Glenn interviewed Britain’s former Chief Rabbi on TV this week and the Rabbi has noticed some disturbing trends. Not only are attacks on Christians escalating in the Middle East, anti-Semitism is on the rise. Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks shared his unique insight on TheBlaze.
Glenn: You were the chief Rabbi of England. We have heard from so many people, English, Jewish, no longer feel comfortable there. What’s happening in England?
Rabbi Sacks: I don’t think it’s England. I think it’s Europe, and I think it’s the world. You know, sometimes it happens with an illness that you find a cure, you eradicate it from a certain population, but before you’ve done so, you infect another population. I kind of think that’s what happened with anti-Semitism, that after the Holocaust, Europe woke up and said what is this that’s happened in our midst? And from them on, there was a sustained campaign, probably the most complete in history, to strengthen the immune system of European culture so that there would never again be an outbreak of anti-Semitism. Sadly, the virus did infect certain populations in the Middle East.
Glenn: It was intentionally transferred. I mean, Iran is called Iran as a salute to the Aryan nation.
Rabbi Sacks: It goes back a way, yes. A very European thing called the blood libel which accused Jews of killing Christian children was taken by Christians to the Middle East, to Egypt and Syria and Lebanon, in the 19th century, and then very sadly from Germany in the 1930s, a forgery, famous forgery called the Protocols of the Elders of Zion was also taken into the Arab world, and so this huge effort of Holocaust education, antiracist legislation, interfaith dialogue, that had such an impact and actually transformed relations between Jews and Christians which had been estranged for almost 2,000 years, and there really was a transformation.
I mean, let me salute a great human being here, Pope John XXIII, who in the early 1960s began to realize what had happened and set in motion something called Vatican II which produced a document called Nostra Aetate in 1965, which transformed the church’s relationship with other faiths, but especially with Jews, and that has been one of the most positive changes in religious history, but unfortunately it began to infect parts of the Middle East, and today that has fed back into Europe, and it’s very problematic.
Glenn: Okay, so you can’t get anybody…if we would have said in the 1930s you can’t say that we’re at war against Nazi-ism, you can’t say you’re at war against Germans, even though we have a record of destroying the Nazis and then immediately handing candy to the Germans—we didn’t hate the German people; we hated the ideology that was driving them. You can’t get anyone in today’s politically correct world to say we’re at war with a psychotic version of Islam. That doesn’t mean that all Muslims are bad. I have friends who are Muslim. They’re not bad. But there is a clear ideology that wants you dead, me dead, and quite honestly some Muslims dead as well, and we won’t name that.
Rabbi Sacks: Well, I think we have to be very candid here and say that the most serious victims of radical Islamism are Muslims who are being killed in Iraq, in Syria, in Afghanistan. You know, it’s a war within Islam. There’s no question about it, just as, you know, the 1930s was a war within Europe, and just as in the 16th and 17th centuries we had a war within Christianity. So, where Islam is today, Europe was and Christianity was before then. So, this is not a completely unknown phenomenon.
Glenn: So what are we at war with, Rabbi?
Rabbi Sacks: We are at war with a way of thinking which says when bad things happen, who did this to us? I mean, Germany was not the most anti-Semitic nation in Europe at the end of the 19th century. If you would have asked in the late 1890s what are the epicenters of anti-Semitism, you would have answered Paris and Vienna, Paris of the Dreyfus trial and Vienna, whose mayor was a man called Karl Lueger, very public anti-Semite from whom Hitler learned to be an anti-Semite.
So, it wasn’t Germany, so what happened in Germany? And the answer is Germany lost the First World War, felt humiliated by the Treaty of Versailles, and instead of asking what did we do wrong, it asked who did this to us? Now, whenever a culture moves from what did we do wrong, which is a self-reckoning, which is essential to Judaism and Christianity. You know, when something goes wrong, we say, you know, forgive us, you know, help us atone, help us change.
When a culture doesn’t ask that question, when it says somebody must have done this to us, the West has had a narrative for 2,000 years which says if you want somebody to blame, here are the Jews. Unfortunately, today that is gripping hold of another kind of population. There’s no question that nothing good ever came out of this, and anti-Semitism doesn’t just destroy Jews, it destroys anti-Semites, so it’s a very self-destructive route.
Glenn: I want to come back to the war with radicalized Islam here in a second, but let me jump off of what you’re saying here, because it is one of my greatest concerns. In the 1930s, you’re right, Weimar looked for anybody, and they had good reason. We as the West punished Germans in an unreasonable way. That’s why they inflated their money, and that just led to more misery and somebody rising up and saying, “They did it!”
In the 1930s, we saw this rapid rise of anti-Semitism. We saw the world go mad, but the world went mad because people were starving. We don’t even begin to understand the kind of depression that they were going through in the 1930s. We have people now who say I’m going to go kill in the name of Allah for ISIS, and they leave, and they go. They’re signing up to behead people, but they don’t have cell service, and they write mom and dad and say you’ve got to help me get back into France because I can’t live without my cell phone. We have no clue as to how bad things economically can get.
I believe we are on the road for economic, real economic disaster that we will get through. The world has always gotten through these things but usually with bad bloodshed, because somebody, Fascists, whether they are in the line of Le Pen in France or in Russia or in Germany, Spain, somebody rises up and says, “They did this to you.”
So, we don’t have just the Islamists, we also have the Fascists and the Communists that are also rising up who also like to have Jews as a scapegoat, but I don’t think it’s just the Jews this time. I think it’s everybody who disagrees with them. So, how do we prepare a society that our leadership all across the world is saying the economic crisis is over? It’s not. Even if you don’t believe in the banking crisis or a hyperinflation or a deflation crisis, just look at technology. The people in Silicon Valley are telling us 50% of all jobs will be lost by 2025. There is a great change of some sort coming, so how do we root people into decency in a growingly secular way of life?
Rabbi Sacks: There is no question that this calls for real spiritual leadership. There’s no question. People can get used to a great number of things. They can get used to poverty. They can get used to disease. They can even get used to war, but they can’t get used to change, real, profound systemic change that gets faster and faster. You’re on a roller coaster of ever-accelerating change. This is very disorienting to people, and it does seem to me that at times like this a spiritual message is very important, because if there’s one thing that religion tells you, it is what is eternal in the midst of change.
I think Jews knew this very well indeed, you know? For pretty much 1,000 years, Jews didn’t know whether they would still be in the country where they were born next year. The political environment could change so fast, and yet Jews learned this extraordinary persistence during change because they were rooted in things which are not to do with where you’re living, they’re not to do with what job you do, they are to do with who am I, you know?
So I think in a sense religion may be part of the problem when it becomes radicalized, but at the same time, religion is part of the solution. One thing that drives fundamentalists in all faiths is fear, and I think to myself, you know, what is my answer to fear? Just read Psalm 27—the Lord is my light and my salvation, whom then shall I fear? God is the refuge of my life, of whom then shall I be afraid? If there’s one thing in human civilization that is stronger than fear, it’s called faith, so real, true faith, in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, in all the world’s faiths is actually the solution to the problem that we’re facing.
Glenn: There are many Christians, pastors, leaders, that are awake and standing up. I find it amazing the thing happening in the Christian world that has changed in the last five to ten years. There’s something different happening, a lot of people standing up and waking up, but there’s also, and this is in every faith, there’s also a lot that in the Christian world, they don’t want to take on anything too controversial because they’ll, you know, lose whatever.
In the Jewish world, God forbid you stand up and say never again means look for the roots of the problem, and if you see those, maybe we should weed those roots out or at least point and say maybe a bad part of the garden that’s happening over here. So, we have people in both of our faiths that are not part of the solution here. They’re not standing up.
Rabbi Sacks: We had a very great Rabbi 2,000 years ago, terrific man called Rabbi Johanan ben Zakkai. He was a real hero. I mean, the fact that Judaism survived has to do with the fact that he managed to build an Academy at Yavne after the Roman destruction of Jerusalem. So, he was one of the visionaries of his time, and as he lay dying, his disciples gathered around his bed and said, “Rabbi, tell us something.” And he said, “You want me to teach you something? Would that you were as afraid of God as you are of human beings.” They said, “Rabbi, we needed you to tell us that?” And he said, “Yes, you do, because when a thief breaks into somebody’s house, he prays that no human being should see him. He doesn’t worry that God sees him.”
So, it’s one of those mistakes we all make, being scared of other people instead of really fearing God, and that’s why, you know, if you really do reverence God, you are not afraid of saying what has to be said. Fear no man is one of the principles of religion, so I think this is terribly important, and I think we have to have the courage to say in the end, what is evil about anti-Semitism? What actually is anti-Semitism?
We have a famous anti-Semite in our history called Haman, who is a major figure in the Book of Esther, and he tells King Ahasuerus, translated in English as Xerxes, he says wipe out the Jews because there is this one people dispersed among the nations whose laws and customs are different from all other nations. Jews were hated because they were different. Anti-Semitism is the paradigm case of dislike of the unlike, but if you think about it, it is what makes us different that makes each of us, you and I, unique, and it is the fact that each of us is unique—even genetically identical twins have only 50% of characteristics in common, because each of us is unique. None of us is replaceable, and that is what the sanctity of life is all about.
So, anti-Semitism looks as if it’s about Jews, but it’s actually about what it is to be human. There was a very great survivor of Auschwitz called Primo Levi, who wrote a famous book on his experiences in Auschwitz, and he called it If This is a Man. He didn’t call it If This is a Jew. Ultimately, anti-Semitism is an assault on our humanity, so it really and truly affects all of us, Jew, Christian, Muslim, you name it, and that is why we have to stand together to fight it right now.
If you were to ask me who are the biggest victims on the line right now, I would say it is the Christian populations of much of the world. They are being persecuted throughout the Middle East and in many other parts of the world. There are no Christians left in Afghanistan. The last remaining church burned to the ground in 2010. There was a Kristallnacht, an assault on 50 churches in Egypt in 2013.
There are 5 million Coptic Christians living in fear. In Iraq, 12 years ago, there were 1-1/2 million Christians, today less than 400,000, so in the end, you have Jews fearing the return of anti-Semitism, Christians almost being wiped out of the Middle East which is where Christianity was born, and you have 90% of the casualties of Islamist violence being Muslims. So, we’re all at risk, and we all have to stand together.
Glenn: So you are talking to an audience now who has been through this. This is well-tilled soil here, and we have talked about these things for a long time. My audience is, I really, truly believe, one of the more dedicated groups of people to let’s be the righteous among the nations; however, I know I feel this way, and I am sure the audience does. I bet there are people all over the world that feel this way—what do I do? What do I do?
Yes, I know. I know what’s happening in Egypt. I know what’s happening in Iraq. I know what’s happening Afghanistan, in France, in England, in Germany, in Russia, what’s happening here. I know. We keep saying it. We keep talking. Rabbi, it’s such a huge problem. As I was thinking about this interview today, I thought I think this is going to be one of those interviews that people look back ten years, 15 years from now, and say they knew, people knew…what happened? And what happened was we don’t know what to do.