NYT notices incitement can kill – everyone but today’s Jews
Today’s New York Times has an op-ed by Sara Lipton about what we can learn from medieval Christian antisemitism:
DO harsh words lead to violent acts? At a moment when hate speech seems to be proliferating, it’s a question worth asking.
Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch recently expressed worry that heated anti-Muslim political rhetoric would spark an increase in attacks against Muslims. Some claim that last month’s mass shooting in Colorado Springs was provoked by Carly Fiorina’s assertion that Planned Parenthood was “harvesting baby parts”; Mrs. Fiorina countered that language could not be held responsible for the deeds of a “deranged” man. Similar debates have been occasioned by the beating of a homeless Hispanic man in Boston, allegedly inspired by Donald J. Trump’s anti-immigration rhetoric, and by the shooting deaths of police officers in California, Texas and Illinois, which some have attributed to anti-police sentiment expressed at Black Lives Matter protests.
No historian can claim to have insight into the motives of living individuals. But history does show that a heightening of rhetoric against a certain group can incite violence against that group, even when no violence is called for. When a group is labeled hostile and brutal, its members are more likely to be treated with hostility and brutality. Visual images are particularly powerful, spurring actions that may well be unintended by the images’ creators.
The experience of Jews in medieval Europe offers a sobering example. …
Ferocious anti-Jewish rhetoric began to permeate sermons, plays and polemical texts. Jews were labeled demonic and greedy. In one diatribe, the head of the most influential monastery in Christendom thundered at the Jews: “Why are you not called brute animals? Why not beasts?” Images began to portray Jews as hooknosed caricatures of evil.
The first records of large-scale anti-Jewish violence coincide with this rhetorical shift.
…Some may well have been insane. But sane or deranged, they did not pick their victims in a vacuum. It was repeated and dehumanizing excoriation that led those medieval Christians to attack people who had long been their neighbors.
Today’s purveyors of anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant, anti-police and anti-abortion rhetoric and imagery may not for a moment intend to provoke violence against Muslims, immigrants, police officers and health care providers. But in the light of history, they should not be shocked when that violence comes to pass.
Yet the most direct example of incitement directly causing people to attack Jews at this moment – Palestinian media antisemitism and making “martyrs” into heroes – is ignored.
No, to the NYT, Jews aren’t victims of incitement now, and there is no need to report about it. No, today’s real victims of incitement are Muslims, immigrants, police and Planned Parenthood.
The article is even worse than this. Lipton, trying hard to relate the anti-Jewish bigotry of the Middle Ages into an object lesson for today, is exonerating Christian leaders by saying that they were against violence – just like Republican presidential candidates say that they aren’t responsible for violence today:
Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of Jews were massacred in towns where they had peacefully resided for generations. At no point did Christian authorities promote or consent to the violence. Christian theology, which applied the Psalm verse “Slay them not” to Jews, and insisted that Jews were not to be killed for their religion, had not changed. Clerics were at a loss to explain the attacks. A churchman from a nearby town attributed the massacres to “some error of mind.”….For the rest of the Middle Ages, this pattern was repeated: Preaching about the crusades, proclamations of Jewish “enmity” or unsubstantiated anti-Jewish accusations were followed by outbreaks of anti-Jewish violence, which the same shocked authorities that had aroused Christians’ passions were then unable to restrain. We see this in the Rhineland during the Second Crusade (1146), in England during the Third Crusade (1190), in Franconia in 1298, in many locales following the Black Death in 1348, and in Iberia in 1391. Sometimes the perpetrators were zealous holy warriors, sometimes they were opportunistic business rivals, sometimes they were parents grieving for children lost to accident or crime, or fearful of the ravages of a new disease.
No. The Christian leaders directly incited against Jews. Clerics were the ones who linked the Black Death with the Jews. Christian cathedrals and venerated artwork showed Jews (Synagoga) as defeated by the enlightened Christians (Ecclesia).
This image of the blindfolded Synagoga, holding a lamb’s head, looking away from the crucifixion, came from a 12th century psalter:
Other representations of Synagoga, particularly in the Late Middle Ages, present a more contemptible figure. For example, in a fifteenth-century portrayal of the crucifixion, Ecclesia holds a chalice to receive the blood from the pierced heart of Jesus, whereas Synagoga turns away from him, in the clasp of a devil who rides atop her neck and blinds her to the Christ by covering her eyes. The association with the devil evokes a malevolent Synagoga. … Many [Medieval Christians] would have viewed the figures of Synagoga and Ecclesia, and thereby absorbed a dangerous lesson: Judaism no longer has reason to exist.
You cannot separate these hateful images from the Church the way Lipton tries to.
The Holy Friday liturgy of the Eastern Orthodox Church and Byzantine Catholics uses the expression “impious and transgressing people”, but the strongest expressions are in the Holy Thursday liturgy, which includes the same chant, after the eleventh Gospel reading, but also speaks of “the murderers of God, the lawless nation of the Jews”, and, referring to “the assembly of the Jews”, prays: “But give them, Lord, their reward, because they devised vain things against Thee.”
Yeah, deicide. Was that made up by “opportunistic business rivals”?
Sara Lipton, in her zeal to find an analogy to today’s Republicans, manages to downplay official Christian antisemitism as well as ignore today’s endemic Arab antisemitism.
Which makes this a perfect article for the New York Times.
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