Opinion: The Antisemitic Innuendo in Harrison Butker’s College Commencement Speech

Photo Illustration by Elizabeth Brockway/The Daily Beast/Reuters
Photo Illustration by Elizabeth Brockway/The Daily Beast/Reuters

Earlier this month, Kansas City Chiefs kicker Harrison Butker briefly emerged from the cave he calls home to tell the female graduates of Benedictine College that their most rewarding experience in life will come from serving a man and bearing his children.

Butker—who spends four months out of the year at a job that entails kicking an oval ball through raised uprights to the cheers of beer-soaked masses—believes American women are being told a diabolical lie.

Their life begins, he says, not when they make a career for themselves but when they begin their “vocation as a wife and as a mother.” This will be quite the news flash to the girlfriend of Butker’s teammate, Travis Kelce, who is arguably the most successful female entrepreneur on the planet (and unmarried and childless).

Harrison Butker’s Tradwife Fantasy World Would Be a Disaster

But for all the media focus on Butker’s regressive attitudes toward women, one particularly disturbing aspect of his speech has flown under the radar—his comments related to antisemitism and Catholic theology. And at a time of rising anti-Jewish hatred from all sides of the political spectrum, it merits greater attention than it has received.

In his commencement address, Butker said, “Congress just passed a bill where stating something as basic as the biblical teaching of who killed Jesus could land you in jail.” (For those of you not familiar with age-old antisemitic tropes, the “who” in this sentence is almost certainly the “Jews.”)

More specifically, Butker is referring to the Antisemitism Awareness Act, which was passed this month in the House, but not the Senate, and isn’t law. Contrary to Butker’s description, the bill does not include criminal sanctions and only applies to educational institutions that receive federal funding. In a nutshell, the bill provides guidance to the Department of Education in determining whether certain speech on college campuses is antisemitic.

But what is most bizarre and disturbing about Butker’s comment is the idea that he believes needs to be defended from Congress: namely, the right of Catholics to suggest that the Jews killed Jesus.

Putting aside the fact that Butker would still be allowed to make this toxic antisemitic argument—why would he want to?

Donald Trump Is an Antisemite and Republicans Are Totally Cool With It

The false assertion that Jews were responsible for the death of Jesus is a long-standing and deadly accusation that has spurred hatred and violence against Jewish communities for centuries.

It’s also a libel that the Vatican has soundly and repeatedly dismissed. In the Second Vatican Council in the early 1960s, the Catholic Church renounced “hatred, persecutions, displays of antisemitism, directed against Jews at any time and by anyone”—and that included the claim that Jews bore collective responsibility for Christ’s crucifixion. That view was reaffirmed by Pope Benedict XVI, who said in 2011 that there was no scriptural basis for blaming Jews for the death of Christ.

To be sure, Butker is not alone in making false allegations about the legislation. Disgraced former Fox News host Tucker Carlson said it would, in effect, ban the New Testament. A handful of Republican lawmakers who voted against the bill cited the potential restriction on biblical speech. According to Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA), it "could convict Christians of antisemitism for believing the Gospel that says Jesus was handed over to Herod to be crucified by the Jews." Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) claimed "the Gospel itself would meet the definition of antisemitism under the terms of the bill."

This might shock those of you who closely followed Greene and Gaetz’s careers, but none of this is accurate.

Of all the hills to fight on, defending the right to make a blood libel on the Jewish people is a bizarre one—especially when doing so actually goes against Catholic dogma.

As Antisemitism Surges, Jews Find Few Social Justice Allies

Butker’s antisemitic blather is, unfortunately, part of a larger and disturbing reality for American Jews. Anti-Jewish hate crimes are on the rise. College campuses are rife with antisemitic slogans, and Jewish business and cultural institutions are bearing the brunt of popular anger over the war in Gaza.

Donald Trump—the GOP presidential candidate’s for the third time in a row—not only has a history of making antisemitic statements, but he recently said that “any Jewish person that votes for a Democrat or votes for Joe Biden should have their head examined.”

Now, extremist Catholics are fighting for their right to revive the age-old blood libel about our responsibility for the death of Jesus Christ.

For American Jews, all this is yet another reminder: we can’t catch a break these days—but also that those in our society who want to target and demonize Jews are not going away.

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