Forgotten Christmas messages

Toward the end of each year, millions of people across Europe flock to traditional Christmas markets to enjoy hot mulled wine, listen to bands playing carols and enjoy the bright lights piercing the icy dark.
December 15, 2016

Toward the end of each year, millions of people across Europe flock to traditional Christmas markets to enjoy hot mulled wine, listen to bands playing carols and enjoy the bright lights piercing the icy dark. Many also attend churches and concert halls for a traditional performance of Bach’s “Christmas Oratorio.” After the joyous opening, the tenor sings,“Da machte sich auch auf Joseph … aus Galilaea … in das juedische Land zur Stadt David” (“Joseph went into the Land of the Jews … to the City of David ”), followed by the alto singing “Rise up Zion, and abandon your weeping …” 

Premiered in 1734, these words were sung more than 200 years before the establishment of the Jewish State of Israel in 1948 and even longer before Israel occupied that “Land of the Jews” (renamed the “West Bank” between 1949 and 1967) following the Six-Day War.

Today, UNESCO all but denies the 3,000-year-old Jewish connection to Judea, including Jerusalem, with its magnificent Temple that the Jew Jesus visited. 

The European Union states, where hundreds of millions celebrate Christmas, just supported another United Nations General Assembly resolution condemning Israel, using the Arab/Muslim term for the Har Habayit (aka the Temple Mount.) 

Some churches, as in New Zealand, have changed references to “Israel” and “Zion” from their prayer books.

What goes through their minds as they listen to those old Christian texts?

During the same festive season, many parents take their children to productions of Mozart’s “Magic Flute,” written 57 years after the “Christmas Oratorio.” The story, incorporating Freemason themes, is based on the European Enlightenment’s age of reason, equality and liberty, which fired the imagination of both Mozart and Thomas Jefferson, his senior by 13 years. Both these men would become icons of Western civilization — the very issue being debated in a turbulent Europe today.

Has the enlightened world of Mozart and Jefferson been dumped for mindless populism and political correctness?

In contrast to Europeans today, the deeply religious Bach understood that the Jewish people were tied to the “Land of the Jews” for thousands of years, which is reflected in language, beliefs, rich archaeological finds, ancient references to the House of David, and the pilgrim festivals of Sukkot, Shavuot and Pesach that are celebrated to this very day.

In short, the Jews are the indigenous people of Israel and, despite exile, always maintained a significant presence in their lands. Indeed, the first census of Jerusalem, taken in 1840, attests to Jews being the largest group, which soon became an absolute majority.

Yet Jews are treated very differently from other indigenous people such as Native Americans, the Sami in Scandinavia or the Ainu in Japan. Why?

A major reason is that the early Christian theologian Augustine, arguably the founder of Western Christianity, asserted that Jews be regarded as “eternal witness,” as pariahs, which would render them homeless, unloved and impoverished. Their status would be seen as a triumph of Christianity and serve as a warning to Christians. 

This “eternal witness” epithet became a dominant force in the treatment of Jews. It was reflected in European culture with Wagner, Degas, Agatha Christie, T.S. Eliot and many others. Significantly, the anti-Jewish Hep-Hep riots in Germany, the Mortara Affair in Italy, the Dreyfus Affair in France and the Nazis of 1933 all occurred in post-Enlightenment Europe. 

The treatment of Jewish students on some American and European campuses today, eliciting at best tepid responses by authorities, is therefore of serious concern. A few weeks ago I wrote about the courageous aboriginal leader William Cooper, who demanded justice for both his own people and the Jewish people in Germany. 

Where are the William Coopers on campus?

Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) activities against Israel occur in various forms. Magen David Adom, Israel’s version of the Red Cross, for example, is permitted to use only the Red Crystal, instead of the Star of David outside its borders, including eastern Jerusalem and other areas of “the Land of the Jews.”

Bishop Desmond Tutu is a strong advocate of Israel’s total isolation and inverts the Holocaust yet receives Germany’s prestigious prizes. The Kairos Palestine Document, which advocates boycotts against Israel, has been signed by mainstream churches and endorsed by the World Council of Churches. Conductor Daniel Barenboim, Edward Said’s protégé, who vociferously supports boycotting Israel, received Germany’s Peace Prize. Palestinian resistance advocate Felicia Langer was given Germany’s highest award by former President Horst Kohler. She speaks at churches, comparing Israel to apartheid, referring to its leaders as war criminals. Demonizing Israel has become de rigueur on campus by those who disgrace scholarship.

Students often hide their Jewishness while other Jews, such as Nathan Braude, principal violist in the Brussels Philharmonic and a professor at the Royal Conservatory Ghent, are told to sign onto BDS before accepting their positions. In Germany, official Jewish community mail is now sent in plain envelopes, minus the Star of David logo, as recommended by the police. World and community leaders do not even react to these outrages.

Any wonder then that the German Ministry of Justice has stated that the documented levels of anti-Semitism in Germany for 2015 are three times that of 2014?

What happened to the Age of Reason? Has it been replaced by mindless populism and political correctness?

The pariah status of Jews and Israel is some 1,600 years old. It is not about Jews being “bad,” but rather about being Jews as Jews. After all, Hitler said that “conscience is a Jewish invention.” 

When millions of families, academics, church goers, secular traditionalists and BDS supporters across Europe and the United States gather at their beautiful trees on Christmas Eve, will they ponder the text, “Joseph went to the Land of the Jews?” Or, will they blindly follow a populist mantra that contradicts enlightened reason, let alone historicity?

Ron Jontof-Hutter is a writer based in Melbourne and Berlin where he is a Fellow at the Berlin Center for the Study of Antisemitism. He is the author of the recently published satire on populist anti-Semitism, ”The Trombone Man: Tales of a Misogynist.”

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