On the “Palestinian Jesus” nonsense

Rabbi Dr Andrea Zanardo, PhD
8 min readDec 30, 2023

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You probably have heard the old joke. Was Jesus Jewish? Of course, he was: his mother believed he was the Messiah. And he founded the biggest corporation in human history. And he entered his father’s business. Or: that guy thought that his mother was a virgin: he was so Jewish that he needed therapy!

My favourite: Jesus founded a revolutionary movement that, after a catastrophe that no one could foresee and after a patient work of propaganda, managed to become establishment while keeping, at the same time, the consensus from the outcasts. Not only was Jesus Jewish, but he was also a member of Likud!

Perhaps the Jewish jokes about Jesus reveal -as my friend Rabbi Joe Schwartz would say- our anxieties, the desire to belong to the majority culture, which is by definition impossible in Christian societies, as we Jews are as a non-Christian minority.

Over the last weeks, these jokes crossed my mind (pun intended) as I witnessed the growth of the popularity, online and offline, of an anti-Jewish trend. The “Jesus was a Palestinian” motif.

Those who show the “Jesus was Palestinian” meme in front of our eyes clearly intend to offend us Jews, and that should be enough. What’s more antisemitic than the intention to offend the Jews while pretending to be fair and equal?

But allow me to explain why, even without that offensive intention, the motif “Jesus was a Palestinian” is antisemitic.

To begin with, it implies that Jews do not belong to that part of the world, that in a region called “Palestine”, Jews are always foreigners or colonisers. That is, despite the historically proven fact that thousands of Jews have always lived in cities like Hebron or Tiberias, not to mention in the regio of Galil.

And much more would have loved to settle in those lands had not the Ottoman authorities imposed quotas on Jewish -and only Jewish- immigration. Not every Jew had resources to grease the wheel of Turkish authorities -which could be costly and unpredictable- but the will and the desire of European, Yemenite, and North African Jews to move to the Land of Israel during the Middle Ages and the Early Modern Era, up until the 18th century, is a proven and indisputable fact.

And those who managed to immigrate and stay lived subsidised by the Jewish communities in the Diaspora. They did not lead a comfortable life; the Holy Land has never been a very prosperous part of the world; plus, they were subject to the usual forms of public humiliation decreed by the Muslim rulers: not to ride on horses, not to build new building… but nonetheless they immigrated, and wanted to immigrate and settle in large numbers. Mainly for spiritual reasons. You know, in those days, people had faith in something else rather than the new model of the iPhone. They called themselves “members of the Jewish nation” (nation, not faith). I would hardly consider them members of the Palestinian nation. They were Jews.

The Abuhav synagogue in Zfat, built by American tourists (in 15th Century)

Stating that Jesus was a Palestinian is equivalent to denying that Jews are indigenous to the land of Israel, and this is a gross offence to centuries of Jewish history.

But there’s worse. The “Palestinian Jesus” trope evokes a bizarre inversion. In the frame of the contemporary Progressive ideology, Jesus was a barefoot revolutionary, then murdered by the occupying power.

Now, who was the occupying power at that time? The Roman Empire. And who is the occupying power today? Israel, of course. The Romans murdered Jesus -says the woke ideologist today- like Palestinians are murdered today by Israel.

And here you go, with a twisted play, the whole history of Jewish persecution at the hands of the Romans suddenly disappears. There must be a requirement to join the Palestinian Jesus Fan Club: having skipped one or two classes in Ancient History when the subject was the Jewish-Roman wars. You know, just seventy years of history and 1,400,000 casualties.

They probably bought it in Tokyo.

There is another blatantly antisemitic implication in this “Palestinian Jesus” trope. The everlasting accusation to us Jews of being Christ-killers. It is another historical reality overlooked by the Palestinian Jesus Fan Club.

For centuries, thousands of pogroms and assaults on synagogues and Jewish quarters took place, often during Easter week. The time of the year when the accusation of being the murderers of Jesus and the insinuation of killing babies was agitated from the pulpits in Christian churches.

How an Italian Leftist magazine celebrates Easter

It is pretty striking the extent to which militants who pretend to be secular, or even atheists, actually regurgitate antisemitic stereotypes from the Christian medieval repertoire.

They, for example, believe that it is a catastrophe when Jews are left free to rule themselves -like in Israel- without the beneficial influence of Liberal Western values. This is the modern updated version of the Catholic legislation that forbade Jewish self-determination. To these haters, Israel is a deranged society ruled by fanatics who are about to erase the mosques in Jerusalem and speedily rebuild the Temple where it was to resume the sacrifices.

As secular as they pretend to be, they do not hesitate to fish from the pond of prophetic literature: they love the invectives against religious hypocrisy and attention to minutiae to masquerade abuses and injustice.

Particularly popular among the most obtuse seem to be Malachi 1:15. “You have brought as offering that which was taken by violence”. But Amos and Isaiah are often quoted as well.

The point is, a large part of Jesus’ preaching falls into this category. Jesus most likely shared the agenda of the Pharisees, the Jewish religious movement -like the Rabbis in the Talmud- that called for greater consistency. The polemic between Jesus and the Pharisees tastes the same as many intense Talmudic debates. People argue so much among themselves because they have so many things in common.

Religious hypocrisy, using religious norms and rules to enforce oppression and exploitation, is a constant danger to every faith. And so is the self-righteousness of those who pretend to be humble while actually flaunting their external devotion as if it were a sign of superiority. Sanctimonious behaviours can be found across the religious board among people of every faith.

But only Judaism has produced such a massive body of poetic literature vibrant with indignation towards this common fault. Those passages of Jeremiah that describe the Divine rejection of sacrifices are a perennial call to consistency, humility and justice to men and women of every faith.

But the antisemites of the Palestinian Jesus kind love to address those words only against the Jews. As if -among all the religions- only the Jews -who actually produced this literature- were the only guilty of religious hypocrisy.

How good must they feel when they can point the finger at the Jews rather than looking at the inconsistencies and the moral failures of their own camp (which is what the prophets exhort).

I want to show another example of antisemitic twisting. Like all the minorities, we Jews have a preference for marrying “inside the tribe.” It’s not at all rare, and I believe it is pretty natural (Italian immigrants in America or Argentina do the same; Chinese in their Diaspora do the same; Indians, Travellers, etc.). It is a widespread expectation. After all, do you want your children to add to their marriage the problems deriving from cultural clashes?

But only we Jews are accused of being racist, patriarchal or any bad words that the Palestinian Jesus Fan Club loves to entertain. They track the origin of this phantomatic: “Jewish racism” or “Jewish suprematism” to the last chapters of the Book of Ezra. These chapters describe the expulsion of foreign women and their offspring from the city of Jerusalem following the return of the exiled after the Edict of Cyrus in 539.

A racist, which was not.

Now, Ezra ch 9 and 10 are not among the most famous parts of the Tanach. We never read them in synagogue; no parts are included in the Siddur, nor are they Haftarah for anything.

Yet, the Palestinian Jesus Fan Club believe that separating interfaith couples is a fundamental imperative of the neurotic Jewish religion, a demand of our unforgiving God. It would be interesting to see how they react if a daughter of that background starts dating an Israeli in military age…

The motif of “marrying a foreign woman” in the Early Modern Era was -in Kabbalistic circles- a way to describe religious experiences. Kabbalists spoke of those Jews who had been forced to convert to other faiths in these terms as if they had married a foreign woman. The various schools of Kabbalah had their own ideas about how to rescue those souls, but this will be a matter for my next shiurim.

Here, I want your attention to how these terms are from the Book of Ezra. Marrying foreign women.

For the antisemite, it symbolises the cause of all the conflicts in the Middle East (Jewish racism, Jewish refusal to assimilate, Jewish pretension not to be a minority and blah blah blah, the list of mistakes committed since when Jews have been allowed to rule themselves).

But for the Kabbalists and for us Jews, describe the religious experience as it is experienced now, in the 21st century.

We go to synagogue on cold mornings like today in December, not because of the rational part of our brains or because we are intellectually sure that God exists and supports us Jews when we behave well. No, we are here because of emotions: feelings, memories, sense of belonging… all irrational stuff, similar indeed to love and physical attraction.

In the contemporary world, religious behaviour is driven by emotions. The Kabbalists have been the first religious movement to understand this element of the human psyche -I was about to say this impulse. This is why Kabbalah is more popular today than Maimonides or Ovadiah Sforno.

The antisemites have turned the Prophetic literature into a repertoire of insults against the Jewish people and against Israel. While it is one of the most precious gifts Jews have granted to men and women of every faith.

The antisemites read a couple of chapters from the Book of Ezra and pretend to have discovered the origin of Jewish neurosis (that God’s demands… that Holy Law engraved in stone… and other fancy projections). And they overlook the extraordinary treasure of intuitions of the Kabbalista about human psychology.

And speaking of psychology, those antisemites of the Palestinian Jesus Fan Club are not only very ignorant about Jews and Judaism. They also led a miserable life, full of anger and resentment against Israel and the Jews, with the hope that a Palestinian Jesus would one day resuscitate to guide them towards some revolution.

This won’t happen because, in case you didn’t notice, Jesus was Jewish.

[I should probably thank here one or two Israeli haters of Catholic background. Yes, in Italy there are still some, like that notorious antisemite. Their entertaining pieces of writing have provided me with some inspiration]

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Rabbi Dr Andrea Zanardo, PhD

I’m the first Rabbi ever to be called “a gangster”. Also, I am a Zionist.