When people criticize Israel they mean Jews. You are talking anti-Semitism.
Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.
On May 10, Hamas terrorists began launching a barrage of rockets at Israeli civilian targets. Many Israelis were killed or injured and the property damage was horrific. People were terrified, their lives turned upside down by the non-stop attacks, and their only thoughts were how to find shelter for themselves and their families. In response, Israel retaliated on Hamas targets in Gaza.
Although Israel acted in self-defense only after massive attacks on its citizens, segments of the popular media portrayed it as the aggressor in the conflict. A large number of Palestinians and sympathizers protested in cities around the country, yelling “Death to Israel.” But their sentiments weren’t limited to that. They also shouted “Death to Jews.”
And they did not stop there. Jews in peaceful rallies supporting Israel were beaten viciously or chased. Many more were verbally assaulted, and for those who have never been victims of that, it is most alarming.
This is not the first time that Jews in America were blamed for violence in the Middle East. The difference now was the intensity of the venom, the duration, and how widespread it became.
Jews were understandably rattled. Is this really the same America they grew up in? Were the protests spontaneous or were they orchestrated? They also wondered whether Jews were safe in America or whether they had to hide their identities when walking on streets and mingling in crowds.
Barry (name changed), a frum man, decided not to take any chances. A teacher, he always went to work wearing a yarmulke. But when the anti-Israel and anti-Jewish sentiment erupted, he decided to stop wearing it.
“It felt strange,” he told the Queens Jewish Link, “and I wasn’t sure that I was doing the right thing because nothing had ever happened to me. And yet I sensed hostility when people noticed I was wearing one – maybe it was my imagination but it seemed so intense that it was almost tangible.”
Barry is not the only one who experienced this problem. Many frum men are now considering wearing baseball hats instead of yarmulkes. And women are rethinking whether they should continue to wear symbols that identify them as Jews.
Some have taken this a step further. Anecdotally, it’s reported that there are individuals who are wondering about removing the mezuzahs from the front doors of their homes – a mitzvah our rabbis assure us offers us protection – in order not to be obviously Jewish. Until now, these concerns were limited to certain areas of Europe and unknown in the US.
These worries pale when compared to the experience of Yosef Borgen. Borgen was walking in midtown Manhattan to a peaceful rally in support of Israel. For no reason other than he was wearing a yarmulke, he was set upon by a mob of pro-Palestinian thugs.
Here’s how he described his experience to Fox News. “I was thrown to the ground, punched, kicked, beaten with flagpoles and crutches, and tried to protect my head as best I could.” Borgen has bruises all over his body and suffered a slight concussion and two black eyes.” While on the ground he was also pepper sprayed and maced for more than a minute. “The hate in the eyes of the people who were attacking me was amazing. Who would have imagined anyone could be so inhumane?”
This was only the tip of the iceberg of attacks against Jews and many were understandably alarmed by what’s going on. In Brooklyn, the rav of a shtiebel BAH has a large family. He told the Queens Jewish Link that his married children limit going outside as much as possible, while his unmarried children don’t want to go out at all; all are afraid of becoming victims of a violent attack.
Unfortunately, the many horrifying attacks on Jews around the country justify their fears. In Los Angeles, diners at a sushi restaurant were attacked following a large rally in support of Hamas and Palestinians. Soon afterward, one man was arrested on suspicion of assault with a deadly weapon. LA mayor Eric Garcetti called the attack “orchestrated and anti-Semitic.” Paul Koretz, a local councilman, said this was the second attack on Jews in a 24-hour period.
- In Florida a man left human feces in front of a shul and verbally assaulted a rabbi.
- A shul was vandalized in Utah. “Can someone explain to me how putting a swastika on a synagogue in Salt Lake City is somehow connected to the plight of the Palestinian people thousands of miles away?” asked Rabbi Avremi Zippel, program director at the Chabad Community Center Synagogue.
- A shul in Arizona was also vandalized. A woman who davens there posted this sentiment on social media: “Yesterday, my synagogue in Tucson was vandalized. It’s heartbreaking to see such a disgusting act in a place where so many are meant to feel safest.”
- Facebook refused to take down a meme showing a Palestinian man hanging a Jewish man.
- A Brooklyn man was arrested for setting fire to a yeshivah and shul.
- A man accused of beating Yosef Borgen said from his jail cell, “If I could do it again I would.” Once released on just $10,000 bail, despite what he had proclaimed, he was given a hero’s welcome by friends and family.
Other incidents have been reported elsewhere.
In Europe, the hatred was even worse. Thousands of pro-Palestinian protestors demonstrated in London in a convoy that crossed the city, openly calling for violence against Jewish men and women, and a rabbi was beaten in North London. There were similar such protests in Spain and Germany.
The Anti-Defamation League released data that showed the huge spurt in the number of online and actual incidents of anti-Semitism since the conflict with Hamas erupted. In the week following the outbreak of fighting in the Middle East, nearly 200 anti-Semitic incidents were reported, up from 131 the week before.
As the conflict between Israel and Hamas continued to escalate, “We witnessed a dangerous and drastic surge in anti-Jewish hate right here at home,” says ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt. “It’s happening around the world – from London to Los Angeles, from France to Florida, in big cities like New York and in small towns and across every social media platform.”
The ADL added that it had documented the surge in anti-Semitism online, too, noting that there were more than 17,000 messages on Facebook, Twitter, and TikTok, and Instagram used a variation of the phrase “Hitler [y”s] was right” and that promoted tropes about Jewish control of the banks and money and that demonized all Jews.
News You Don’t Read
One imagines that the widespread hate and violence against Jewish communities across the country would have received the same attention that crimes against the African American and Asian communities got – but they haven’t. Fox News Contributor Joe Concha said that CBS, NBC, and ABC provided very little coverage of these events. And CNN, The New York Times, and The Washington Post also posted little or nothing about it on their home pages, ignoring the mobs that rampaged through the streets of our cities chanting “Death to Jews.”
Queens Congresswoman Grace Meng shared these thoughts with QJL readers: “The wave of anti-Semitic attacks against the Jewish community is disgusting and must not be tolerated,” she said. “We must all condemn these abhorrent and sickening acts of violence and continue to make clear that hate has no place anywhere in our society. These incidents must end immediately... An attack on one community is an attack on all of our communities.”
Unfortunately, some of New York’s best-known politicians are voicing only very lukewarm support for Israel and restrained criticism of the violent demonstrators.
A Great, But Terrible, Awakening
So where does this leave the Jewish community? At one time, the powerful so-called Jewish lobby was respected and influential. To whatever extent that once may have been true, clearly these days it has lost much of its power. A very small number of freshman Congresswomen have turned the Democratic Party upside down and, with that, has weakened the party’s support for Israel.
The media, once criticized for automatically supporting Israel, no longer does. Terrorists who shoot rockets at Israeli civilians are portrayed as heroes, while Israel’s defense of its civilians generates accusations of genocide and is compared to Hitler
Jews in America’s largest cities are afraid of walking down its streets and of being identified as Jews. The ability of police to respond effectively to hate and other crimes is limited at best, and people accused of violent crimes are quickly released by courts with little or no bail. And our best-known politicians offer little reassurance. Even in Israel, Jews are not safe from rocket and other terror attacks.
So what should we do? Rabbi Yosef Mizrachi, a well-known magid shiur, urged people to increase the amount of Torah they learn, say more T’hilim, and increase the amount of tz’dakah they give. Others have suggested community-wide programs to improve sh’miras Shabbos as well as sh’miras ha’lashon. A rav said people should examine themselves and focus on one area where they will improve their mitzvah observance – even if that means doing something that seems very minor. Certainly, all of these will help. And yet, individuals who are considered to be among the g’dolei ha’dor are not sure what has caused so much Divine anger to be directed at the Jewish community. The conflict with Hamas closely follows the terrible tragedies at Meron and Stolin.
While we are not sure exactly what to do, we are now experiencing a great but frightening awakening: Ein lanu al mi l’hisha’ein ela al Avinu she’ba’shamayem – we have no one to rely on but Hashem. If we Jews needed a reminder of that message, we certainly got one. Hopefully, very possibly this part of the lesson has finally been internalized. But it’s just possible that there’s another part for the rest of the world to learn: The Jewish people are Hashem’s children, and in the long run everyone who hurts them hurts themselves, and in that one, the rest of society will learn this, too.