Justin Welby: Antisemitism 'Entrenched' In UK Culture And Church Is Partly To Blame

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby has contributed to a new booklet on antisemitism from the Holocaust Educational Trust.Reuters

Justin Welby has said that antisemitism is "entrenched in our thought and culture" and that historically the Church has "compounded the spread of this virus" in an essay for the Holocaust Educational Trust [HET].

The Archbishop of Canterbury is among a number of high profile contributors to a new HET booklet called 'Lessons Learned? Reflections on Anti-Semitism and the Holocaust' including the Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis, the London Mayor Sadiq Khan and the Cabinet minister Sajid Javid.

In his article, Welby called antisemitism an "insidious evil", adding that the "habits of antisemitism have been burrowing into European and British culture for as long as we can remember."

He went on: "It is a shameful truth that, through its theological teachings, the Church, which should have offered an antidote, compounded the spread of this virus. The fact that antisemitism has infected the body of the Church is something of which we as Christians must be deeply repentant. We live with the consequences of our history of denial and complicity."

The Archbishop highlighted contemporary anti-Jewish conspiracy theories. "Even today, in the 21st century, it is shocking that antisemitism still has traction; the virus continues to seek a host," he said. "It latches onto a variety of different issues: financial inequality, wars and depressions, education, politics and government, grave international issues, such as the rights of Israelis and Palestinians, and interfaith tensions. It twists them to its own ends, with the perverted and absurd argument that a small group runs or plots against our society and manipulates international affairs."

Welby, who is a patron of the Council of Christians and Jews, described antisemitism as being "deeply entrenched in our thought and culture". He wrote: "Antisemitism is at the heart of racism. Yet, because it is so deeply entrenched in our thought and culture, it is often ignored and dismissed. This tendency must be vigorously resisted; antisemitism needs to be confronted in every part of our communal life and cultural imagination."

He said that antisemitism "is not a problem for one political party, one community or one sector of our society" but instead it "permeates and pervades all that it touches when it is swept under the carpet, denied and not confronted head-on."

The booklet is published amid an ongoing row over antisemitism in the Labour party. Yesterday Jeremy Newmark, the chair of the Jewish Labour Movement, said that the party had a "crisis" of antisemitism. Meanwhile Jackie Walker, the vice-chair of the left-wing group Momentum, said that claims of antisemitism have been "exaggerated for political purposes" and "weaponised" to harm the party's leader, Jeremy Corbyn.

Welby said that the challenge was to "eliminate antisemitism" and thus "take a huge step in undermining the whole tradition of racism in our society".

The Archbishop added: "All humans are made in the image of God. Antisemitism undermines and distorts this truth: it is the negation of God's plan for his creation and is therefore a denial of God himself. There is no justification for the debasing and scapegoating of other people. Antisemitism is the antithesis of all that our scriptures call us to be and do, to work together for the common good and to seek the flourishing of all."