(February 22, 2023 / JNS) A recent series of violent attacks against the American Jewish community shows that the increasing fear felt by Jews in the United States is a real and present danger.
An Asian American man shot two Jewish worshippers on consecutive mornings as they left their synagogues in a largely Jewish Los Angeles neighborhood. The attacker was “motivated by antisemitic ideology.” He admitted to searching for “kosher markets” online and “decided to shoot someone in the area of the market.” The suspect has a history of antisemitism, having previously sent threatening messages to Jewish classmates while he attended dental school.
Across the country in Miami, Catholic high school soccer players yelled, “Hitler was right,” “f-ing Jews” and “f-ing kikes” while pummeling a Jewish high school player during a soccer game. The Christian student-athletes kicked the teen in the face repeatedly with their spiked cleats, seriously injuring him. In a nearby Florida city, a black man punched a Jewish man in the face, knocking him off his bicycle. The assailant also directed an anti-Jewish slur at the victim, who had been speaking Hebrew on his cellular phone.
The ripple effects of Kanye “Ye” West’s anti-Jewish comments continue to be felt by the American Jewish community. Fans at a Los Angeles high school basketball game chanted “Kanye West,” held up their cell phones with pictures of Kanye and swastikas, and threatened physical violence towards the opposing team—Jewish teenage girls. At the University of Denver, unknown attackers tore mezuzot from Jewish students’ door frames and smeared pork on the doors.
The white supremacist Goyim Defense League displayed anti-Jewish signs at the Daytona 500 speedway: “Henry Ford was right about the Jews” and “Communism is Jewish.” Legendary automaker Henry Ford was an unrepentant antisemite who promoted the fabricated anti-Jewish “Protocols of the Elders of Zion.” Antisemitic fliers—“Jews not welcome”—also were found at a Maryland high school, a swastika flag was draped over a synagogue in North Carolina and the NYPD is searching for “The L Train Nazi”–caught drawing hate slogans on the subway.
Against this backdrop, justice has been served in two cases involving antisemitism. The antisemite who threatened Sen. Chuck Schumer’s life in hateful messages left on the senator’s voicemail received a five-month prison sentence. In the other case, a law firm partner threatened and harassed fellow lawyers for more than a year, including making anti-Jewish remarks. The attorney was sentenced to two years in prison on three counts of cyber-stalking.
Only a few years ago, predicting that all American Jewish institutions would need armed guards or police was viewed as fear-mongering. Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations CEO William Daroff recently commented: “Frankly, it’s sad that I felt safer wearing my yarmulke in Dubai than I do in parts of Jerusalem and in some parts of New York.”
Points to Consider
Anti-Jewish hatred can lead to acts of violence–anytime, anywhere
Major acts of anti-Jewish hate usually receive global media coverage: the Pittsburgh synagogue massacre, the Poway, California, synagogue attack and the Colleyville, Texas, synagogue hostage crisis. However, daily attacks against American Jews are more common than many Americans might realize. The distribution of antisemitic flyers across the country, Jewish symbols being destroyed on university campuses, identifiably Jewish individuals being assaulted on the street in broad daylight and countless other assaults do not usually make the national evening news.
The reality, however, is that American Jews must now decide when walking out the door of their homes whether they should hide their Jewish identity for their own safety. Is this the America we want to leave for future generations?
Leaders and parents must actively address aggressive behavior
“Kids will be kids” should not be tolerated as an excuse for assaults or slurs. Responsible adults—teachers, principals, coaches, community and religious leaders and parents—need to stand up and speak out at every opportunity; they must also model proper behavior. Teaching children right from wrong is a fundamental parental responsibility. Those afraid to speak up, fearful of making waves or drawing attention to themselves, only emboldens bigots. Displays of intolerance must not be downplayed as “they didn’t really know what they were doing.” If kids really don’t know the difference between right and wrong, parents, teachers and leaders have failed.
Education fosters understanding and counters hate
Attacks against Jews do not happen in a vacuum. The alarming increase in antisemitic beliefs and assaults against Jews proves that there is a clear and present danger. Misinformation and disinformation are prevalent—especially in social media echo chambers—feeding the fires that false tropes and hateful rhetoric ignite. The key to countering malicious and vile falsehoods is to provide a meaningful, fact-based education to all open-minded individuals. Countering deep-rooted hateful beliefs by teaching acceptance and appreciation takes time but is definitely worth the effort. Education is more important than ever.
Anti-Jewish hatred doesn’t come from a single source
The perpetrators of vile anti-Jewish incitement and attacks comprise a diverse mix of Americans. This makes the spread of antisemitism across the Unitd States even more threatening and dangerous—especially when they join forces. An Asian American shooting two Jewish worshippers, Catholic high school students kicking a Jewish soccer player in the head, a black man punching a Jewish bicyclist, white supremacists displaying propaganda signs and a California imam asserting that “Jews will be annihilated” are all reminders that there is no common source of hatred. These attacks are a powerful reminder that while hate is learned across cultures, different groups of Americans must unite against hatred.
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