Oscar-winning actress Natalie Portman took to her Instagram page last Sunday to say: “The re-emergence of antisemitism makes my heart drop.”


Being shocked at bias against Jews is like Captain Louis Renault in “Casablanca” saying: “I'm shocked to find out that gambling is going on,” as he pockets his winnings.

You don’t have to know written history to know that antisemitism is an old story that has never let up. It stares you in the face in paintings through the ages.

Sara Lipton’s 2014 art history book “Dark Mirror” notes that the origins of anti-Jewish imagery began in the Middle Ages.

Up to then and for a thousand years after the crucifixion, paintings showed Old Testament prophets, kings, and other Jews without prejudice.

At that time, you didn’t see the stereotyped physical markers that separate Jews and Christians in art. Only after 1000 CE, did artists start to distinguish Jews from Christians.

That’s when you start to see straggly beards, hooked noses, and the ever-present bag of money to suggest Jewish avarice.

The religious artists of medieval Christendom filled their canvases with what Lipton called “virulent symbols to mark Jews.”

Mind you, illiteracy was big in medieval times, and imagery in artworks was the main source of information for the masses.

Even Shakespeare, whose plays also had a wide audience, picked up on the stereotyping of Jews.

Consider his description of Shylock in “Merchant of Venice” as a conniving money lender.

How much influence did the Bard have in 1600? The capacity of the Globe theatre where his plays were performed, was reportedly 3,000. That’s a lot of Londoners seeing Shylock, a fictional character, portrayed as a money-hungry Jew.

In the 2016 book “Jesus, Jews, and Anti-Semitism in Art,” Benjamin Starr, professor emeritus of the City University of New York, pointed out something else that showed up in art after the Middle Ages – John the Baptist holding a crucifix as he baptized Jesus.

Lies told in paint

A total fabrication says Starr. The crucifix was "a falsification of biblical history." Baptism was not a Christian event back in the day. “Not only was there no Christianity at the time, or even the hint of a new religion, the cross itself was a hated symbol of Roman savagery.”

A whopping three hundred years had to pass before the crucifix would become a devotional Christian object, Starr said.

And as for stereotyping Jews with bulbous and hooked noses, Starr writes that there’s no evidence of those features in European in Medieval times.

Enter the Renaissance. Even a casual glance at the painting “Christ Among the Doctors” by Albrecht Durer tells you the relays had been reset.

All connections between Jesus and Judaism went away in art. Instead, in Durer’s painting, you see Jews with cold darkened skin and Jesus in glowing warm colors. And the Jewish scholars with Jesus are made to look menacing, even satanic.

Then there’s the rabbi at Jesus’ side rendered as sinister. I could go on, but you get the idea. During the Renaissance, the so-called re-birth of the humanist values of ancient Greece, the Jews were pictured as less than human.

And the rest is history. “Re-emergence of antisemitism,” Natalie? Where have you been?