Former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams has said that anti-Semitism is still “an urgent issue” because Jews are still seen as “guilty, dangerous and polluting”.

Williams, who was head of the Church of England from 2002 to 2012, was speaking on Radio 4’s Today programme marking 500 years since Martin Luther first posted his criticisms of the Catholic Church in Germany, which split Christianity in Europe.

In later years Luther expressed antagonism towards Jews, writing that Jewish homes and synagogues should be destroyed, their money confiscated, and liberty curtailed, but Williams rejected the view that Luther was “responsible for Hitler”.

He said: “That’s a glib judgement, but there are things in that strand of Christian discourse which light the fuse.” Asked if this was still relevant today, he said: “Sadly anti-Semitism is not a problem of the past. It is a real, urgent, present issue.”

Williams then went on to describe Jew hatred today, saying: “The way in which anti-Semitism works in our society is that it’s not just another prejudice.

He added: “There’s something that still makes people think that Jews, as a body, are guilty, dangerous and polluting, and there’s a sort of worldview of Jewish conspiracy and Jewish influence which leads to the kind of mindless stupidity of popular anti-Semitism on the right, but also on the left sometimes.”