Anti-Semitism and the Christmas warriors
Michelle Goldberg printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Tue Dec 06, 2005 at 04:09:50 PM EST
Forgive me for blogging again about the non-existent war on Christmas-- there is, I understand, something frustrating about seeing so much attention paid to such a triviality. Yet as the right-wing war cries grow ever louder and shriller, something disturbing is happening -- a current of what looks a lot like anti-Semitism among mainstream conservative commentators is coming to the surface.
When I wrote about the myth of the War on Christmas for Salon a few weeks ago, I noted that the narrative has its roots in Henry Ford's venomous tract "The International Jew," later resurfacing in John Birch Society propaganda. I wrote, "To compare today's 'war on Christmas' demagogues to Henry Ford is not to call them anti-Semites. Rather, they are purveyors of a conspiracy theory that repeatedly crops up in America. The malefactors change -- Jews, the U.N., the ACLU -- but the outlines stay the same. The scheme is always massive, reaching up to the highest levels of power." But in the last two weeks, I've started to think that I may have been giving the gang at Fox News too much credit, because every day they're sounding more and more like Father Coughlin, the fascist radio priest of the 1930s.

On November 17th, as the invaluable website Media Matters documented, Fox News anchor Gibson, author of "The War on Christmas: How the Liberal Plot to Ban the Sacred Christian Holiday Is Worse Than You Thought," appeared on Christian radio host Janet Parshall's show. (Parshall, incidentally, is the host of the hagiographic documentary "George W. Bush: Faith in the White House" and, under Bush, has been an American delegate to the United Nations). People who follow the "wrong religion," said Gibson, "We know who they're going to have to answer to." But in the meantime, he said, "[A]s long as they're civil and behave, we tolerate the presence of other religions around us without causing trouble, and I think most Americans are fine with that tradition."

In fact, this sounds more like dhimmi tradition than the American one, in which Jews and Christians in Muslim countries were allowed to practice their religion as long as they submitted to their Islamic rulers and recognized their subservient status. That's the version of tolerance many on the Christian right seem to be espousing lately. Non-Christians don't have to convert, they just have to know their place.

As Fox conjures a new era of dhimmitude, O'Reilly increasingly sounds like he's been reading "The Protocols of the Elders of Zion." On November 28h, O'Reilly warned his radio listeners about a "very secret plan" to "diminish Christian philosophy in the U.S.A." And who is behind this plot? Why, international financier George Soros and the ACLU, along with "left-wing smear websites." "I mean, the ACLU and George Soros and these websites don't operate day to day without a plan. There is a plan," he said. On one level, this is nothing new -- O'Reilly has been ranting about Soros and the ACLU forever. But this insistence on a covert, coordinated plot against Christianity by moneymen, lawyers and left-wing journalists has some very, very ugly echoes.

On this site, John Mckay covered this incident a bit differently but in a very complimentary way.  McKay quotes Gibson:

GIBSON: The whole point of this is that the tradition, the religious tradition of this country is tolerance, and that the same sense of tolerance that's been granted by the majority to the minority over the years ought to go the other way too. Minorities ought to have the same sense of tolerance about the majority religion -- Christianity -- that they've been granted about their religions over the years.

[ later comment in the dialogue ]

....And that's fine. Let 'em. But in the meantime, as long as they're civil and behave, we tolerate the presence of other religions around us without causing trouble, and I think most Americans are fine with that tradition. [ emphasis mine ]

And McKay notes : "The implications of Gibson's full conversation on Janet Parshall's radio show are far worse than the one line quoted by Olbermann. Gibson's intolerance reaches far beyond a religious belief. He is speaking against social and political tolerance.....Gibson's statement that "as long as they're civil and behave, we tolerate the presence of other religions around us" is a grotesque repudiation of one of the most fundamental principles of American democracy. Gibson expresses the very immature attitude that the most important aspect of democracy is that that majority get its way. Majority rule is not a unique trait to democracy; any angry mob can produce majority rule. "The unique aspect of democracy is the respect and protection that it offers to the rights and desires of the minority. A democracy guarantees a basic set of rights to all its citizens"

by Bruce Wilson on Tue Dec 06, 2005 at 04:34:59 PM EST

I went into this mini-exegesis of "tolerance"

Here is some etymological background to the "tolerance" concept :

1517, "permission granted by authority, license," from M.Fr. tolération (15c.), from L. tolerationem (nom. toleratio) "a bearing, supporting, enduring," from toleratus, pp. of tolerare "to tolerate, lit. "to bear" (see extol). Meaning "forbearance, sufferance" is from 1582. Religious sense is from Act of Toleration, statute granting freedom of religious worship (with conditions) to dissenting Protestants in England, 1689. [ from The Online Etymological Dictioary

In the most accurate original sense of the word - which was still in force in 1689 it seems, and likely much later even, up to today perhaps - to "tolerate" another, or the beliefs of another, is to suffer the existence of those. The implication is that the very existence of the other, or the beliefs of the other, constitute a weight which the one who "tolerates" is unwillingly forced to bear. From that claim emerges the spurious notion that to "tolerate" is a noble act, as in :

"We tolerate your continued existence ( and we can of course kill, or do whatever we want with, you if we wish ) and for that we are nobly magnanimous. You are lesser, flawed, corrupt or sinful, but perhaps not completely beyond redemption though we may reassess that judgement at any time."

[ The modern day financial analogue of this sort of "tolerance" is a zero percent credit card with, written in the fine print, the provision that the lender may raise the card's interest rate at any time to any rate for any reason under the sun including bouts of flatulence, a bad night's sleep, or the stubbing of a toe. ]

"Toleration" suggests power over that, or those, who are "tolerated" and I'd suggest that the word "tolerance" tends to be used in cases where power relationships are skewed such that the party which is "tolerated" is in fact disempowered. So "to tolerate" can code, as a euphemism, for "to allow continued existance" or simply "allow to live".

In semantic terms, somehow this seems maybe even more precarious than dhimmitude, especially for the extreme Manicheanism in the theological outlook of the US Christian right and it's growing tendency - even - to claim that geographic areas, and people within those, can be possesed by evil. Coupled with religious supremacy, which I ventured a preliminary definition of on McKay's post ( open to challenge of course - it's only a start ), these two concepts could lead in explosive directions......

The first contemporary exposition, of what I've come to identify as a common Biblical justification for genocide, I ever heard was over ten years ago while driving a long distance with my brother. He maintained - quite stubbornly - that the slaughter, by the Israelites, of the entire population of Canaan was justified because every last child, woman and man in the land was irredeemable and utterly corrupt, only fit for destruction. Since then I've become more aware of the idea although I recently only became aware of "geographic evil".

I can only imagine the methodological difficulties inherent  in the project of determining how common such beliefs are, but offhand I get the sense they are very much common if not yet ubiquitious.

On "religious supremacy", I suggested this :

*Religious Supremacy : this term, a close relative of "white supremacy", is the belief in the inherent superiority of one's religious faith over all others and even extending to the extreme that all other faiths but one's own are illegitimate suspect, invalid, or simply evil - even in the strong sense.

In the extreme, some manifestations of American Christian religious supremacy cleave the spectrum of human religious faith with a battle axe of Manichean dualism, into absolutes of good and evil, and so place large swaths of humanity and faith in the realm of absolute evil. How is one to confront absolute evil ? Well, attaching to the profane, Earthly realm what is actually an transcedendant - or theoretical - belief or construct, absolute good or evil, lays the groundwork for absolutist solutions that can extend far beyond the realm of forebearance and "tolerance".  

by Bruce Wilson on Tue Dec 06, 2005 at 04:57:18 PM EST

Interestingly, part of my process of "walking away" from dominionism was in part realising how similar the various conspiracy theories were to claims by racists about Jews.

I've went into a little more detail on this reply to another post, but suffice it to say that a lot of people in the dominionist movement have real life links to racists; some of the earliest links between dominionism and the Republican Party, in fact, stem back to the 1970's and to the John Birch Society itself.  As I've noted in another link, if one focuses specifically on pente and charismatic involvement in dominionism, one can stretch the association with racism back to the 30's (to William Branham, a preacher heavily influential in the "latter rain" and word-faith (aka "name it and claim it") aspects of pentecostalism who was active in the KKK (and who is STILL held up as a role model by the Full Gospel Businessmen's Fellowship International).

In fact, I am willing to bet that this is precisely why antihate and antiracist groups like SPLC and the ADL are now specifically monitoring dominionist groups--they're noticing the links, too (and SPLC has done a bang-up job in documenting them in particular).  

Part of why dominionist groups are starting to become more explicitly antisemitic is threefold:

a) they feel they have enough political power that they can get away with it

b) as a part of blatant demonisation of Jewish groups that aren't being "good Jews" and playing the "good Jew role" in supporting the dominionists, all going to Israel, and becoming "Messianic Jews" (one of the deep secrets of dominionism and in particular premillenial dispensationalist dominionism is that they don't particularly care for Judaism as a religion; more properly, they care for Jews as a piece in the Armageddon Puzzle and as a source for easy conversion to "kosher pentecostals" other words, part of their problem is that the Jews, darn them, keep being stubborn and insisting on being Jewish)

c) in the more activist and radical bits of the dominionist movement (and in particular those more associated with Christian Reconstructionism and "Christian Patriot" movements) there has been cross-pollination between dominionist groups and well-known racist groups; this is most often seen in the "Christian Militia" movement (which partners rather closely with both Klan-linked militia groups and Christian Identity-linked militias--Matthew Trewhella, leader of Missionaries to the Preborn, was a leader of a "Christian Militia" group) but increasingly is seen in links between even major faces and players in the dominionist movement and racists (like the FRC-Klan-Conservative Citizen's Council links, the links between Roy Moore and the CCC and "Christian Militias", and so on).

by dogemperor on Tue Dec 06, 2005 at 06:27:56 PM EST

Both Bruce and Michelle used a word that I was not familiar with, so I jumped onto good old Google and found this:

Dhimmitude is the status that Islamic law, the Sharia, mandates for non-Muslims, primarily Jews and Christians. Dhimmis, "protected people," are free to practice their religion in a Sharia regime, but are made subject to a number of humiliating regulations designed to enforce the Qur'an's command that they "feel themselves subdued" (Sura 9:29). This denial of equality of rights and dignity remains part of the Sharia, and, as such, are part of the law that global jihadists are laboring to impose everywhere, ultimately on the entire human race.

Seeing it laid out here and used in the context of what some call "TalibanGelicals", the word is fitting... and chilling. But instead of Islamic jihadists and talibans imposing this 'law' it is the dominionists and their ilk, through bluster, bullying, and even thuggish and terroristic actions, who are creating their own kind of Sharia and imposing it upon the rest of us.

I will NOT be subdued by any religious authority.

by Lorie Johnson on Tue Dec 06, 2005 at 07:53:06 PM EST

Thanks Michelle for a very insightful view.  You're not the only one picking up on "ugly echoes"...

Sometimes I will read something here or elsewhere about current events in dominionism, and I hear the "still small voice" in my head chanting "never again, never again!"

Given my upbringing, I feel like the proverbial canary in the mine.  Because I have been indoctrinated to "seek out and destroy" bigotry, racism, and all sorts of intolerance, I feel that sometimes I perceive the stirrings of persecution before anyone else.

Today I have been reminded several times of the quote on a poster that my friend had - the one that goes "first they came for the Catholics, and I did not speak up, because I was not a Catholic..." and it goes through each group that "they" came to get, and then at the end, "Then they came for me, and there was no one left to speak up."

I feel that this website serves as a reminder to everyone that we need to speak up before its too late.

It's not just anti-Semitism now - though it is clear that it does exist in dominionist thinking - but it is also joined by anti-everything-else-that-isn't-fundamentalist-Christianity.

We need to be thinking not just "never again", but also "never in the first place".


by EmilyWynn8 on Tue Dec 06, 2005 at 05:26:15 PM EST


by Mainstream Baptist on Wed Dec 07, 2005 at 02:09:14 PM EST

I am counting on you --and all of us to identify this stuff -- describe it fully, fairly and factually, so we can best figure out what to do.

Anti-Semitism is certainly part of the rise of what I have for some time been calling "religious supremacism".  They are not even trying very hard to conceal it anymore.

by Frederick Clarkson on Tue Dec 06, 2005 at 09:11:13 PM EST

I read Michelle Goldberg's article on Salon's website a few days ago from a link on I know a little about this subject because I have been writing critical articles about the neocon Jews in and around the Bush administration since the war began in Iraq. I have received numerous emails from Jews, both liberals and conservatives, accusing me of anti-Semitism, which is not true. However, I have learned a number of things from these experiences and I will share them with you.

First, Michelle points to two very obscure references by O'Reilly and Gibson to a Jewish influence, or a Jewish conspiracy, and concludes "very, very ugly echoes" of anti-Semitism. Frederick Clarkson reply's "They are not even trying very hard to conceal it anymore". I can understand way Jews are hypersensitive to criticism because of what happened to the Jews during the Holocaust in fascist Nazi Germany, however, those who throw stones shouldn't live in glass houses. If Jews call people who say anything negative about Jews "anti-Semites" they appear to be saying they want to be held to a different standard than everyone else. If you believe in the first amendment to the Constitution and equality in the legal system (blinded justice) you need to accept free speech criticism and respond back with facts, reason, logic, and thoughtful rhetoric, and not try to intimidate and silence critics with the Jew-hater "anti-Semitism" label.

Second, anti-Semitism is on the rise in American and throughout the world. Why? I think people are judging the Jewish race (religion) by the actions of the Jews who run the Zionist theocratic state of Israel. Particularly as it relates to their treatment of the Palestinians. I also think people believe, as I do, that it was the neoconservative Jews in and around the Bush administration who sold our leaders on the need to start a war in Iraq. Also, the Christian Religious Right sees people like Soros helping the liberal left and think the Jews are conspiring against them.

Third, the key to a successful democracy is free speech. American's democracy has progressed because people like Rosa Parks and Larry Flynt who have moved free speech forward at great person risk to themselves. Ariel Sharon has begun making historic concessions of land and rights to the Palestinians and I believe his actions are partly the result of people who have been openly criticizing Israel's treatment of the Palestinians. Free speech helps correct inequities and injustices.

Finally, I don't hate the Jews and I don't believe the Jews are conspiring to control, rob, or kill the Gentiles. Jews are just like everyone else, some good and some bad. My favorite person in Congress was Paul Wellstone, a Jew. I supported Wesley Clark for President in 2004 and his father was Jewish. President Clinton has a number of wonderful Jews who worked for his administration. I have worked for Jews. I have family members who are Jewish. I dated a Jewish girl. And I have had friends who are Jewish. Jews are just like everybody else and they need to be criticized and accept criticism just like everyone else. When you try to smear people with ugly brush of anti-Semitism they think you have something to hide.

My advise is to accept criticism and don't be afraid to criticize others, but never try to quell free speech with intimidation because you'll be spitting into the wind.

by Chris Fick on Wed Dec 07, 2005 at 04:42:30 AM EST

Further evidence that the phony war on Christmas is code-speak for rallying the conservative Christian base in an argument to take over the judiciary, from Tim Grieve at's "War Room" on Wednesday, Dec. 7:

"As a lawyer in the Solicitor General's Office, Sam Alito laid out a plan for gutting the protections of Roe v. Wade. As if news of that 1985 memo weren't enough, leaders on the right have come up with another way to sell Alito to the faithful: He's the man who will save Christmas!"...

"'This is going to be the dominant theme on the Alito nomination until the end of the year -- the convergence of a Supreme Court nomination, the Christmas season, and a judge who has a well-staked-out position on support for religious expression,' says Jay Sekulow, who is advising the White House on ways to build support for its judicial nominees."

by jhutson on Wed Dec 07, 2005 at 06:48:55 AM EST

Beloved mythic Yuletide gift giving figure of Germanic derivation avoids manufactured political controversy

by Bruce Wilson on Wed Dec 07, 2005 at 08:26:53 AM EST


Thanks for this blog and for the essay you wrote in Salon.

I've posted a blog at my own blog linking to both essays.

by Mainstream Baptist on Wed Dec 07, 2005 at 02:15:39 PM EST

I linked to this and McKay's piece from my site.

I actually posted a comment earlier, but now it doesn't appear to be here. I don't remember writing a title, though, so perhaps that is the problem. Disappeared entirely...

I can reconstruct it, though, because it wasn't very long. I was simply pointing out that when discussing anti-Semitism, Stephen Eric Bronner's book A Rumor About the Jews: Reflections on Antisemitism and the 'Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion' is very helpful. Bonner argues persuasively that when it comes to modern anti-Semitism, the Jews aren't really the point - modernism is and Jews are a scapegoat for everything which people hate about modernity.

In contemporary America, overt anti-Semitism isn't as socially accepted as it once was, so we don't see it as often. Gays and humanists are often scapegoated in nearly the same way as Jews once were. When people are attacking modernity and the loss of traditional Christian privileges, however, it's not such a surprise that the traditional scapegoat of Christians would be used again, even if in subtle ways.

by Austin Cline on Thu Dec 08, 2005 at 02:20:07 PM EST

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