The massacre of Jewish worshippers in a Pittsburgh Synagogue has shattered any illusion that “it can’t happen here”… writes Michael Kuttner.
Horrendous as it was this latest deadly manifestation of Jew hatred is only the latest in a series of escalating hate incidents targeting Jews and their institutions in the USA which have seen a steady increase over many years. Given the bitter and polarized society that the USA has now descended to this latest outrage should not have come as any surprise.
In a country awash with firearms, many of which are in the hands of individuals with criminal, psychopathic and twisted personalities, daily shooting occurrences whether in schools, at home or in the street have become the norm. Despite heated rhetoric every attempt at meaningful regulation, restriction or monitoring has failed in the face of a powerful gun lobby and a mythical belief in the right of anyone to bear arms.
The deadly consequences are now plain to see.
In my conversations over the years with Jewish residents of various American cities I have been amazed at an almost universal similar response. While acknowledging that out of control gun crime is a problem they all blithely observe that these events are occurring in the “bad parts” of the city and well away from where the majority of Jews live.
When it is pointed out to them that hate knows no boundaries and that hate of Jews in particular has a habit of breaking out regardless of suburb their reaction is one of incredulity that anything lethal could ever happen in the “goldena medina.” This blind faith has unfortunately resulted in far too many ignoring the obvious signs and as a result when tragedies such as we have just witnessed occur the shock is doubly traumatic.
As Jewish communities in other parts of the world have internalized for some time now, self defense is of paramount importance. No matter how efficient the local law enforcement authorities may be the fact remains that it is not enough. Protecting Synagogues and communal buildings using the resources of the local community is a must.
Obviously they must do so with proper training, practice and liaison with police authorities. The days of unprotected worship or communal gatherings are unfortunately well and truly over. Europe discovered this to their cost. Sydney and Melbourne have an excellent system of vigilance and surveillance in place and are models which other Jewish communities should emulate.
Unfortunately as current debate highlights the American Jewish communities are still in denial. Of course the sight of armed or even unarmed guards can be disconcerting and security checks annoying but unfortunately that is the situation we face.
Terrorists and criminals alike usually choose the most vulnerable building or group of people. When they perceive that someone or some place is guarded and that their chances of getting away with murder is slim they often try elsewhere. The fact that this elementary reality has still not been accepted by most American Jews is very worrying.
Much debate is now swirling in social media as to why Judeophobia has increasingly strengthened and how it can be countered. Lost in most of this hand wringing is an acknowledgement that this longest surviving virus has been given a booster shot by those who have joined the legion of Israel haters.
Until 1948 hatred against Jews was incubated in societies afflicted with theological dogmas, racial conspiracies and plain old prejudices. Once Jewish sovereignty was re-established these demented deformities were transferred in many cases to the Jewish State and its citizens. Now seventy three years after the obscenities of the Holocaust those peddling such hate feel comfortable and safe to do so.
One would have thought that with the proliferation of Holocaust museums, memorials and education the message would have seeped down even to the vilest of individuals. Alas this has not been the case and there are many reasons why it has not.
Although the media and especially social media has been a good vehicle for the dissemination of films and documentaries about the Holocaust they have also been equally lethal in spreading the vilest lies, slanders and conspiracy theories. As surveys and studies in the USA have shown ignorance of the unique nature of anti Semitism amongst millenials and students is at an alarmingly high level.
The latest trend of trivializing the Jewish experience over thousands of years and instead equating it with other genocides is diminishing the understanding of why the Jewish experience is indeed unique. Glossing over the Jewish connection to the land of Israel is also producing generations who do not understand this important fact.
In addition the teaching of Holocaust studies is only reaching a relatively small percentage of pupils. Those who are exposed to the realities of the Holocaust and the history of persecution, either by dedicated teachers and visits to concentration camp sites and Yad Vashem, are deeply affected but they are a tiny minority. Holocaust studies are still not a compulsory component of the New Zealand history curriculum and as a result there are graduates from high schools who will remain ignorant of the subject and remain easy prey to every lie propagated on Facebook, Twitter, etc.
Germany and Austria pre-war were the most educated and cultured nations in Europe with Jewish Communities well integrated into the general society. Too many Jews made the fatal assumption that this level of assimilation would guarantee their immunity. In actual fact it was the most educated professionals who threw in their lot with the Nazis and planned, executed and managed the final solution. This is a lesson Jews in the USA and elsewhere forget at their peril.
What about politicians? To their credit both the Australian PM and the Leader of the Opposition quickly issued public statements of solidarity after the Pittsburgh murders. I have searched in vain for similar expressions from New Zealand Government or Opposition leaders who in recent times have been quick off the mark to sponsor & support outrageous anti Israel UN resolutions. Perhaps the royal visit distracted them from the spectacle of dead Jews or maybe it is just disinterest. Either way it highlights their priorities.
Baroness Tonge in the UK theorized that the actions of the Israeli Government were to blame for the rise in anti Semitism. However, the most blatant examples of hypocrisy were exhibited by President (for life) Abbas of the Palestinian Authority and the terror group Hamas which issued messages of sympathy and called the Pittsburgh massacres “acts of terror.” Apparently dead Israeli Jews murdered by Arab terrorists is a laudable act – read it for yourselves (courtesy of PMW):
The plague is spreading and becoming more virulent again. We need to employ all our resources in fighting this disease. Education and outreach can be intensified but we also have to take steps that physically safeguard us from harm. The days of meekly capitulating to pogroms and remaining silent in the face of apathetic officialdom are well and truly over.
The Jews of the East End in prewar London who physically stopped the rampages of the Mosley fascists show us how it can be done. Ringing declarations of solidarity notwithstanding, the bottom line remains that only our own determined actions can and will thwart the nefarious intentions of those whose hate transcends the ages.
Michael Kuttner is a Jewish New Zealander who for many years was actively involved with various communal organisations connected to Judaism and Israel. He now lives in Israel.
[This article was originally published on J-Wire and is reproduced here with permission from Michael Kuttner.]