Judaism. Mind you he grew up as a secular Jew and did not receive any meaningful Jewish education, and would be easy to convince someone in that situation that their religion of birth has no meaning to him. There are many subtle form of anti-antisemitism and the slightly arrogant Christian attitude that the Jews "need to be saved" by Christianity even now. Thankfully with the age of information technology, people are able to get a more objective view on either side , not just believing what they are told. It is true that not all christians behaved badly towards the Jews but at the same time Christians should not be in denial about what happened throughout history. I think it is more ethical to consider why something like the Holocaust was possible, why these "Christian" nations turned a blind eye, and so on, and only by acknowledging these things, we can prevent such an awful thing from happening again.

(2) Steve Hanon, July 26, 2010 8:36 AM

What of the ignorant who hate jews?

I believe that many of the people who hate Jews are ignorant of the important lessons that Judaism teaches. This seminar, although wonderfully insightful, seems to provide no answer to the matter of the vast numbers of people who hate Jews despite their ignorance of Juadaism. Hitler apparently read enough to know that his goals were incompatible with Judaism, but if one engages in conversations with Jew-haters, one seldom finds knowledge of what Judaism represents as a system of thought and morality. Mostly the hatred seems to be the result of a particular kind of intellectual laziness in which nonsense is swallowed whole with no questions asked as part of a psychological need of some kind. I would suggest that most individuals do not have an intellectual life, do not know how to reason, introspect, or empathize. It is nearly impossible to discuss these matters with such persons because of their profound ignorance. There is absolutely no common ground for rational discussion. Having said that, perhaps in the absence of of the values given us by Judaism, these people are easily led by demagogues who do know what Judaism is about, as a manipulation tactic, towards targets to blame for their own failures, unhappiness, and inability to come to terms with reality. On that note, thank you for the insight you have given me.

(1) Mike, July 26, 2010 8:32 AM


With the rise of anti-semitism world wide, many Jews must be asking the questions you raised. No-one wants to be hated and despite all the Jews have done for the good of mankind we can't eradicate it. Of course coming to live in Israel in the heart of the Jewish people is like circling the wagons, for here we find security and warmth living amongst our soulmates. You have logically made your arguments and given us a solution we should all act upon.

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