Witnesses at a recent hearing in Washington, D.C., warned that a resurrected anti-Semitism is sweeping the globe and could lead to dire consequences for democratic societies and members of all religions.
“When we fight anti-Semitism it is not only a matter of justice for Jewish fellow-citizens, but also of standing up for Christianity, and for Islam, and for the possibility of decent living itself,” said U.S. Representative Chris Smith (R-N.J.), who hosted the Feb. 27 hearing.
Smith, who has co-chaired the House Bi-Partisan Coalition for Combating Anti-Semitism for years, has previously authored legislation to create a State Department office to fight anti-Semitism.
Witnesses at the hearing included rabbis, scholars and human rights experts from across the world.
Multiple speakers detailed examples of anti-Semitism in Eastern and Western Europe as well as the Middle East, including efforts to ban kosher slaughter and circumcision. State authorities have often been slow to respond to anti-Semitic attacks, they explained.
“Unfortunately,” said Katrina Lantos Swett, chairwoman of U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, “anti-Semitism remains a phenomenon that knows no national boundaries.”
In addition, many countries have masked animosity towards Jews under animosity towards Israel, she remarked.
Dr. M. Zuhudi Jasser, president of the American Islamic Forum for Democracy, explained that the radical nature of militant Islamist extremism has fueled an exodus of not only Jews but also Christians and moderate Muslims from many areas of the Middle East, creating a “vacuum of religious diversity” and a stifling of intellectual freedom.
Rabbi David Myer, professor of rabbinic literature at the Gregorian Pontifical University in Rome, described the character of legal anti-Semitism in Europe. Attacks on religious practices will lead to attacks on all religious expression, he warned, and this “inevitably ends with attacks against Jews.”
John Garvey, president of Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., asserted that a “society that tolerates anti-Semitism cannot maintain a healthy democracy.”
Threats to religious freedom endanger democracy by undermining equality and liberty, he explained.
Since “the western commitment to political liberty grew out of our acceptance of religious toleration,” he said, allowing religious persecution risks “running our constitutional evolution in reverse.”
This issue is also of particular interest to Catholics, continued Garvey, because “we are one family in the Abrahamic tradition,” and so anti-Semitism “is an attack on our family.”
In addition, he noted, there is a “similar pattern in the arguments” used to suppress certain Jewish religious practices and those that have been used recently in the United States.
In Germany, circumcision has been called “a violation of individual rights and an outmoded and harmful religious practice,” he said, observing a connection between this reasoning and the arguments used in the U.S. “for requiring Catholic institutions to cover prescription contraceptives, early stage abortifacients, and sterilizations.”
In both cases, Garvey explained, objections to the governmental regulation have been called discriminatory and mocked for resting “on old-fashioned notions of sexual orthodoxy.”
Evangelical scholar Eric Metaxas pointed to the efforts of Christians who worked to save Jews during World War II to illustrate the American belief and Christian commandment to “stand up for those being treated unjustly or persecuted in anyway.”
“Everyone who has the privilege to call himself a Christian or an American must stand against these things and not just stand against them but take action against them,” Metaxas stressed. “This is the right thing and the Christian thing to do. God commands it.”