Recognizing Anti-Semitism, Not Just Defining It

COLLEYVILLE, TEXAS - JANUARY 16: Law enforcement vehicles sit in front of the Congregation Beth Israel synagogue on January 16, 2022 in Colleyville, Texas.  Brandon Bell/Getty Images/AFP (Photo by Brandon Bell / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / Getty Images via AFP)
Congregation Beth Israel in Colleyville, Texas. Source: Getty Images

How can an attack on a synagogue on Shabbat be classified as “not specifically related to the Jewish community”?

At one of the news conferences during the 11 hour hostage standoff at Congregation Beth Israel in Colleyville, Texas, FBI Special Agent In Charge Matthew DeSarno stated that the attack “was not specifically related to the Jewish community.”

While the attack itself was not the traditional targeting of Jews, such as previous attacks on synagogues and Jewish centers, the gunman chose a Jewish institution – a synagogue on Shabbat – due to the anti-Semitic belief that Jews control the world.

The gunman, later identified as Malik Faisal Akram, a 44-year-old British national who demanded the release of Aafia Siddiqui, “the Lady of Al-Qaeda”: a Pakistani national neuroscientist currently serving an 86-year sentence at a facility in Texas due to her 2010 conviction of seven terrorism related charges, including attempted murder and armed assault on US officers in Afghanistan.

Akram did not attack the prison in which Siddiqui is staying. Nor did he choose to attack a US federal building. Instead, Akram – who arrived in New York’s JFK Airport from abroad approximately five weeks ago and then made his way to Texas – chose to attack a synagogue on its Sabbath.

This was not an accident. This was a calculated move. President Joe Biden sounded confused as to why the gunman chose a synagogue to attack and held its congregants captive, telling reporters on Sunday that, “I don’t think there is sufficient information to know about why he targeted that synagogue, why he insisted on the release of someone who’s been in prison for over 10 years, why he was using anti-Semitic and anti-Israeli comments. We just don’t have enough facts.”

This lack of understanding of understanding of antisemitism is part of the problem of why Jews, who consist of only 2% of the American population, are subject to 58% of religiously motivated hate crimes.

According to the United States Department of State, antisemitism is defined as: “a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of antisemitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.”

Furthermore, the State Department mentions that the definition of antisemitism includes, “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.”

So, to state that Saturday’s attack was not “specifically targeting the Jewish community” or questioning the motives of “why he targeted that synagogue” is not understanding the internationally recognized definition of antisemitism.

Jews are living in a constant state of antisemitism; a state in which we feel alone and misunderstood. How many times do we need to cry out for our friends to stand by us? How many times do we need to explain to people that we are being attacked because of what we are and not what we are doing?

Jews got together on Saturday for prayer in a synagogue in Colleyville, Texas. A gunmen entered and held congregants hostage, making demands of the US government. A synagogue was not chosen at random. It was chosen because it was a Jewish place of worship and anti-Semities believe that Jews control the world. So, it makes sense that since the gunman wanted to create change, he went to what he perceived as the source of power: Jews.

It is time for the FBI and world governments to understand that Saturday’s attack was rooted in antisemitic beliefs.

Maybe, just maybe, once leadership understands the depth of anti-Semitism and recognizes it using their own definition, then the Jews of the world will not feel so alone and isolated in our fight against religious hatred.

It’s time to recognize antisemitism. Not just define it.

About the Author
Keren Gelfand served as Director for Media Affairs at the Israeli Consulate in both Chicago and New York. Following her service there, she created her own consulting company to help brand Israeli and Jewish non profits in the States.
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