Shortly after the 2014 Russian annexation of Crimea, I noted in this column and elsewhere that the entire episode — including the fouling of the public space by the aggressor’s genocidal threats and endless disinformation – suggested something of what the 1930s must have been like. A brazen dictator with a talent for rabble-rousing bewitches his own people and paralyzes the political will of those who might be able to deter him. Well-meaning (and not-so-well-meaning) souls make excuses for the aggressor, while his slick propagandists tell lie after lie about his intentions and the purported wickedness of those in the aggressor’s crosshairs. “It couldn’t happen again,” too many say; “the world learned its lesson in the Great War.”
Of course, it did happen again. And the world bled more profusely because of the myopia of those who could not see what was right in front of them.
More recently, a critic of my views on the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the imperative of American support for that beleaguered country bemoaned my use of the tired “World War II analogy.” To which I replied, it’s only “tired” if it’s wrong. Which it manifestly wasn’t in the period before and after the Russian invasion of February 2022. And it isn’t now.
For the Nazi Anschluss of Austria, the Munich cave-in of Britain and France, and the subsequent destruction of Czechoslovakia — all crucial moments in the run-up to World War II — coincided with the Kristallnachtof November 9-10, 1938: the violent assault on Jewish homes, synagogues, and properties during the “Night of Broken Glass” that presaged the exterminationist antisemitism of the Holocaust. On that night of horrors, the cry “Kill the Jews!” rang out across Germany. Now, the same cry is being heard across Europe and the United States, amplified by “Gas the Jews!” in Sydney, Australia.
About all of which, some lessons from the Catechism of the Catholic Church may help concentrate minds that need concentrating.
“Sin is an act contrary to reason. It wounds man’s nature and injures human solidarity” .
“The root of all sins lies in man’s heart. The kinds and gravity of sins are determined principally by their objects” .
“To choose deliberately — that is, both knowing it and willing it — something gravely contrary to the divine law and to the ultimate end of man is to commit a mortal sin. This destroys in us the charity without which eternal beatitude is impossible. Unrepented, it brings eternal death” .
If divine law and human reason condemn hatred of anyone who is “Other” simply because of who he or she is, then even more so do they condemn the irrational and too-often lethal hatred of the People to whom God first made his promises—promises, the Second Vatican Council taught, of which God has never repented (see Nostra Aetate 4). Jew-hatred that leads to cries of “Kill the Jews!” and “Gas the Jews!” is as clear an example of a deliberate choice “that destroys in us the charity without which eternal beatitude is possible” as one can imagine. It is loathsome. It is a gangrenous wound eating away at everything from higher education to politics. It cannot be tolerated, and those who advocate such barbarities should not be tolerated, either.
For Christians to engage in any form of antisemitism is to add further blows to the smitten back of Christ, tied to the Pillar of Flagellation. It is to press more thorns upon his bleeding brow. It is to pound more nails into his hands and feet. It is to thrust another spear into his side. For he was and is, eternally, the Son of David as well as the Son of God, and to scorn his kinsmen is to scorn him.
There is no excuse — none — for the wave of Jew-hatred that has washed across the Western world like an acid bath. Antisemitism is usually a sign of social and cultural rot, and this latest outbreak of an ancient social disease is no exception. Western culture and society are being rotted out from within; is it any wonder that some of the worst of the recent Jew-baiting has taken place on elite campuses, where nihilism, cynicism, and soul-withering secularism reign supreme? (Any parent planning to spend a half-million dollars to send a son or daughter to an Ivy League university or some other intellectual cesspool really should think again.)
The hour is late. The threats are growing. Wake up. And take a first step toward sanity by standing in solidarity with those whom John Paul II called our “elder brothers” in faith.
George Weigel is Distinguished Senior Fellow of the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, D.C.