Say Their Names. After the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor this mantra was used to raise millions of dollars for Black Lives Matter. Now another name is being used to raise money and influence public opinion—Shireen Abu Akleh.
On May 11 of this year, Israeli forces led an operation against Palestinian Islamic Jihad in Jenin, a hotbed of terrorism in Samaria. During the ensuing firefight between IDF soldiers and Palestinian terrorists, Akleh—an Al Jazeera journalist and American citizen—was killed. Many other journalists have been killed covering the Middle East, but this time the outcry was apoplectic and pervasive, from Qatar to the U.N. to the U.S. Of course, there was an immediate rush to blame Israel for Akleh’s death. In July, the U.S. State Department’s investigation was inconclusive, but in September Israel said there was a high probability that Akleh was accidentally hit by Israeli fire.
What does this have to do with us here in North Carolina? Why is Akleh a household name here? Because anti-Semitic and anti-Israel activists have been laser-focused on making it so, in order to use her death as a weapon against Israel.
Akleh’s name has entered the political arena. In June 2022, the North Carolina Democratic Party published a series of anti-Semitic resolutions. The first claimed that Israel is ghettoizing Palestinian land. The second asserted that Akleh’s death was the targeted killing of an American citizen by Israelis. A third called for commemoration of “Nakba Day.” There was pushback from the Jewish community, but the first two resolutions stood. In response, a North Carolina Democratic Jewish Caucus was formed. Unfortunately, the group has shown little interest in fighting anti-Semitism within the party.
This month, notorious anti-Semite Amer Zahr came to Charlotte and Raleigh, North Carolina on a fundraising trip for the Reach Education Fund. The organization uses Akleh’s death to raise money, calling her a “shahid”—a martyr. Her photo is everywhere.
Contrast this to the Jewish community. Can anyone say the name of a single Jewish victim of terrorism? Do they know about Doris Yahbas, Moshe Kravitsky, Lora Yitzhak and Menachem Yehezkel, who were run over and stabbed to death by a Bedouin Israeli in March, the third knife attack that week? What about the Jewish victims of terrorist attacks in Europe? How many American Jews have heard of Sarah Halimi, for example? She was a 65-year-old French Jewish woman who was beaten and thrown off the balcony by her Muslim neighbor as he chanted the Quran and shouted “Allahu akbar.” Are American Jews saying her name?
During the High Holidays at my Chapel Hill synagogue, we heard from the bimah about the “ravages of climate change, the assault on women’s reproductive rights, bail bond justice, voting rights, the survival of democracy, food insecurity, and the holy work of standing with refugees.” Earlier in the year, the shul posted messages about wearing masks at a graduation ceremony, prayers for safety during hurricane Ian, supplies for refugees and other topics such as gun violence, racial equity, anti-racism, Black Lives Matter, parenting beyond the binary, bail bond justice, the “deplorable” ruling overturning Roe v. Wade and the significance of Juneteenth. No mention was made of the stabbing of Jews in New Jersey or the deaths of Israelis due to terrorist attacks.
Evidently, Jewish lives don’t matter to American Jewish leaders. Why are those who claim to care about social justice and other causes silent when Jews are attacked and killed? It is said that silence is consent.
As anti-Semitism rises here and abroad, it’s time for American Jews and Jewish leaders to stand up for our own people. It’s time to show compassion for Jewish victims. It’s time to say their names.
Amy Rosenthal lived in Israel as a child and is co-founder of the North Carolina Coalition for Israel.