When I passed the armed guards posted outside my synagogue Saturday morning, I had almost become desensitized to their presence.
It had been nearly three years since the most recent synagogue shooting on U.S. soil, when a gunman killed one and injured three worshipers outside San Diego, and just a bit longer since 11 were murdered and six wounded at a Pittsburgh congregation in what became the bloodiest antisemitic attack in American history.
Now, following the hostage crisis in Colleyville, Texas, the vigilance is woefully, necessarily, renewed. And a profound despondence has also returned.
Anti-Jewish hate crimes too common
We Jews watch with horror as we remain, year after year, the religious and ethnic group most victimized by hate crimes in America. We have grown accustomed to being scapegoated for others’ problems. And we watch with dismay as anti-Jewish attacks seem unable to inspire the same sense of collective outrage as other forms of bigotry also plaguing this country.
Many details remain unknown about this incident. But here are some facts we do know: A Pakistani woman named Aafia Siddiqui was convicted in 2010 for attempting to murder U.S. personnel in Afghanistan, and her sentencing included a terror enhancement. Both the Islamic State and al-Qaida have requested her release. Siddiqui requested jurors take DNA tests to prove they were not "Zionist or Israeli," and she blamed Israel for her eventual guilty verdict. She is now serving an 86-year sentence at a federal facility in Fort Worth.
We know that the groups who have lobbied most furiously for Siddiqui’s release – al-Qaida, the government of Pakistan, the Council on American-Islamic Relations – also spread conspiracies about Jewish power. Although CAIR has denounced the hostage taking, a speaker at a CAIR-organized rally for Siddiqui outside the Fort Worth facility last September blamed "Zionist judges" for her imprisonment. In November, a senior CAIR executive gave a fiery, conspiracy-laden speech calling “Zionist synagogues” and other Jewish institutions “enemies,” blaming them for Islamophobia and various ills affecting the Muslim community.
Now fast-forward to the present. Malik Faisal Akram, a British citizen of Pakistani origin, flew to the United States on a tourist visa, armed himself, entered the Beth Israel synagogue outside Fort Worth during Sabbath services and took four people hostage, including the community’s rabbi, Charlie Cytron-Walker. Apparently believing that only Jews had the power to release Siddiqui, Akram demanded Cytron-Walker call a different rabbi in New York to secure her release.
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These dots are not hard to connect, but in the aftermath of this affair, government officials and the news media tried very hard not to connect them.
Federal and state officials who initially took to Twitter to comment on the crisis excluded critical details already known at the time, such as the fact that it was unfolding at a synagogue or that the attacker was demanding the release of a jihadi terrorist: President Joe Biden’s press secretary wrote about “the developing hostage situation in the Dallas area.” Texas Gov. Greg Abbott noted that there was a “tense hostage situation in Colleyville.” And the congresswoman whose district includes Colleyville wrote that she was praying for "all involved" in "the situation."
Subverting the narrative
The BBC curiously put the word “hostage” in quotations, even though no one was being directly quoted, the event was live streamed on Facebook and it had already received the attention of the FBI and law enforcement.
These omissions and soft pedals might seem trivial; they are not. And this brief hostage crisis might seem like a blip, given that everyone but the attacker ultimately returned home safely; it is not. Both are symptomatic of much deeper issues, and we had better listen to this canary before it leads to further tragedy.
There does now seem to be an emerging consensus that this attack was the result of antisemitism. But scapegoating Jews, alongside the performative gymnastics to try to separate Jews from Zionism, have and will continue to lead to bloodshed. So will downplaying antisemitism, or erasing the identities of perpetrators and victims when doing so is not politically expedient. Fortunately, law enforcement intervened heroically and this event ended without more Jewish funerals and vigils. We might not be so lucky next time.
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Texas synagogue hostage crisis: Antisemitism downplayed in Colleyville