Parkland and antisemitism

A marked increase globally in nations where Jews are harassed has become undeniable.

March 15, 2018 22:38
4 minute read.
Parkland and antisemitism

Students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and Westglades Middle School gather near memorials at a park where they marched as part of a National School Walkout, to honor the 17 students and staff members killed at the high school in Parkland, Florida. (photo credit: REUTERS)


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The massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School last month in Parkland, Florida, was not only a mass shooting but an antisemitic attack. New reports reveal the ammunition magazines of the shooter’s rifle were etched with swastikas.

While Americans grapple with the aftermath of the murders and the news cycle reignites the gun debate, the alleged shooter’s antisemitism has failed to draw as sharp a focus.

Perhaps it’s too familiar a profile? Nikolas Cruz has been identified as a white supremacist. He was an overt antisemite as his social media postings reveal and he chose to target his former school where 40% of children attending are Jewish, according to the local Chabad rabbi.

A white nationalist group, the Republic of Florida Militia, claimed Cruz was a member.

Cruz reportedly expressed antisemitic sentiments directed at his birth mother (whom he knew to be Jewish) and openly declared his hatred of Jews in social media. Natalie Lifson writing in Haaretz details Cruz’s antisemitism as five of the 17 people he killed were Jewish.

As the gunman emptied the magazines from his AR-15 into his former classmates, some students at Stoneman Douglas High School were engrossed in a Holocaust history class.

Specifically, they were examining the 1936 Olympics through the i-Witness program in materials developed by the USC Shoah Foundation centered on Holocaust survivors’ testimony. They were learning about empathy and tolerance through the memories of survivors in a world imperiled with hate.

Before the class had ended, two of the students attending would lose their lives in the massacre, also victims of antisemitism.

The scourge of antisemitism is back with a resurgence in the US. Openly antisemitic Arthur Jones of Illinois is running as a “national socialist” for Congress in the Republican primary.

In a vitriolic TV appearance, Jones argued the “two-party, Jew-party system” is “controlling” the United States. He adds, “Yes, I deny the Holocaust. It is an extortion racket... Nothing but an international extortion racket by the Jews... to suck us into one war after another in the Mideast.”

Even more shocking is that Jones is not alone; at least four other Americans with white supremacist ties are running for office in the United States.

The Anti-Defamation League has reported the largest ever increase in antisemitism year over year in 2017 since records commenced 40 years ago.

Rising fears in America, in many groups but particularly among American Jews, since the election of President Donald Trump have continually heightened since inauguration.

Six months have passed since the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, exposed neo-Nazis marching to chants of “Jews will not replace us,” and “Blood and soil” followed by Trump’s shocking responses to the outrage.

The return of antisemitism is uniquely frightening. While many peoples are subject to xenophobia and persecution, antisemitism is distinct in inspiring lethal genocide of unprecedented scale.

Millions perished in the Holocaust. Mass shootings, starvation, death through enforced labor, death marches, mass immolation in gas chambers and crematoria, euthanasia of healthy persons, even children, and immolation in buildings including in synagogues – these and countless other atrocities amounted to genocide of six million Jews, almost extinguishing global Jewry.

Seventy years on, we have legitimate grounds for renewed fear. A marked increase globally in nations where Jews are harassed has become undeniable.

A Pew Forum study revealed that harassment of Jews – whether by state or individual actors – was evident in 77 counties, or 39% of nations. It was a seven-year peak. Jews are much more often harassed by individuals, or distinct civilian groups, than by state actors, according to Pew.

Social media reflects this resurgence in the language most often used to denigrate Jews on social media: “Jews, Holocaust, Hitler, Nazis, Holohoax, Gas.”

Look Who’s Back, the 2015 German satire film, imagines Adolf Hitler returning to 21st-century Germany. Equal parts comical and disturbing, it reveals a remarkable resonance of Nazi antisemitism present within contemporary Germany – and has parallels in the US.

While the nation grieves for the lives lost in Florida and struggles with strategies to move forward so there is not a repeat, it is critical to recognize the antisemitic nature of the attack.

It is urgent to acknowledge factors that embolden white supremacists and antisemites.

These hatreds endanger one of America’s most vulnerable minorities. Numbering only 4.2 million in the United States, American Jews constitute less than 1.8% of the US population, yet carry the staggering burden of 56.8% of all hate crimes, according to 2014 FBI data on anti-Jewish bias attacks.

While we may often feel powerless in the face of such hate, we can follow the lead of the children of Stoneman Douglas High School who studied Holocaust History as the shooter neared.

Students have launched the #NeverAgain movement, echoing the theme of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and a phrase in use since World War II.

We can together declare the power of these two words and hope they become truth.

The author is a British-American Muslim and a physician. She is a member of The USC Shoah Foundation’s Committee on countering contemporary antisemitism through testimony, and a member of the Council on Foreign Relations.@MissDiagnosis

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