In 1994, my wife and I took our children on a trip to visit relatives in England. We stayed over the Sabbath at her cousin’s home in a quiet London suburb. In the morning, I walked to the synagogue, one that her cousin, an architect, had designed.
I was shocked when I reached the building to see a policeman conspicuously posted by the synagogue entrance, keeping a careful watch on the comings and goings. How jarring it seemed in that green and pleasant land, a proud bulwark of political freedom, to see this show of force. Thank God, I thought to myself, that in America, it hasn’t come to that.
A decade later, I had a job coordinating and inspecting factories in east Asia that had opted to have their products certified as kosher. I took it in stride when I came to Manila and found that in order to gain access to the synagogue on the Sabbath, one had to come during the week to the guard building and present my passport and have it checked. After all, there was an ongoing and bloody revolt of Islamists there in the Philippines who had only recently beheaded a number of government troops, and the Australian State Department had issued stern warnings not to travel to some of the islands there where the trouble was most intense. It had not bothered me to see the same situation in Singapore, where the security was even tighter. Such is the reality of life over there, I thought. Thank God I live in the land of the First Amendment, “a country of kindness,” in the words of a great rabbi whose words I study who found shelter here from the Nazi storm.
The response of the left, whether in power or out, has not reassured those in the Jewish community who have started to awaken, blinking, from their woke slumber.
In November 2008, I had tickets in hand and was in the New York area ready to fly to Mumbai on the same job. I was slated to spend the next week on the road in India with the rabbi of Mumbai and then enjoy his hospitality when the week gave way to the Day of Rest. But on the Wednesday before the flight, the horrible news broke of the massive, murderous terrorist attack on Mumbai. My friend the rabbi and his wife both lost their lives, a separate target of the terrorists due to the virulent anti-Semitism which is always central to this scourge.
I came back to Mumbai in January to do my work. I took time to walk by the rabbi’s home, which was also the Chabad Jewish center there, and pondered the bullet scars on the wall of that place of martyrdom. I went to the old Mumbai synagogue and saw that the Indian government had posted a whole contingent of soldiers in a sandbagged position guarding the entrance. It was sobering. Thank God that in my own country, we did not need such steps.
Thank God that no innocent victims were killed this last week in Colleyville. But America now has felt different for some time. The welcome of open anti-Semites into the highest echelon of Democrat power and their lionization in the woke media had been preceded by the Obama/Biden administration’s subjection of the Israel alliance to the death of a thousand cuts. The vicious and official exterminationist policy of Iran towards Israel doesn’t matter a whit to the Bidenist drive for an agreement with the mullahs of Iran.
And in our streets, even in the streets of cities with some of the largest Jewish populations in the world, anti-Semitic violence in word and deed has become more and more prevalent. It is not just the work of old-fashioned anti-Semites like the one who engineered the massacre in Squirrel Hill, Pittsburgh. Leftists could immediately and forcefully decry that attack because the murderer was a white supremacist of the old mold and neatly fit the narrative of the woke.
But this last incident in Colleyville, Texas, has struck a certain chord and the Jewish reaction to it seems different. Perhaps it stemmed from the announcement of the lead FBI agent on the spot that “We do believe from our engaging with this subject that he was singularly focused on one issue, and it was not specifically related to the Jewish community, but we’ll continue to work to find motive.”
There was no such need to beat around the bush at Squirrel Hill, where the murderer was immediately identified as an anti-Semite by the media. But then, the truth in Pittsburgh did not create cognitive dissonance for the press or what seems to be a politicized FBI.
We cannot pretend that politicization at the FBI is new. Read the sordid story of J. Edgar Hoover’s stalking of Martin Luther King and his other forays into politics as the nation’s chief secret policeman. There is as well the well-documented tale of the upper echelon FBI members who swore falsely before the FISA court in order to continue using the instruments of the FBI and national intelligence gathering against a political foe and, eventually, President of the United States.
But perhaps the lead agent’s words can be understood in a different way. It is clear that the hostage taker hated the United States as much if not more than Jews, and thus his words that the attack “was not specifically related to the Jewish community” was just a clumsy way of saying it was not exclusively related to the Jewish community. Even if we are properly charitable, the agent’s words were singularly inept at quelling Jewish fears.
Those fears have been slow to waken. In the continuity of a three-thousand-year-old culture, people’s memories are long. The American right for years was the source of American anti-Semitism. The old guard in the Ivy League maintained a strict quota system on the entry of Jews; established businesses and professions regularly rejected Jews for reasons other than talent and track record. Posh hotels refused Jews entrance; desirable suburbs red-lined Jews by restrictive covenants written into the deeds. Liberals led the fight for equal opportunity and spearheaded the political and social coalitions that slowly brought change.
So the slow emergence of the left as the anti-Semitic vanguard was long overlooked, and was summarily dismissed if its reality was raised in conversation or in the written word. But here we see signs that a certain momentum of realization has been reached. The woke, wherever they go, are in principle dismissive of anti-Semitism. Jews are considered “white” no matter what their skin color or history of persecution. A typical example of this in the highest levels was in the BBC’s coverage of Colleyville; it referred to the four Jews taken hostage in their synagogue as “hostages” — using scare quotes to convey that the proposition that Jews had been taken hostage was highly dubious. In the intersectionalist narrative world Jews are not vulnerable to such things, only to acts of revolutionary justice from those like them who enjoy structural privilege.
And whatever the FBI lead agent really meant, his words seem dismissive and pooh-poohing as well. And they undeniably allow the interpretation that since the attack was “not specifically related to the Jewish community,” the terrorist was not a hater of Jews, for hate, after all, requires specificity — people do not muster much hateful emotion against generalities.
But in his last words, spoken by phone to his brother in England desperately trying to get him to surrender and save his life, the terrorist frothed on about the “f…ing Jews” along with his rants against “f…ing America” and his hostages — no scare quotes — were, after all American Jews. Two hatreds combined in one made them target of choice. (See the London Jewish Chronicle for this story, predictably absent from the MSM.)
The response of the left, whether in power or out, has not reassured those in the Jewish community who have started to awaken, blinking, from their woke slumber. Why are they left alone in such a moment, their sudden sense of being in the high beams of a rapidly approaching car not dispelled by the official response.
When the pre-eminent historian of American Jewry, Prof. Jonathan Sarna, was once asked why Jews identify so preponderantly as Democrats, he replied that it was not always so and likely would not always be so. The change in the community will be gradual, but it will change, if the historical paradigm holds true.
We may be seeing a decisive moment in that change. Anti-Semitism is no longer at arms-length, somewhere else on the globe and irrelevant. It is here, it has power, and it is ferocious. It is aiming at America and Jews together. The Jewish community is waking to its danger and the danger to the America that has given them a place to live, to strive, and to thrive for so long.
Postscript: After this article was written, the FBI finally admitted publicly what so many of us without access to its powerful intelligence understood instantly — the Texas synagogue hostage-taking was an act of terror against the Jewish community. While one can be happy that they have made that admission, their job is not complete until they do a thorough rooting through the culture that led them to follow a meretricious and racist narrative to a pre-determined and false conclusion instead of letting the evidence form the narrative.