Philo-Semitism: A Primer

As Palin donned a Star of David pendant in New York – "Today is the 44th anniversary of Jerusalem being reunited. We want to call attention to that" – Adam Kirsch reviews a new anthology on philo-Semitism that begins with a joke: “Q: Which is preferable—the antisemite or the philosemite? A: The antisemite—at least he isn’t lying.”

This may be too cynical; closer to the bone is the saying that “a philo-Semite is an anti-Semite who loves Jews.” That formulation helps to capture the sense that philo- and anti- share an unhealthy interest in Jews and an unreal notion of who and what Jews are. Both deal not with Jewishness but with “Semitism,” as if being a Jew were the same as embracing a political ideology such as communism or conservatism—rather than what it really is, a religious and historical identity that cuts across political and economic lines.

… As early as the 11th century, then, we can see the ambivalence that continues to mark Christian philo-Semitism down to the present. Jews are valued, but only as long as they play the role assigned them in a Christian project or worldview. If Jews step out of that role, they are bitterly criticized.

On Christianist anti-Semitism:

This philo-Semitism is, at its heart, deeply anti-Jewish, and the attempts of Israeli politicians to court evangelical support have been awkward, to say the least. In 1996, during Benjamin Netanyahu’s first term as prime minister, he supported a bill, urged by Orthodox members of the Knesset, to ban Christian missionary activity in Israel. When he realized that this would profoundly offend the American Christian Right, Netanyahu changed his mind and thwarted the bill. Here we have the Jewish leader of a Jewish state permitting Christians to try to convert Jews, as the price for Christian political support.