Imagine the following scenario: A white male, roughly forty years of age, enters a black church and takes the pastor and several of his worshippers hostage. The FBI and local law enforcement descend on the scene and begin negotiating with the hostage taker to ensure the safety of all involved.
News leaks that he demands the release of a well-known imprisoned white supremacist, currently serving a life-sentence in a local federal prison. For almost twelve hours, the nation holds its collective breath as events unfold. Thankfully, all but the hostage taker walk out of the church alive, largely because of the cool headed and well-trained pastor.
Across the nation, messages of solidarity flood the message boards, social media, the internet, and the news. However, trending the most was the idea that this event would mostly harm white people. Of course, there should be sympathy expressed that the black church was impacted, but the white hostage taker randomly chose the black church. The black church was not targeted. We should not attribute any motive to this white hostage taker simply because he selected a black church from which to make a demand that a white supremacist be freed.
The President of the United States offers a statement expressing confusion as to why a white man would take hostage congregants of a black church to free a white supremacist. The Federal Bureau of Investigation, the United States’ preeminent law enforcement agency, announces that the attack against a black church by a white man looking to free a white supremacist has nothing to do with racism.
This sounds entirely ludicrous, right? Had this scenario unfolded as written above, there would be no corner of this country where outrage would not be found. In fact, if past is prologue, protests would likely have erupted around the nation.
But this did happen. The only difference is that instead of a black church, a rabbi and three congregants in a Texas synagogue were taken hostage by a Muslim man with a criminal and radical Islamist background seeking to free an Al-Qaeda terrorist currently serving a life sentence in a Fort Worth federal prison for threatening the lives of American service members.
While there are still unanswered questions, to argue the terrorist’s actions were not a gross act of antisemitism would constitute willful disregard of all available circumstantial evidence.
Yet this is exactly what the President of United States initially suggested when he tried to question why the perpetrator was willing to commit an act of antisemitism. “We just don’t know,” he said. Really? We don’t know? The answer was in his own statement.
The FBI publicly announced that they did not believe that a synagogue attack where four Jewish hostages were held indicated antisemitism. Only after great uproar following the FBI’s announcement did they correct their statement. If there would be no other way to characterize an attack on a black church by an apparent apologist for white supremacism than to call it racism, then why, when Jews are at the center of the story, does everyone hesitate in calling it antisemitism?
What’s more, Wajahat Ali, a columnist for the Daily Beast, tweeted out his prediction that the hostage situation was going to lead to “ugly and vicious Islamophobia and anti-Muslim bigotry.”
In the middle of a situation where Jews are cowering in the face of a dangerous man who took over the synagogue for antisemitic and pro-terrorist reasons, Ali cynically focuses attention, not on the very real scourge of Islamic antisemitism, but on anti-Muslim bigotry. Could anyone imagine this statement being offered in the situation outlined above? Of course not, and yet his tweet made it around the world in a matter of minutes.
Jews represent just over 2% of the US population but account for almost 60% of all US religious hate crimes. Despite this staggering statistic, members of congress, the White House, federal agencies, the media, and social media have been gaslighting US Jews into believing antisemitism might not be what we think it is and might not be the prevailing reason Malik Faisal Akram targeted a synagogue. It’s not that complicated. The answer is: it’s antisemitism. These efforts to suggest otherwise or divert attention away from this fact are outrageous and antisemitic in and of themselves.
This op-ed is published in partnership with a coalition of organizations that fight antisemitism across the world. Read the previous article by Risto Huvila.