Thursday, December 13, 2018
In the wake of the horrendous massacre at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, much has been written about whether President Trump was responsible for the murders, who else might be responsible, is Trump an anti-Semite, how prevalent Jew-hatred is in American society, and what is creating this atmosphere where more blatant expressions of Jew-hatred and even violence are becoming common.
Vandalism to synagogues and other Jewish institutions is making the news. These incidents and other manifestations of anti-Semitism have been going on for years. Now they seem more blatant and frequent and are clearly garnering more attention from the media.
It is likely that but for being turned in by concerned family members, a Jew-hating young man in Washington, D.C. was on the verge of committing another massacre like the one in Pittsburgh.
Just days ago, a Toledo man was arrested for planning a deadly attack on a local synagogue.
In Baltimore a man screaming “Heil Hitler” and “Heil Trump” during the intermission of a performance of Fiddler on the Roof set off an understandable panic as many in the crowd expected bullets to follow. Never mind that it was an impulsive and totally inappropriate outburst borne of frustration with President Trump’s immigration stance. The point is that Jews are seen as such a target in today’s America that the audience thought it meant bullets would fly.
Hate-motivated crimes against Jews have increased substantially, and while Jews represent just 2% of the U.S. population, they are the victims of 60% of religiously motivated hate crimes.
A few commentators have criticized these statistics, saying they create a false impression because they include “non-violent” acts like vandalism. Jews in America should be comforted by that? Swastikas on synagogues, JCC’s, and days schools don’t leave scars? Words like “kike” and “dirty Zionist” scrawled on walls and Internet posts don’t mean people shouldn’t be on guard, that they have no reason to be fearful?
A columnist for the Forward asked Young American Jews whether America is still safe for Jews. There were a mix of answers, some pessimistic, some hopeful. But just the fact that the question was asked and serious, diverse answers ensued tells one a lot about the mental state of American Jews when it comes to Jew-hatred. Most American Jews would have thought the question ludicrous just five or 10 years ago.
The actual Nazi or KKK members in the U.S. is a minuscule percentage of the population. Those that go out and march and scream also represent a very low percentage of the population. But a recent reputable poll found that 9% of Americans think that it is legitimate to hold neo-Nazi views. That's about 22 million people. When you add in the five or 10 or 15 million more who feel that way but are too smart or too embarrassed to admit it, that is a whole bunch of Americans, and that is frightening.
Ultimately, the man who pulled the trigger is responsible for the horrible deaths in Pittsburgh. And, ultimately, the person who spray paints graffiti on a synagogue, or a person who sends bigoted vitriol through cyberspace, is responsible for his or her actions. But, for the atmosphere in the U.S. that has given rise to public expressions of Jew-hatred and gives license to those who are tempted to use violence, for that there is plenty of blame to go around, and it is not exclusive to one side of the political spectrum.