Anti-Semitic Attacks: If You're Focusing Primarily on the Perpetrators' Identities, You're Focusing on the Wrong Thing

In this image taken from video, police officers respond at the scene following reports of gunfire, Tuesday, Dec. 10, 2019, in Jersey City, N.J. (AP Photo/Robert Bumsted)

Last Saturday’s horrific machete attack on Hasidic Jews celebrating Hanukkah in Monsey, NY, which followed closely on the heels of the deadly shooting in Jersey City, sparked an online debate regarding the sharp uptick in anti-Semitic attacks in recent months. Twitter has been full of “hot takes” regarding the why’s and wherefore’s of it all. And some mainstream media outlets have been outright ridiculous in the rationales posited:


(READ: NBC News Says the Increase in Antisemitic Attacks Are Probably the Fault of Jews.)

Like many, I was horrified to hear of these attacks — not just the Monsey and Jersey City attacks, but the many others which have been plaguing the Northeast (and elsewhere). There’s no justification for this. None.

It’s hard not to notice that efforts at justification appear to turn, at least in part, on the identities of the perpetrators. Those “it’s complicated” hot takes above weren’t trotted out following the Tree of Life shooting last year. There, the perpetrator was identified as a radicalized conservative/white nationalist. (Well, of course.)

But I’ve noticed something else unsettling about the reaction to these incidents: The level and source of outrage also appear to turn in part on the identities of the perpetrators. White nationalist/alt-right perp? The loudest outcry seems to come from the left. Black Hebrew Israelite/leftist perp? The loudest outcry seems to come from the right.

You see what we’re doing, don’t you? We’re using these monstrous incidents as political shields — and swords.

A friend posted this article the other day. (READ: Jew-Haters, Right and Left.) It’s rather jarring — and not just the title.

“There was an attack on Jewish New Yorkers almost every day last week,” noted CNN on Sunday. In reality, there have been physical attacks on Hasidic Jews in Brooklyn for months — “a typhoon of violence,” Tablet magazine described it back in July, with “no evident organizing principle behind it aside from pure hostility against targets that are unmistakably Jewish.” To the consternation of many in New York’s Jewish neighborhoods, this “slow-rolling pogrom” triggered no sense of urgency on the part of New York authorities or the media.

Was that because the attackers weren’t white supremacists?

For the last several years, in the wake of proliferating online antisemitism from the “alt-right” and especially after the shootings in Pittsburgh and Poway, the conventional wisdom has been that the most dangerous Jew-hatred is a right-wing phenomenon, intimately bound up with white-supremacist fanaticism. The neo-Nazis who marched in Charlottesville, chanting “Jews will not replace us,” epitomized that paradigm. So did Robert Bowers, the Pittsburgh mass shooter, who declared that “all Jews must die” and railed against immigrants.

But antisemitism is equally a phenomenon of the left. In our hyperpolarized environment, many liberals choose to denounce Jew-hatred only when it can be blamed on the right, while diehard conservatives prefer to focus on antisemitic tropes that crop up on the left. Immediately after the Jersey City murders, Democratic Representative Rashida Tlaib was quick to pin the bloodshed on “white supremacy” — obviously unaware that the killers were, in fact, followers of a militant black supremacist cult.

I don’t know — I don’t know if I’m extra sensitive to this because I have Jewish family members and close friends? Because I’m watching them hurt over nasty sentiments and hearing them express fear now that they’ve not experienced/expressed before? It’s possible.

I’m honestly at a loss as to how we continue to cultivate this hate and division. And all anyone seems willing to do about it is lay blame elsewhere. “That group and their ideology are to blame.” “Those people have no shame.” “They started it.”

And lost in all the moral preening and political posturing is the evil at the heart of it all.




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