This post explores a critical aspect of anti-Semitic attacks that is often obscured: Just who carries out these violent attacks against Jews?
In May of this year the terrorist leaders of Gaza opened a round of fighting with Israel on the phony pretext that Israel had attacked the al-Aqsa Mosque and threatened to evict E. Jerusalem Arabs from their homes.
What followed was an eleven-day armed conflict. Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad launched over 4,000 missiles into Israeli population centers and Israel responded with air strikes against terror targets in Gaza.
As in past Israeli-Hamas conflicts, this one ignited a wave of attacks that targeted Jews in the US and Europe. The May conflict with Gaza led to a spike in anti-Jewish attacks that exceeded anything that Jews had seen in previous Israel-Gaza conflicts.
Pundits on both sides of the political spectrum have spilled considerable ink explaining this shocking rise in attacks. Left wing commentators often attribute all anti-Jewish violence to white nationalists. Those on the right primarily blame radical Islamists and far-left groups.
This post explores a critical aspect of anti-Semitic attacks that is often obscured: Just who carries out these violent attacks against Jews? Is it white nationalists? Far-left activists? Or Muslims motivated by radical Islam?
First a bit of background.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation publishes yearly statistics on crime committed in the US, including hate crimes motivated by religious bias. Of all religious groups, Jews are the most frequent target of these crimes. They include violent attacks as well as threats, harassment, and property destruction.
In the US in 2019, almost 60% of crimes motivated by religious bias targeted Jews. This is startling, given that Jews make up only about 2% of the US population. Over the preceding decade, the proportion of targeted victims who were Jewish varied each year from 51.3 per cent to 71.9 percent of all hate crimes motivated by religious bias.
The FBI’s annual report on hate crime statistics suffers from serious deficiencies. According to CNN, because law enforcement agencies are not required to submit their data to the FBI for its annual crime report, the reported numbers are almost certainly a serious undercount. Of the more than 18,000 law enforcement agencies in the US in 2020, over 3000 did not submit their crime statistics to the FBI.
In looking at these statistics over the years I have noticed a consistent deficiency in data reporting. The identity of the perpetrators of these crimes is not always recorded or reported to the FBI. As a result, perpetrator identities are often shrouded in mystery.
Who is committing these crimes against Jews? To answer that question, I turned to the Counter Extremism Project (CEP).
Worldwide Attacks on Jews
The Counter Extremism Project is a non-profit non-governmental organization founded in 2014 by former senior US government officials, including a former Homeland Security adviser, a former US senator and a former US ambassador to the United Nations. The CEP conducts in-depth research on extremist organizations from across the political spectrum, and advocates for strong policies to counter the influence of these organizations.
Recently CEP published a “Timeline of Major Violent Attacks on Jews Worldwide from 2000-2020.” The Timeline consists of a list summarizing these attacks. The information includes identification of targets and perpetrators, dates, locations and perpetrator motivations.
By including only major violent attacks, the Timeline excludes the majority of anti-Jewish attacks in the US and around the world, many of which involve threats, harassment, minor injury or property defacement and damage.
Still, I found it useful to conduct an analysis of the CEP’s Timeline to answer the question I posed above: Who is committing these anti-Jewish crimes? Or, in this case, who is committing the most serious and deadly crimes against Jews worldwide?
From the data in the Timeline I was able to categorize perpetrators into three groups based on their motivation: radical Islamists; white nationalists; and those who did not fall clearly into either of these two categories.
In almost all cases it was easy to identify the category into which the perpetrators fell. In the case of the Islamists, they almost always had affiliations with known radical Islamist groups such as al-Qaeda, Hamas and Lashkar-e-Tayyiba. Also, during the commission of crime they frequently cried out, “Allahu Akbar”, the signature of an Islamist attack. Other times they ignited a suicide belt, another signature of Islamist violence. In addition, subsequent investigations—involving interviews with law enforcement officials, family members and associates, and examinations of computer files—also revealed the Islamist identity of the perpetrators.
White nationalist perpetrators were less likely to be affiliated with an extremist group. But, as in the case of Islamists, subsequent investigations left no doubt about the white nationalist views of the perpetrators.
The most deadly Islamist attack killed 164 people in Mumbai, India in 2008. Ten Pakistani terrorists slaughtered seven people at the Chabad House. Some of the victims were strangled to death. The terrorists also attacked a series of sites frequented by Westerners, leaving a trail of dead in its wake.
The deadliest white nationalist attack occurred in 2018. A lone gunman entered the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania and opened fire on the people inside. When the dust settled, 11 people lay dead and 6 injured. It was the deadliest anti-Jewish attack in US history.
An example of an attack for which I did not feel confident in classifying the motive of the perpetrators was an attack by two individuals, one of whom was affiliated with an anti-Semitic group called the Black Hebrew Israelites. This group believes its members are the true descendants of the ancient Hebrews. The two attackers killed a police officer at one location and then traveled to a kosher supermarket where they killed three more people.
So, Who Were the Perpetrators?
Of the 27 major violent attacks against Jews worldwide, 59 per cent were committed by attackers motivated by radical Islam; 22 per cent were attackers whose motives could be described as white nationalist; and 18 per cent did not fit either category.
A Dangerous Pitfall
In January, 2020, the New Yorker interviewed David Nirenberg, dean of the Divinity School at the University of Chicago. Nirenberg is a noted scholar of the history of anti-Semitism. Nirenberg argued that it is a mistake to characterize the phenomenon of anti-Semitism as a manifestation of politics:
I do think what is very dangerous for us today is if, on the right, we think that only the left is anti-Semitic because of the critique of Israel, and if, on the left, you think that only the right is anti-Semitic because of white nationalism……I do feel there is a danger there. But I think the real danger is imagining that it is only the other where anti-Judaism is doing its work and thereby not being able to see it in your own affinity group. It is when you do that that the danger of anti-Semitism becoming more dispersed in different parts of society and the potential for doing significant damage becomes greater.
Attributing anti-Jewish violence to a group that you dislike, and ignoring it in a group you favor, will never ameliorate the problem.
For that, the truth is needed.