We all anxiously followed the unfolding on Saturday of the tragic hostage event at the Beth Israel Synagogue in Colleyville, Texas. Unfortunately, this was not the first incident to occur during a Shabbat prayer service in a U.S. synagogue.
In 2018, Robert Gregory Bowers entered the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh and massacred 11 worshipers. In 2019, the Shabbat services in a Chabad synagogue in Poway, California, were interrupted when John Timothy Earnest shot worshipers, assassinating 60-year-old Lori Gilbert-Kaye, who attempted to shield the rabbi.
Thankfully, the hostage-taking in Texas ended well, with no casualties other than the killing of the perpetrator by the FBI.
The initial moments of the hostage horror were streamed live on Facebook, where hundreds of thousands of viewers heard the terrorist, Malik Faisal Akram, arrive at the scene, and the sound of worshipers’ panic and shock. The live broadcast continued for half an hour, which felt like an eternity, until Facebook took it off the air.
Imagine if this incident had ended differently: if, during the broadcast, one of the worshipers had been injured or worse. This could have led to many further attacks and incitement against Jewish communities.
Freedom of expression is a priority for all of us. However, this is perhaps the right time for a value-based discussion on the issue of how to reduce the consumption of social-media networks when they are utilized to promote hate crimes. In many cases, the perpetrators make an advance announcement of their intentions to carry out attacks against Jewish and other targets. It is highly likely that some of these incidents can be prevented in the future by smart and sensitive monitoring executed by the platform operators themselves.
After the commendable action by U.S. security forces to free the hostages, an outrageous and erroneous statement was made by an FBI official, who said the attack was “an issue not directly connected to the Jewish community.” After harsh criticism, the agency subsequently retracted that assessment, and rightly so. When a terrorist targets a synagogue during Shabbat services, it’s intentional.
Texas has a population of about 30 million people, only 120,000 of whom (or 0.4 percent) are Jews. The attacks in Pittsburgh, San Diego and Texas were not freak occurrences. They were all clear instances of anti-Semitic attacks.
The hostage-taking in Colleyville is one of many thousands of examples each year. It is yet another warning sign of the significant security challenges encountered by Jewish communities in the United States.
Freedom of expression is a supreme value in the U.S. Constitution, and until recent years, no members of Congress had any intention of interfering in content created and distributed on the various social-media platforms. Today, however, there is consensus among Republicans and Democrats that social-media platforms must take responsibility for the content published on their sites.
This requires legally binding changes that must be legislated sooner rather than later. Beyond the responsibility for the content itself, the legislature should also address the speed of response with which violent and inciting content is blocked and removed.
Every year, the FBI publishes a report on hate crimes. Since 1996, when it began releasing the annual figures, anti-Semitism has remained the number one hate crime in the United States.
The published data proves that Jews and Jewish institutions are the most common targets against which hate crimes were committed, and constitute 58 percent of the incidents of hate crimes on the basis of religion. Anti-Semitism in the United States alone has risen by 80 percent, and the clear trend is that the number of anti-Semitic crimes, measured against the population, is on the rise. In many other countries, especially in Europe, attacks against Jews have also escalated.
These disquieting events increase safety concerns not only among synagogue worshipers, in particular, but also among all Jewish communities globally. As a result, the issue of security has become a focus for many Jewish communities around the world.
A survey conducted last month shows that 69 percent of Israelis agree that the State of Israel should intervene or take more action to ensure the security of Jews around the world. The main role of the Israeli government is to stand firm and demand decisive action.
The responsibility for the security of global Jewry rests with the governments in which they live. World governments need to move from declarations to actions, increase educational activity, promote legislation and, most importantly, ensure that anyone who has committed hate crimes will be severely punished.
Unfortunately, anti-Semitism will not disappear. Instead, over time, a new variant will emerge and anti-Semitism will raise its head in a different form. We have a duty to stand by our brothers and sisters at this challenging time and keep Jews safe wherever they are.
Ambassador Danny Danon, chairman of World Likud, served as Israel’s 17th Permanent Representative to the United Nations, Minister of Science and Technology and Deputy Minister of Defense.