A British Muslim, Malik Faisal Akram, took four hostages at gunpoint—including Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker—last Saturday at Congregation Beth Israel in Colleyville, Texas. The hostages escaped. Akram was killed. Why do antisemitic acts still take place?
When have they not?
In 2017, white supremacists marched in Charlottesville chanting “Jews will not replace us.” In 2018, a white gunman murdered eleven Jews at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life Synagogue. In 2019, another white gunman killed one Jew at the Chabad-Lubavitch synagogue in Poway, California. Today, many American Jews are attacked or threatened. Synagogues and other Jewish institutions take security precautions.
Akram sought to free a Muslim terrorist imprisoned nearby and, according to a phone conversation with his brother, foment terrorist attacks in America. Why terrorize a synagogue? His brother cited mental illness. Seemingly sane people long have targeted Jews.
John 8:44 presents Jesus telling the Jews who refuse to accept him, “You belong to your father, the devil” (New International Version). The rest is history, chillingly detailed in James Carroll’s book Constantine’s Sword.
American Jews were never spared. In 1828, Maryland finally permitted Jews to vote. In 1882, General U.S. Grant expelled Jews from the wartime “Department of Tennessee.” Henry Ford championed the phony Protocols of the Elders of Zion. In 1915, Leo Frank was lynched in Georgia for a crime he did not commit. In the 1930s, Father Charles Coughlin filled the nation’s radio airwaves with anti-Jewish bile. Tens of millions of Americans listened.
Digital America hosts far-right attacks on financier-philanthropist George Soros and claims that Jewish space lasers started California’s forest fires.
Still, America’s Jews have it better than Europe’s. French and British Jews, among others, have experienced frightful attacks by Muslim terrorists in schools and stores, on streets and in their own homes. Several years ago in London, the producer of a documentary about England’s liberal Jews told me that U.K. Jewry feared the anti-Semitism of the vastly larger Muslim community. British Jews also face threats by the white far right—and far left. Large numbers of French Jews have emigrated to Israel.
The Muslim world proved little better despite romanticizing Spain’s Golden Age. In the Seventh Century, Jewish tribes in Medina (Arabia) resisted Muhammad’s call to join his religious undertaking. They were slaughtered. Jews then were reviled, isolated and persecuted.
What greater insult than that hurled at the Saudi royal family (Sunnis) by the Persian Shiite commander of Iran’s navy, General Alireza Tangsiri: “Are the Saud clan really Muslims? They are the same Jews who were in Arabia back then” (seventh-century Medina).
For those who see Israel as antisemitism’s root cause, get real. Not every Christian or Muslim is antisemitic, but the concept of Jew as “other” seems baked into many Christian and Muslim psyches, passed down from generation to generation. People who would never commit an act of violence still say, “I Jewed them down,” “little Jew” and “Hebe.” Many agree with claims that Jews run the world or parts of it.
The fight against antisemitism demands bringing anti-Jewish incidents to light, condemning them in no uncertain terms, prosecuting where applicable and teaching children about universal human dignity.
Rabbi Cytron-Walker trained to respond to an active shooter. It paid off. Hopefully, most American Jews will never encounter that kind of threat. Sadly, some will.
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