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The Anguish of the Jews by Edward Flannery, 23 Centuries of Antisemitism

Updated: Feb 7

If I said that this work was a resource for every expression of antisemitism in history, I would not be far from the truth. Its research is exhaustive and gives some understanding of why antisemitism seems to be the default setting of every age. I have added it to my blog 'War in the Balkans' because of the Holocaust of the Jews in Croatia and Serbia during World War 2, and I will ask the question: to what extent can antisemitism be held accountable for the world’s response to the present Israeli Hamas conflict?

Edward Flannery was an American Catholic priest who published the work in 1965. On the subject of antisemitism, he doesn’t mince words. ‘The vast majority of Christians…are all but totally ignorant of…the immense suffering of Jews throughout the Christian era... because the antisemitic record does not appear in history books.’

I am a Christian and it grieves me to read that antisemitism, although present in ancient Rome and Ptolemaic Egypt (Maccabees 1 and 2), was cemented throughout the fourth century of the Christian era and into the early fifth century. It stemmed from ‘the full flowering of that theology which laid Jewish miseries to divine punishment to Christ’s crucifixion’. Neglecting St Paul’s exposition on God’s election and salvation of Israel in Romans 9 -11, the church fathers ‘turned upon the synagogue with the greatest vigour’. Indeed, the language of St John Chrysostom against the Jews reminded me of Hitler. Only St Augustine was faithful to St Paul. ‘Christians,’ he wrote, ‘have a duty to love Jews and to lead them to Christ,’ but ‘he is at the same time at a loss to understand their unbelief, this animosity towards Christians, and their unending misfortunes.’

During this same century, the centre of the Talmud was established in Babylonia and ‘It was forgotten or ignored that the Jewish dispersion began many centuries before Christ and that Palestine was never completely emptied of Jews.’

At this time, violence was perpetrated by both sides and some countries showed less tolerance than others. In Rome Pope Gregory the Great (540-604) respected the legal rights of Jews and ‘the Pauline teaching of special affection for Israel’. Under the Emperor Justinian (483-565), however, who reigned from Constantinople, rules restricting Jewish life were passed with liberality: what Jews could own, where they could be seen, the professions from which they were barred, where synagogues could be open or closed and where Judaism was outlawed.  

From 1096, matters deteriorated in Germany, France, Austria and England as the first Crusaders, eager to free the Holy Land from the Muslims, turned first upon European Jews. In what the author refers to as the ‘the superstitious zealotry of the mob’ Jews were offered baptism or death, and thus many were slaughtered. ‘From January to July of 1096 it is estimated that up to 10,000 died, probably one fourth to one third of the Jewish population of Germany and Northern France at that time.’ Once the Crusaders arrived in the Holy Land, the slaughter continued. ‘In 1099 at journey’s end in Jerusalem the soldiers of Godfrey de Bouillon found the Jews assembled in a synagogue and set it ablaze.’

With the onslaught of the Second Crusade in 1147, St Bernard was forced to condemn further antisemitism in Europe by again recalling St Paul. “Who is this man that he should make out [St Paul] to be a liar and render void the treasure of Christ’s love and pity?” In 1272 following incidences in the Rhineland and Bavaria, Pope Gregory X forbade forced baptisms and violence. Many Jews migrated to Palestine and, of those who remained, 100,000 throughout Germany and Austria were killed by mobs stirred up by noblemen.

The development of the Jews as usurers and money lenders was an outcome of the laws restricting their lives and brought its own resentment from Christians. ‘By the end of the thirteenth century, Jews were expelled from France, England and most of Germany. In almost all cases, the expulsions found the origin in the business of usury.’ Yet the list of things they were accused of is a tribute to Mediaeval imagination and the zealous peasant jumped at any excuse for murder and for the widespread burning of the Talmud. Jews were even blamed for the Black Death (1347-50). ‘Apparently, no enormity was too great to lay at the door of the Jews.’ In a chilling foretaste of the twentieth century, ‘the massacres were greatest in Germany’ and ‘by the end of the fifteenth century no more than three or four German cities still harboured a Jewish population… Most left Germany for Poland or Lithuania.’ Upon their failure to accept his teaching, Martin Luther also turned his fury against the Jews in the following century.

Popes and Christian leaders condemned the atrocities. In 1418 Martin V ‘issued a decree which guaranteed protection [for the Jews] of their lives, rites, privileges and festivals [and] forbade forced baptism.’ St Bernadinus of Sienna (1380-1444) wrote, “As to the Jews, I say here what I say elsewhere: no one who has concern for his soul can injure the Jews, whether it be their persons or their faculties, or in any other way, for even to Jews, Christian piety and love must be shown since they possess a human nature.”

Only in Rome were the Jews never persecuted from the fall of the Western Empire until the close of the sixteenth century. ‘Jewish-Christian relations were intimate’ even to permitting intermarriage. Northern Italy had ample wealth and plenty of Christian usurers without them and they mostly benefitted from the friendliness of the Popes.

Until the end of the fourteenth century Jews also flourished in Spain, when the power and wealth attained by a few and their relationships with the royal family eventually provoked a downward spiral of resentment and persecution. 50,000 perished in a single massacre and worse was to come. In the wake of the Reconquista came an intense desire to strengthen the Christian state, and a conversion campaign was aimed at the Jews. Antisemitism against both Jews and converted Jews increased over the course of the fifteenth century and contained a strong racist element. However, the biggest problem was the ‘compromisers’, those Jews who by nominally accepting Christianity grew to power and wealth by having, as it is said, a foot in both camps.

Enter the Spanish Inquisition.

‘In 1479…Ferdinand and Isabella untied the kingdoms of Castile and Aragon’ and in 1483 the ‘fanatical Torquemada was appointed Inquisitor General.’ He was the most brutal and the most feared inquisitor and his job was to ‘ferret out’ Jews. Beginning with the dodgy converts, he continued to all the other Jews in Spain. ‘In 1492 the monarchs issued the fatal decree. All Jews must leave the realm by July 30th under penalty of death’. 300,00 departed.

Writing in the twelfth century, Peter Abelard nevertheless sums up the entire Middle Ages. ‘To believe that the fortitude of the Jews in suffering would be unrewarded was to declare that God was cruel. No nation has ever suffered so much for God.’

From the seventeenth century commenced the Age of the Jewish Ghetto in Europe. Many Jews moved east to Palestine, the Balkans, Turkey or Poland where life was safer. However, a series of attacks upon Polish Jews by Russians, Cossaks and Swedes during one decade in the second half of the seventeenth century killed between 100,000 and 500,000 Jews and destroyed 700 Jewish communities. ‘With the exception of the Nazi period…the sixteenth to the eighteenth centuries constituted the [lowest point] of post-Biblical Jewish history.’

In France, the Enlightenment and the change in ideas swept in by the French Revolution brought some measure of emancipation at the end of the eighteenth century, but the racist antisemitism present in Prussia is considered to be the beginnings of Nazi antisemitism. (Note the difference between religious antisemitism and racist antisemitism.) ‘From this point Germany became the undisputed cultural centre of antisemitism and the source of an endless stream of antisemitic books and pamphlets.’ The German-born Karl Marx is an example of a Jewish antisemite.

As religious faith [in Europe] declined… and the spirit of rationalism and scepticism rose, the need to justify the segregation [of the Jews] in purely secular terms grew…If the plight of the Jews did not stem from the crucifixion, it came from themselves, their ethnic make up; Jews, in a word, were innately perverse.’

Here begins a section marked ‘rationalistic antisemitism’ in which the French writer Voltaire stresses the rationalist grounds of his ‘utter contempt’ for the Jews and Judaism. ‘Jews are… “the most imbecile people on the face of the earth, enemies of mankind, a people most obtuse, cruel and absurd, whose history is disgusting and abominable.”’ His ideas were echoed by the German philosophers Fichte, Hegel, Herder, Schleiermacher and Harnack, and studied later by Hitler.

Under the final two Czars, government-approved pogroms against Russian Jews shocked the world and led to the immigration of over a million.  Not content with this, Russia published The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, a piece of badly-written nonsense blaming the Jews for every crime in the universe. Nevertheless, it was well-received and translated into the major European languages and Arabic. ‘When otherwise brilliant minds are so deceived and…even after irrefragable disproof, persist in believing, we are at grips with a collective psychosis, with a will to hate and destroy well beyond the pale of human rationality…a secularized diabolism.’

Thus ended the nineteenth century and we all know what happened in the twentieth.                                                                    

A reflection on the October 7th attacks on Israel and the present conflict in Gaza.

In the middle of January 2024, I witnessed Marxist groups outside Newtown railway station in Sydney ardently collecting pro-Palestinian signatures. As there has always a Jewish presence in Palestine, why not collect pro-Israeli signatures? It is antisemitism that governs the choice. Why do the Federal Greens refuse to condemn the Hamas attacks of October 7th? Why is the NSW Teachers Federation openly pro-Palestinian? Why does Sydney’s art and literary scene consider it appropriate to simplify the present complex situation in Palestine to Israeli attacks on Gazan children? Why are the two sides unequally reported in the media?

Because ‘hatred of Jews [is] a serious social and ethical problem,’ concludes Edward Flannery, and the Australians referred to above are following the tradition of mob mentality outlined in his book. History has established a culture in which it is acceptable to disbelieve Jews.  

As an example, regarding the brutal Hamas rapes of Israeli women on October 7th 2023, ‘bone-chilling horrors – such as repeated gang rapes that were so brutal they left women and girls with broken pelvises and mutilated genitals’, I quote from Human rights groups’ hypocrisy on Hamas rape - opinion - The Jerusalem Post (  25th December 2023.

‘Amnesty International so far has issued 29 press releases entirely or mostly about Gaza since October 7. They, too, have been filled with baseless allegations about Israeli murders, “apartheid,” and the like. To this day, Amnesty still has not issued any statement about the Hamas rapes.’     


And another article from Microsoft Why are feminists silent on Hamas's use of rape as a weapon of war? ( 20th January 2024.

‘The denial of widespread, preplanned mass rape and sexual violence on October 7 must therefore be treated with the same revulsion as Holocaust denial. Hamas has denied that the rapes occurred, despite overwhelming evidence. Speak up, an Egypt-based feminist initiative, inconceivably has launched a campaign to discredit Israeli victims, with coalition groups joining across the Middle East and a letter condemning The New York Times investigation into sexual violence by Hamas. Speak up boasts over 68,000 followers on X (formerly Twitter), and 250,000 Facebook members. Turkish public broadcasting has published an article claiming to debunk “outlandish Israeli claims of rape.” Unbelievably, their efforts have found sympathetic ears in Western academia…Ingrained antisemitism on the extreme Left leads to this moral failure.’

How else can we explain it?

Yasser Arafat, the leader of the Palestine liberation Organization, received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1994. ‘He and the Israeli leaders Peres and Rabin received the Peace Prize for having opted for the olive branch by signing the so-called Oslo Accords in Washington. The agreement was aimed at reconciliation between Israelis and Palestinians.’ Yasser Arafat – Facts -

How quickly we forget.




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