According to a doctrine espoused by some of the earliest Christian thinkers, Jesus’ life and death brought an end to Jews’ identity as the chosen people, now replaced by the Christian church. To this idea, known as supersessionism or replacement theology, St. Augustine added what was later called the “teaching of contempt”—that Jews are condemned to suffer for their rejection of Jesus and complicity in his death. These doctrines were renounced by the Vatican and by most Protestant denominations following World War II. Yet, writes Jon D. Levenson, they have resurfaced, in modern guise, in anti-Zionist rhetoric. Take for instance, the decision of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) to endorse divestment from Israel in 2004:
The gross double standard [at work in such condemnations of the Jewish state] suggests that the loudly professed moral concerns of the Presbyterians (and other Protestant groups that have passed similar resolutions) do not fully account for their anti-Israel actions. What, then, does account for them?
To answer this, we must return to [the Presbyterians’] 1987 statement renouncing the teaching of contempt. In its sixth affirmation, the statement makes the claim that the book of Genesis
indicates that “the land of your sojournings” was promised to Abraham and his and Sarah’s descendants. This promise, however, included the demand that “You shall keep my covenant” (Genesis 17:7-8). The implication is that the blessings of the promise were dependent upon fulfillment of covenant relationships. Disobedience could bring the loss of land, even while God’s promise was not revoked. . . .
[I]f we read Genesis 17 as the Presbyterian statement does, we have a ready explanation for [this] double standard: the legitimacy of China, Iran, North Korea, and other malefactors does not rest upon fidelity to a covenant with God. Israel’s does. . . .
Liberation theology has [also] long had a problem with Jewish particularism. Consider the liberationists’ penchant for interpreting the poor and oppressed as the beneficiaries of one of their favorite biblical events, the Exodus. That the God of Israel is especially concerned with the vulnerable and eager to protect them is exceedingly easy to document. [But] what links the beneficiaries of God’s intervention in the Exodus is something very different: descent from a common ancestor. . . .
When the poor and oppressed replace the people Israel as the beneficiaries of the Exodus, an idea, or social norm, has replaced a flesh-and-blood people. It then becomes possible for any group that can be made to fit into that idea or to benefit from that social norm to be the new Jews. This is the replacement theology secularized, or supersessionism without the church—and it swiftly opens the door for the old anti-Judaism to reappear in a post-Christian culture—not in the mouths of theocratic reactionaries but in those of free-thinking progressives. Les extrêmes se touchent.