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Colleyville Antisemitism

January 18, 2022

In the aftermath of the hostage crisis in Colleyville, Texas, authorities, and the synagogue itself equivocated and dithered on the motives behind the attack. But there can be no doubt: the incident at Congregation Beth Israel in Colleyville, Texas was clearly an anti-Jewish hate crime. In fact, it exhibited four different manifestations of antisemitism: Targeting Jews for violence, scapegoating, a blood libel, and nefarious stereotyping of Jews.

An FBI agent on the scene initially said that Malik Faisal Akram’s motive was “not specifically related to the Jewish community.” The FBI later reversed this assessment, announcing that in fact “the Jewish community was targeted.” In the intervening hours many observers lamented the ignorance and insensitivity of the original statement. Blogger Erris Langer Klapper wrote that “To suggest that this heinous crime is not related to the Jewish community inflicts needless and egregious insult upon injury.” Yet Michael Finfer, the president of the synagogue where the attack took place, called it “a random act of violence.”

Akram’s first and most obvious antisemitic crime was specifically targeting a Jewish place of warship and taking Jews hostage during Shabbat service. There was nothing random about the place or the victims involved, even if they were not individually selected. Jeffrey Cohen, one of the hostages, reported that Akram said “that he chose the closest synagogue to the facility where [Siddiqui was] being held.” This violent act meets the first example in the most widely accepted definition of antisemitism, that of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA): harming of Jews in the name of a radical ideology.

The second expression of antisemitism is scapegoating, the practice of singling out a person or group for unmerited blame and consequent negative treatment. In this instance, Akram followed the example of Aafia Siddiqui, the Al Qaeda-linked terrorist that the gunman wanted to free, who blamed her 2010 conviction on Israel. (She had also demanded DNA testing for potential jurors at her trial to exclude Jews.) Blaming Jews—or Israel, which is not always interchangeable but, in this case, amount to the same thing—for the actions of the U.S. government or a federal jury in New York is a clear example of scapegoating. It also meets the third example of the IHRA definition of antisemitism: “Accusing Jews as a people of being responsible for real or imagined wrongdoing committed by a single Jewish person or group, or even for acts committed by non-Jews.” In this case, the “wrongdoing” was imaginary and had nothing to do with Jews—a conviction in U.S. federal court, under criminal (not military or anti-terrorism) laws, subject to all due-process protections of the American legal system.

A specific and especially dangerous version of scapegoating is the blood libel—a false and incendiary claim against Jews intended to provoke violence against Jews. In ancient times, it was libelous accusations that Jews murder Christians for a ritual religious practice. In the early 20th century, it was the conviction and later lynching of Leo Frank, a Jewish man in Atlanta, falsely accused of murder. More recent blood libels often involve obscene allegations against Israeli soldiers or the ridiculous claim that training with Israeli law enforcement is the root cause of racism or misconduct by American police. When Jews or Israel are blamed for the alleged misdeeds of others and singled out for punishment or violence, as in Colleyville, that’s antisemitism.

Finally, the terrorist’s justification for targeting Jews illustrates IHRA’s second example of antisemitism: “Making mendacious, dehumanizing, demonizing, or stereotypical allegations about Jews as such or the power of Jews as collective — such as, especially but not exclusively, the myth about a world Jewish conspiracy or of Jews controlling the media, economy, government or other societal institutions.” As hostage Jeffrey Cohen explained, Akram “had bought into the extremely dangerous, antisemitic trope that Jews control everything, that we could call President Biden and have him release” Siddiqui.

Violence specifically targeting Jews, scapegoating and blood libel, and perverse stereotyping of Jews are clear examples of antisemitism. There can be no question that the hostage-taking in Colleyville was a hate crime motivated by prejudice against Jews as a people, a religious community, and an ethnic group.

 

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Also published at the Times of Israel on January 19, 2022. As always, your feedback is very welcome and actively solicited. Please contact me with your reactions, additions, and rebuttals.

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