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Customer Review

on January 20, 2008
This well researched and footnoted book is not an attack on the church but a much needed examination of historical facts. In history there were popes who protected the Jewish people. For example, Alexander VI welcomed those who sought refuge in Rome after the expulsion from Spain in 1492 and also allowed the immigration of those expelled from Portugal in 1497 and Provence in 1498. Others were Gregory IX, Innocent IV, Clement IV and Clement IX. In this work, the author never criticizes Christian theology and takes care to discuss the extenuating circumstances that contributed to the attitudes and behavior of the church in the period following the French Revolution.

Part One examines the treatment of Jewish residents of the Papal States from 1814 when Pius VII returned after Napoleon's defeat. He revoked their rights and re-imposed all the previous discriminatory laws as regards place of residence, travel, occupation and clothing. Only in 1870 were they released from the ghetto when Italy finally incorporated Rome as its capital. There were also ugly instances of the kidnapping of children and other forms of cruelty. Kertzer places this oppressive climate in the historical context of the church's abhorrence of everything associated with the French revolution and ideas of the Enlightenment.

Part Two covers the latter part of the 19th and the first decades of the 20th century, focusing on church attitudes as expressed through publications like L'osservatore Romano, La Croix and the Jesuit organ Civilta Cattolica. The work of authors like Edouard Drumont and Ernest Jouin (who championed the infamous Protocols of the Elders of Zion) is also investigated here. It is clear that the Vatican encouraged Antisemitic writings and supported anti-Jewish political movements in Austria, Poland and France. The familiar old smears of a conspiracy, of evil intentions towards Christians, of control over the banks and the press, lack of patriotism and blood libel were indulged in. Kertzer even provides evidence of racism in this literature.

The years between the wars are explored in Part Three, with the emphasis on Achille Ratti who became Pope Pius XI, as well as church relations with Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy. The conclusion is depressing but inescapable: the church did contribute to creating a climate of Antisemitism in the decades that led up to the Holocaust. Of course it was not the only institution, as Dennis Prager illustrates so well in his book Why the Jews?. Antisemitism has been present throughout history - in the ancient world, from early Christianity onwards, in Lutheranism, in Islam, the Enlightenment and around the political spectrum of Europe in the 20th century.

Its latest manifestation comes in the disguise of anti-Zionism, mainly on the Left but also on the Traditionalist Right, in academia, in the mass media and in the Arab World. Examples of the aforementioned are documented by Bernard Harrison in The Resurgence of Anti-Semitism: Jews, Israel, and Liberal Opinion, Abraham Foxman in The Deadliest Lies where he investigates the antics of Jimmy Carter and Walt & Mearsheimer, Nick Cohen in his book What's Left? where he examines the phenomenon in the UK, and Peace: The Arabian Caricature of Anti-Semitic Imagery by Arieh Stav.

In his compelling book, Kertzer provides an interesting history of Italy in the 1800s, illumines a previously obscure aspect of the history of Antisemitism and also disputes the 1998 Vatican report which conceded that the church had a history of anti-Judaism but claimed it was not responsible for the hatred that culminated in the Holocaust. He does not deal with the important role of Martin Luther in the development of German Antisemitism but he does prove that for about 150 years the Catholic Church condoned or encouraged the full spectrum of prejudices characteristic of this old hatred, including the irrational notion that Jews were simultaneously responsible for capitalism and communism.

This book ought to serve as an urgent warning about what is transpiring today. The Christian Left is scapegoating Israel ever more harshly, especially organizations like the World Council of Churches and certain mainstream Protestant denominations with their attempts at divestment. As regards the Catholic Church after the second world war, in his book Contrary to Popular Opinion Alan Dershowitz chronicles manifestations of the continent's enduring plague during and after the fall of communism in the chapter titled European Antisemitism, with the emphasis on the church in Poland. And there is Michel Sabbah, Catholic Patriarch of Jerusalem, an implacable foe of the Jewish State.

The best book on the subject of Christian anti(Zion-)Semitism is Christian Attitudes Towards the State of Israel by Paul Charles Merkley. Finally, there is a thought-provoking book drawing on the wisdom of the Bible that explains how to deal with this ancient hatred, The Dawn: Political Teachings of the Book of Esther by Yoram Hazony. The Popes Against the Jews includes an appendix of Popes and their Secretaries of State, voluminous notes arranged by chapter, a section of references cited, and concludes with an index.
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