ICCJ President's Greetings for 2023

New Year's greetings from ICCJ President Liliane Apotheker to all engaged in Jewish-Christian dialogue.

Dear Friends,

Some of you have asked me to continue to write about what I hear, feel, and sense around me.

So here is what I heard a couple of weeks ago on the terrace of a Parisian cafe in a lovely, centrally located neighborhood: “You do not know who the Rothschilds are? They are the family who have bought and control Europe!” This was said in a very matter of fact and affirmative way by a rather young man to his two female companions. I gulped, did not interfere, and felt nauseous for the remainder of the day. Then I wondered should I let my inner voice scream “Oy Gevalt” (this expression is explained by Wiktionary as a powerful and concise Yiddish idiom used “at the realization of negative consequences of the recognition of something that is adverse”)?

We are all aware that conversations such as this in public and private spaces are not novel and that they have the calamitous potential to shape public opinion. Nowadays they circulate with an exponential capacity for harm and violence on social media and I feel we can no longer remain passive. They are often instigated by global cultural icons and celebrities who have a following the size of which we can hardly imagine. Clearly spreading venom and hatred is a way to attain superstardom.

Yet we should not let this outdo all our efforts but rather find ways for ICCJ to deepen our understanding of what is going on and see how we can combat this.

“It is not necessary to hope to undertake, nor succeed in order persevere”: this 16th Century quote by William I, Prince of Orange describes adequately how I mostly feel about this.

Therefore, ICCJ is dedicating two of our main events in 2023 to reflecting with you all and our partners on the haunting and strident issue of antisemitism and hatred towards the other.

The rise of populism in many countries, including Israel, has freed violent hate speech. Taboos have been repealed, people find echo chambers where they are free to resonate with each other’s uncensored prejudice and stereotypes and unfortunately this often morphs into acts of physical violence. Therefore, we must dedicate our full attention to antisemitism without ever forgetting that we are not immune to expressions of hatred towards others.

Antisemitism, that self-sustaining animosity towards Jews exists even in the absence of Jewish communities. Sometimes combatting it with rational arguments unleashes more of the same with accusations of power and control hurled at Jewish communities and Jewish leaders.

Many people do not even know what it really means to be antisemitic, there is a general sense of confusion and bewilderment when the term is used.

Additional complexity stems from the fact that antisemitism is also sometimes weaponized preventing honest and transparent discernment of what is at hand when policies of the State of Israel are criticized.

We will reflect on this during our online consultation in 2023 by studying the existing working definitions of antisemitism. Aided by guiding questions we will attempt to analyze the complexity of this theme.

In June we will gather in Boston for an international conference that will address friction between identities and seek to discern where the multiple facets of our identities intersect and where solidarities can emerge.

It may sound like antisemitism is taking precedent over everything else at ICCJ in 2023.

Yet so many patterns of hatred and oppression somehow relate to it that it is to be feared that if we at ICCJ do not combat it, we will not be effective in combatting other expressions of violent hostility.

Nevertheless, we will not fend only for ourselves because: If I am only for myself, who am I?

At the time of writing the new Israeli government has not yet been formed, but clearly Israel is at a pivotal moment of its history. Incidents against minorities are already alarming us. Robed Christian clergy being spit on in Jerusalem is a longstanding problem. It may become a growing phenomenon and harassment of Christian pilgrims may intensify if the perpetrators feel empowered. If indeed the democratic values of the country, the respect of the integrity, both physical and moral of all minorities is endangered we will combat it with all our might. Our strength lies in our ability to discern and remain alert like the vigil in the Bible:
"On your walls, O Jerusalem, I have appointed watchmen.
All day and all night they will never keep silent". (Isaiah 62.6)

This is foundational for civilization as we know it. In Israel, our member organization, the Rossing Center is already on the alert and so are many of our partners and friends.

Bad things happen if good people remain silent, a quote known to us all.

2023 will probably not be a year predisposed to silence, there will be a need to display solidarity with all minorities that are assailed, especially but maybe not only in the field of Jewish Christian dialogue. We are all in this together and we can draw strength from that.

With every good wish for 2023!