antichrist devil
Antichrist with the devil, from the Deeds of the Antichrist circa 1501. RNS photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Signorelli-Antichrist_and_the_devil.jpg).

Who you calling the anti-Christ, Rudy?

(RNS) — I am not a fan of George Soros. His politics are farther to the left of mine, and his positions on Israel do not accord with my positions, either.

That said, I am not a Soros-phobe.

George Soros, the Hungarian-born Holocaust survivor, has become the favorite whipping boy of Hungarian right wing nationalists, and others.

Behind and beneath all of the slams against the financier, there is the not-so-subtle mention of his Jewish origins.

In that sense, George Soros has a very valuable role to play — a rather ancient role.

For Jew haters, he represents the international Jewish globalist financier, who hides behind the scenes and manipulates the world. We have seen this movie before. It is called "The Protocols of the Elders of Zion."

Now, let us be clear. You can dislike George Soros without being an anti-Semite. You can also attack George Soros without invoking anti-Semitic myths.

But, it is also clear: for many people, the invocation of Soros as the mastermind behind an imagined Jewish conspiracy is merely the updating of the anxiety that the Rothschilds control international finance. Soros = Jews. Rothschild = Jews.

What do we make of Rudy Giuliani — the former mayor of New York, and President Trump's attorney — calling George Soros the anti-Christ?

In Giuliani's distorted world view, George Soros is behind funding and fueling the anti-Brett Kavanaugh activism over the past few weeks. He has tweeted and re-tweeted this accusation.

First of all, a little primer on the idea of the anti-Christ.

The anti-Christ is a figure in Christian eschatology — an evil, false prophet who is the enemy not only of the risen Christ, but of all that is good.

Children, it is the last hour, and as you have heard that antichrist is coming, so now many antichrists have come. Therefore we know that it is the last hour. They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us. But you you have been anointed by the Holy One, and you all have knowledge. I write to you, not because you do not know the truth, but because you know it, and because no lie is of the truth. Who is the liar but he who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist, he who denies the Father and the Son. (1 John 2: 18-22)

The Anti-Christ is a Jew. That is one of the major features of Christian anti-Semitism.

Joshua Trachtenberg wrote in his 1943 book, "The Devil and the Jews: The Medieval Conception of the Jew and Its Relation to Modern Antisemitism,"  that scholastic theologians such as Thomas Aquinas and Albertus Magnus taught that the antichrist would be "born in Babylon, of the tribe of Dan, will proceed to Jerusalem, where he will be circumcised, and will easily persuade the Jews that he is their long-awaited Messiah."

In medieval pageants, the anti-Christ was always portrayed as a Jew. This idea went hand in hand with the idea that the Jews worshiped the Devil — and that the Jews played a sinister role in world history.

So, to refer to someone as the anti-Christ is a standard feature of anti-semitic ideology.

Is Rudy, therefore, anti-semitic?

Abraham Foxman, the former executive director of the ADL, taught me something that I have always taken to heart.

Do not call people anti-Semitic, he said (unless they indisputably are, and proudly proclaim themselves to be so). After all, he said, you cannot know what is in someone's heart.

Better to say that people use anti-Semitic language or ideas, or engage in anti-Semitic acts.

Whatever else you might think of him, Rudy Giuliani has never been known for being anti-Semitic.

But, he used an anti-Semitic image — not once, but several times.

I can assume that someone must have informed him of this massive, public, hateful faux pas (that is an understatement) — and having been thus informed, Rudy should have issued a public apology.

He didn't do that. This testifies more to his tone-deafness than to any possible anti-Semitic ideology. Frankly, I cannot expect that Rudy G. would have known about, or understood, any of the European, Jew-hating nuances that are attached to the name George Soros.

So, what was Rudy really saying?

Rudy was using the term "anti-Christ" merely (merely!) to say that he thinks that George Soros is the ultimate evil.

This would hardly be the first time that someone has used the term to refer to someone as totally evil.

In one of my favorite all time movies, "The Counterfeit Traitor" (1962), starring William Holden and Lilli Palmer, Ms. Palmer plays a German anti-Nazi activist. When Holden asks her for the source of her antipathy to the Nazis, she explains that she is a Catholic, and that Hitler is the anti-Christ.

In much the same way, a Jew once referred to her bad boss as Amalek, the ancient desert raider who is the mythical, archetypical anti-Semite. While I understood her feelings about her boss, I did think that this designation went a tad too far.

Rudy went far more than a tad too far. He is perpetuating one of American society's most damning tendencies — the temptation to paint everyone with whom we disagree with as not merely wrong, not merely misguided, not merely confused — but as evil.

At a certain point, Rudy G. must have known what he was doing, and what he had said, and what its implications would have been.

That he chose not to backtrack or apologize does not make him an anti-Semite. It just makes him insensitive, callous, and willing to use any tool to lash out against someone he doesn't like.

I would have hoped he would have known better, and thought better.

I was wrong.