A 3D analysis of O Little Town of Bethlehem (Revd Stephen Leah adaptation)

This article illustrates, by way of Example, how straightforward analytical techniques can be deployed to uncover anti-Semitism, which in recent times has resurfaced in a somewhat subtle and mutated form.  This mutated anti-Semitism is highly virulent and potentially more dangerous than that which prevailed in the 20th century.  It is therefore hoped that those in positions of influence can begin applying such analyses before it is too late – the forces of anti-Semitism are on the march and already well-established.

The Christmas Carol discussed below is a prime example of how easily anti-Semitic sentiments can permeate the most vigilant of minds – in this case the Church of England and Methodists.  There is hope, however – the analysis performed upon the Carol shows how simple it is to uncover anti-Semitism, and it is therefore imperative for leaders within the Christian community to become educated in such methodologies to help them recognise subtle forms of anti-Semitism before they become entrenched.


Revd Stephen Leah, Methodist minister and champion of the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement against the State of Israel, is known for his politically-charged adaptations of well-loved Christmas Carols.  For example, Leah’s adaptation of Phillips Brooks’ classic “O Little Town of Bethlehem” has been heavily promoted by Stephen Sizer, a Church of England vicar censured by his Diocese for inflammatory and anti-Semitic references.

The 3D Test of anti-Semitism, established by Natan Sharansky to distinguish legitimate criticism of Israel from anti-Semitism, is now applied to Leah’s works.

Source Material – “O Little Town of Bethlehem” as adapted by Revd Stephen Leah

O Little Town of Bethlehem

Imprisoned you now lie.

Above thy deep and silent grief,

Surveillance drones now fly.

And through thy old streets standeth,

A huge illegal Wall.

The hopes and dreams that peace will come

Are dashed in this year’s Fall.

O morning stars together,

Look down upon this crime.

The people sing to God the King

But justice, who can find?

Yes, Christ was born of Mary,

God’s love remains supreme.

But mortals sleep as children weep,

Their pain is never seen.

How silently, how silently,

The world and Church protests.

As checkpoints grow and towns confined,

As settlers steal and rest.

No ear may hear the outcry,

As Israel’s Wall is built.

While meek souls muse, Apartheid rules

We speak or share in guilt.

O Holy Child of Bethlehem,

Give strength to us, we pray.

Cast out our fears and open eyes.

O give us voice today!

We stand against injustice,

The Occupation must end.

May justice rule our Lord’s birthplace,

May now Christ’s peace descend.

3D Analysis

A 3D analysis seeks to uncover subtle forms of anti-Semitism disguised within a wrapping of seemingly-legitimate criticism of the State of Israel.  Under the 3D Test of anti-Semitism, a Christmas Carol will be considered anti-Semitic if it delegitimizes, demonizes, or applies double-standards to the State of Israel.

Delegitimizing: expressing/implying that the State of Israel is illegitimate or a racist/evil endeavour.

Demonizing: expressing/implying that Israel or Jews are evil, conspiring against others, etc.

Double-standards: consciously or unconsciously applying a different set of standards/expectations to Israel than to other nations and peoples.


The Carol as a whole, and in various parts, objects to measures taken by the State of Israel to protect itself and its citizens from harm and potential annihilation.  Such objections delegitimize the State of Israel and the right of Jewish people to self-determination and survival.  It would be legitimate to criticize the State of Israel for systemic and avoidable abuses of power, and for implementing acceptable measures but to a draconian extent.  However, the use of “surveillance drones” is not a “crime” (as suggested), nor is it an unreasonable defensive measure given the threats and attacks stemming from Bethlehem itself.  Likewise, the “wall” and “checkpoints” are neither illegal nor unjust per se, especially given their efficacy in dramatically improving the safety of the people of the State of Israel – it would only be legitimate to criticize the extent of such measures were they arguably disproportionate.

In conclusion, Stephen Leah’s adaptation of “O Little Town of Bethlehem” delegitimizes the State of Israel and is consequently anti-Semitic according to the 3D Test of anti-Semitism.


All critical and condemnatory aspects of the Carol are unambiguously and exclusively directed towards the State of Israel – for instance “as Israel’s Wall is built”.  The Carol accuses the State of Israel of wrongful and illegal imprisonment, dashing peace, criminal acts, lack of justice, being devoid of God’s love, worshipping “God the King” but not the God of Christ, murder, secretive and silent infliction of pain on inter alia children, stealing, apartheid (perhaps the most “evil” attribution in the parlance of our times), and occupation (debatable but not anti-Semitic per se).  Most if not all of the 10 Commandments (a barometer of good/evil) are described as breached by the State of Israel, and the Carol unambiguously portrays the State of Israel as evil by the standards of Christianity.  This is reminiscent of the old blood libels.

The Carol arguably differentiates the God of Israel (e.g. “God the King”, aligned to “this year’s Fall” – arguably a reference to Satan or the “Fallen Angel”) from the “real” God of Christianity (the Christ born of Mary), and asserts that this “real” God “looks down upon this crime”.  The Carol prays that “our Lord’s birthplace” (the Christian Lord, in contrast to the impure “God the King” of Israel) will be saved by “Christ’s peace”.

In conclusion, Stephen Leah’s adaptation of “O Little Town of Bethlehem” demonizes the State of Israel and is consequently anti-Semitic according to the 3D Test of anti-Semitism.


Double-standards are somewhat harder to examine in the context of a single work.  Obviously a degree of bias is perfectly natural and permissible in a free society and no author should be obliged to counterbalance their opinion with alternative perspectives.  As such, the State of Israel is a legitimate target for criticism just like any country.

That said, a Christmas Carol is sung by numerous congregants (generally in a collective and public context) and those authoring (and authorising the singing of) a Christmas Carol have a greater responsibility to maintain reasonable standards.  For instance, under UK Laws on Racial and Religious Hatred it is illegal to “stir up hatred against persons on religious grounds”, and clearly a public performance of a Christmas Carol could potentially “stir up hatred” more readily than an article intended for private reading.  Therefore, the “bar” for double-standards is much lower in the present case.

In the current context, double-standards must be assessed by reference to the particular “Christian” perspective espoused by the Carol.  The Carol places “guilt” for “apartheid” on the State of Israel.  Meanwhile, “the world and Church [i.e. Christians] protests”.  This suggests that Christians are above “Apartheid” and implores God to “cast out our fears and…give us voice today” to accuse the State of Israel of committing crimes.  Use of the term “apartheid” is very rarely deployed to describe any nation, despite its many appearances in recent history, especially in areas of the world that have undergone ethnic cleansing.  Suggesting, as the Carol does, that “apartheid rules” within the State of Israel clearly represents double-standards from a comparative standpoint, and Israel appears to have been “singled-out” for this label.  It is furthermore hypocritical given that many Christian societies remain stooped in prejudice.  Moreover, many Christian countries routinely use “surveillance drones” for counterterrorism and counterinsurgency operations, and many enforce border controls akin to “walls” and “checkpoints”.  As such, double-standards is self-evident.

In conclusion, Stephen Leah’s adaptation of “O Little Town of Bethlehem” applies double-standards to the State of Israel and is consequently anti-Semitic according to the 3D Test of anti-Semitism.


Even this simple and relatively shallow analysis uncovers anti-Semitism that is currently going unchecked and unnoticed in many Christian Church’s throughout the world.  Perhaps it is time that church leaders receive some basic training to help in identifying anti-Semitism before it is too late.

Authored by Robin Irving


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