There’s a cemetery in St. Louis where the headstones are overturned and smashed. The name of the place is Chesed Shel Emeth, ‘true kindness’, referring to the act of compassion and dignity of burying someone after death. You’d expect a place like this to be a place of peace but yesterday it was targeted for the same hatred that keeps resurging across history. Police haven’t yet said if they’really treating this as a hate crime, but as 69 other Jewish facilities have received bomb threats over the last month, it’s difficult not to see this as yet another manifestation of an ancient prejudice.
It’s not just the US. Similar things have happened in Manchester, in Ottawa, in Austria, in Germany… Swastikas never go away, and while we can be shocked by the vandalism and the threats of violence, the fact is that if you normalise Nazis, you get antisemitism.
It’s a prejudice with its own vocabulary: blood libel, Dreyfus, Irving vs Lipstadt, the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Read a few conspiracy theories and sooner or later someone will trace the Evil Other back to ancient Israel or a family with a Hebrew name or dogwhistle-lizard people standing in for Jews. Antisemitism, like many other prejudices, has its own mythology to sustain it. It’s a mythology that’s led to pogroms and internment and exile and genocide; it’s a mythology that once consumed Europe and it’s a mythology that’s now threatening cemeteries and community centres.
And much of this mythology has been transmitted by the Church. Sorry, but it’s true. We honour Bonhoffer because so many other German pastors were complicit with genocide, and that’s a family sin we have to confront.
We can’t change history, that’s sadly obvious, but we can stand up to the present and choose our future. We don’t have to tolerate anti-Jewish hate, we don’t have to give antisemitism any more oxygen. We don’t have to agree with and rubber-stamp every Israeli politician in order to love and support our Jewish neighbours. We don’t have to rerelease Medieval paranoia every time society’s shadow is fertile.
Because in our conspiracy-saturated alt-truth world, the old mythologies are on the march again, and after the mythology comes the icons; the stars and the Swastikas, then the broken glass and barbed wire. It can happen here in a heartbeat; sometimes we even vote for it.
But we can stand. If someone who once lived seven miles from my parents can save thousands of Jews from the Holocaust, the absolute least I can do is speak out against prejudice and antisemitism. That’s the least any of us can do. History always wants to repeat itself; we don’t have to give it the satisfaction.