Two recent reports about the hostage-taking at a Texas synagogue gave me one of those “ah ha” moments, a genuine epiphany.
I thought I understood anti-Semitism. After all, I’m Jewish–and what’s more, I grew up in a small town in Indiana where I routinely encountered classmates with negative feelings–and sometimes bizarre beliefs– about Jews. (Yes, we live in houses like “real people” and no, we don’t have tails. I am not making those questions up!)
Clearly, however, I still have much to learn about the deep-seated assumptions in which anti-Semitism is grounded.
The column from MSNBC was straightforward. The opinion piece took aim at the FBI assertion that the choice of hostages wasn’t “related to the Jewish Community.” While it is true that the perpetrator’s goal was not to harm Jews, but to obtain the release from prison of an unconnected person, the hostage-taker himself explained that he targeted a synagogue because he believes the U.S. “only cares about Jewish lives.”
The article argued that the FBI statement
failed to capture the very nature of antisemitism and how it’s embedded in a wide range of age-old and contemporary conspiracy theories about power, elites, U.S. governance and global cooperation. As Yair Rosenberg explained in The Atlantic this week, antisemitism is not only a discriminatory prejudice, but also “a conspiracy theory about how the world operates.”
The second “aha” article I read was the one from The Atlantic referenced in the foregoing quote.That article explained something I’d never previously understood: anti-Semitism isn’t simply one more manifestation of human tribalism– another “us versus them” hatred–it’s a conspiracy theory.
Most people do not realize that Jews make up just 2 percent of the U.S. population and 0.2 percent of the world’s population. This means simply finding them takes a lot of effort. But every year in Western countries, including America, Jews are the No. 1 target of anti-religious hate crimes. Anti-Semites are many things, but they aren’t lazy. They’re animated by one of the most durable and deadly conspiracy theories in human history.
I’m pretty sure I am not the only person–Jewish or not–who had never previously recognized what the article persuasively described–the weird way in which Jews “play a sinister symbolic role in the imagination of so many that bears no resemblance to their lived existence.”
Evidently, once he had taken the rabbi and congregants hostage, Akrim (the hostage-taker) demanded to speak to the rabbi of New York’s Central Synagogue. Why? He was convinced that the rabbi had the power to authorize the release of Aafia Siddiqui, the Pakistani woman he was trying to free.
Obviously, this is not how the prison system works. “This was somebody who literally thought that Jews control the world,” Beth Israel Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker told The Forward. “He thought he could come into a synagogue, and we could get on the phone with the ‘Chief Rabbi of America’ and he would get what he needed.”
The author noted the irrationality of that belief.
The notion that such a minuscule and unmanageable minority secretly controls the world is comical, which may be why so many responsible people still do not take the anti-Semitic conspiracy theory seriously, or even understand how it works. In the moments after the Texas crisis, the FBI made an official statement declaring that the assailant was “particularly focused on one issue, and it was not specifically related to the Jewish community.” Of course, the gunman did not travel thousands of miles to terrorize some Mormons. He sought out a synagogue and took it hostage over his grievances, believing that Jews alone could resolve them. That’s targeting Jews, and there’s a word for that.
it is really hard to take this lunacy seriously–although the consequences are very serious indeed.
It is patently ridiculous to think that a Jewish “minuscule and unmanageable” minority secretly exercises immense super-powers, that–as wacko Marjorie Taylor Green insists–we can deploy “space lasers” to set fires in California. (Why would we do that, even if we could?) It is particularly ludicrous to those of us who grew up in the “unmanageable” Jewish community to suggest that we are even capable of agreeing to conspire; as my mother used to say, the only thing two Jews can agree about is how much money a third Jew should be contributing to charity.
And as far as the “minuscule” descriptor goes, with inter-marriage rates hitting new highs (Pew Research has found the current intermarriage rate to be 58% among all Jews and 71% among non-Orthodox Jews) we’re heading from minuscule to undetectable.
Pretty soon, the nut cases might have to find a different group guilty of running the world….