On the front page of October 18th edition of the Pittsburgh Jewish Chronicle, an Israeli living there made a remarkable claim. Regarding his initial response to the attack on worshipers at Tree of Life synagogue: “The first thought was ‘let’s go home, there is no anti-Semitism there.’”
Really, what is it there, in Israel, if not anti-Semitism?
And this Israeli’s opinion is not uncommon. Defining terror attacks against Jewish civilians in Israel as something other than anti-Semitism is widespread among Jews in America as well.
Yet, among the new crop of books attempting to define and address the scourge of anti-Semitism, we have the proper response to this foolishness. As Pittsburgh native and New York Times op-ed writer Bari Weiss helps clarify in her book How to Fight Anti-Semitism, “Judaism is not merely a religion, and it is not merely an ethnicity. Judaism is a people.”
Too true, and as such, when we are targeted, vilified and murdered because we belong to that people – the Jewish people – isn’t it therefore anti-Semitism when any Jew is targeted? If declaring that the murder of 11 Jews in Pittsburgh was an act of anti-Semitism, as was the murder of Lori Gilbert Kaye at the Chabad synagogue in Poway, California, should the same not be said of other anti-Jewish, murderous violence?
In 2002, 21 people died in a suicide attack on the Ghriba synagogue on the island of Djerba, Tunisia. A tanker truck filled with gasoline and driven by a Tunisian blew up outside the synagogue, the oldest place of Jewish worship in Africa. Al-Qaeda claimed responsibility. It was an act of terrorism to be sure, but also anti-Semitism. After all, the target was a Jewish house of worship, just as it was in Pittsburgh and Poway.
In 2003, several vehicles filled with explosives were aimed at two synagogues in Istanbul – Neve Shalom and Beth Israel. Thirty people were murdered and 300 were injured. A Turkish cell of al-Qaeda claimed responsibility. If the Islamist attackers wanted to kill Jews weren’t these anti-Semitic terror attacks?
In 2014, an attack by two Palestinians against a synagogue in Jerusalem claimed five lives. The attack was the first ever against a Jewish place of worship in the Jewish capital city.
If the murder of Jewish worshippers in America is an act of anti-Semitism, are the murders of Jewish worshippers in Tunisia and Turkey acts of anti-Semitism too? And what about the murder of Jews in a Jerusalem synagogue, is that not anti-Semitism too?
In 1991, Lemrick Nelson, Jr. fatally stabbed Yankel Rosenbaum in Crown Heights, Brooklyn after being surrounded by a group of 12–20 young men shouting, “Kill the Jew.”
In 2018, 85-year-old Mireille Knoll was stabbed to death and then set alight by two young men who attacked her at home in eastern Paris. French officials defined the case as anti-Semitism following an autopsy and investigation.
In July, a 19-year-old girl was stabbed to death in Jerusalem. In September 2018, Ari Fuld, an American and Israeli citizen was fatally stabbed by a Palestinian terrorist at the entrance to a shopping mall on the West Bank. A father of 12 was shot and killed by a Palestinian terrorist in March of this year, in an attack outside of Ariel in Samaria. In 2016, two Israeli Jews were shot to death in Tel Aviv.
As a reminder, anti-Semitic terror attacks against Jews in Israel didn’t start after 1967 when Israel occupied Gaza, Judea and Samaria. Indeed, anti-Semitic attacks didn’t start in 1948 when the Jewish state was established. In 1920, 1922, 1929, and from 1936-1939, hundreds of Jews were murdered by Arabs in Tel Hai, Hebron, Jaffa, Petah Tikvah, Jerusalem, etc.
There are too many incidents of anti-Semitic murderous violence after the State of Israel was established to list them all. Indeed, these killings were collectively defined as part of the Arab-Israel conflict. And anti-Semitism has been central to the Palestinian liberation movement from its inception. Palestinian leader Hajj Amin al-Husseini denied the right of Jews to be sovereign in their historic homeland and allied with Hitler in order to further his refusal to accept the Jew. All the way down to today and the Hamas founding charter which states that “The Jews, brothers of apes, assassins of the prophets,” conspired with Freemasons to control the world via communism and Nazism. Meanwhile, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’ PhD thesis bordered on Holocaust denial. Anti-Semitism is mainstream among Palestinians and Palestinian textbooks have long contained blatant Jew hatred. In April, the US Congress introduced a bill to monitor Palestinian textbooks for anti-Semitic incitement.
Let’s be clear: There is a single principle – Jewish peoplehood – that connects all victims of anti-Jewish murder and all other Jews to the victims. Unfortunately, the more common perception dissects the dead by such categories as geography, national or political conflict, and ideology. Yet, dead Jews are dead Jews. Are geography, political conflict, geography and anti-Semitism mutually exclusive? Is Jewish life cheaper if it is taken in Judea and Samaria versus Tel Aviv or Crown Heights or Pittsburgh?
To be sure, there can be other motives for killing Jews. Indeed, anti-Semitism – unlike other forms of ethnic or religious hatred – is adept at accommodating and including various other supposed sins. But the victims of all this violence belong to one common people – the Jewish people. All were targeted, vilified and murdered because they are Jews. Any additional explanations for their deaths come second to the transcendent fact that they were murdered for the same reason – al kiddush haShem.
This column was originally published in the Pittsburgh Jewish Chronicle, under a different title: “Jewish peoplehood connects all victims, whether in the US or Israel.”
Written by: Abby W. Schachter, a writer and editor, and Anat Talmy, a software engineer, who are both citizens of the United States and Israel.