On January 15, 2022, a gunman walked into Congregation Beth Israel synagogue in Colleyville, Texas and held four people hostage. The four individuals, including Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker, were held hostage for 10 hours. The perpetrator said the reason for the hostage was to demand the release of Aafia Siddiqui. Siddiqui was convicted in 2010 of attempting to kill United States FBI agents by a federal court.
To make matters worse, this occurred on Shabbat, a significant weekly tradition for Jewish people. Thankfully, the hostages were all released safely and the gunman died. The following morning, everyone awoke to the FBI's statement, which claimed the hostage taker's demands were focused on an issue not connected to the Jewish community.
The attacker, who was later revealed to be a UK citizen, told local police that he wanted to "kill and bomb Jews" in 2021. There's also an audio recording of the attacker during the hostage where he rants to his brother about "f***ing Jews." To act like this incident had nothing to do with the Jewish community is to not understand the circumstances or how antisemitism operates.
Antisemitism doesn't operate like other forms of hatred. Other forms of hatred and bigotry involve putting a particular group down. It involves making them seem inferior to other, more powerful groups. With antisemitism, however, it shows itself by making Jewish people seem powerful and controlling. It takes a world problem and makes Jewish people the scapegoat.
Aafia Siddiqui didn't hide her antisemitic feelings. Following her conviction, Siddiqui said, "This verdict is coming from Israel and not from America." She also requested genetic testing on the jury and asked that Jewish people not be included "if they have a Zionist or Israeli background."
CAIR National hosted an event campaigning for her release. The event featured the likes of Linda Sarsour, who has made several antisemitic statements in the past. Chief among them was her bold-faced lie that Israel was built on the idea of "Jewish supremacy," evoking classic antisemitic tropes.
Zahra Billoo, executive-director of CAIR San Francisco, made her own share of antisemitic statements when speaking at the American Muslims for Palestine Annual Conference. She told the crowd to be on the lookout for "Zionist synagogues" and referred to them as the enemy. The irony of CAIR condemning the hostage on Twitter wasn't lost on those who have been paying attention. While they may not have hoped for this kind of attack, to not see their role in perpetuating this antisemitism is ignorance at best and gaslighting at worst.
It is imperative that the FBI understand this context in order to rightfully state antisemitism as the motive. At the very least, they should've prefaced or followed their statement by emphasizing this was an antisemitic attack. The good news is President Biden and Vice President Harris both called out antisemitism in their respective statements about the attack. However, Biden claimed we will learn more about the perpetrator's motive in the coming days.
No, Mr. President. We already know his motive. He was motivated by a deep hatred of Jewish people caused by a world still blind to the very problem staring them right in the face. There's nothing else to learn.
Antisemitism is considered the world's oldest hate. Jewish people in America comprise 58% of religiously-motivated hate crimes, yet they make up only 2% of the country's population. There are many reasons this form of hate is still prevalent in a country that prides itself on moving in a progressive direction. One of them is a denial of Jewish history, culture, and peoplehood. Being Jewish isn't just a religion, but an ethnicity as well. This is something many people either don't know, or purposefully try to hide. It's harmful, because it allows certain forms of antisemitism to be excused, and therefore, seen as invalid or nonexistent.
Another way in which this hate slips through the cracks is through politics. Antisemitism has become so politicized that many people deny different forms when it doesn't suit their political agenda. This is exactly what happened in May of 2021 when the conflict between Israel and Hamas escalated. This is also when the attacker told police that he wanted to "kill and bomb Jews." Jewish people in America were getting beaten in the streets and attacked in outdoor dining restaurants.
However, there was barely a peep from so-called "progressives" and other people on the left. Instead, liberal figures, such as those within the Squad, spent this time demonizing and lying about the Jewish state. They continued to spread misinformation to their millions of Twitter followers, fanning the flames of the growing antisemitism engulfing their fellow citizens. This makes their statements of solidarity following this hostage situation empty, as well as a form of gaslighting.
The right, meanwhile, has chosen to spend their time comparing measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19 to the Holocaust. Many conservative politicians have made statements comparing masks and vaccines to the horrific genocide which claimed the lives of six million Jewish people. However, when called out, the right just wants to point fingers at the left. And the left just wants to point fingers at the right.
Each side is responsible for the rise in antisemitism, but nobody wants to learn and take responsibility for their role in it. This allows both forms of antisemitism to grow and it leads to attacks on Jewish people. It leads to Orthodox Jewish people getting beaten in the street. It leads to the act of putting a Magen David around your neck to become akin to placing a visible, flashing target above your head. And it leads to a gunman holding four people hostage in a synagogue, blaming the victims for something that had nothing to do with them.
The fact of the matter is, education is key. Many states still don't require Holocaust education in schools. And the idea of presenting students with "opposing views" to the Holocaust was recently proposed in Texas, the same state this hostage attack just occurred. There is clearly a long way to go. Education coupled with the bravery to call out hateful individuals is needed now more than ever. Calling out antisemitism, no matter the form it takes, shouldn't be a controversial act.
Jewish people should be able to go to synagogue without fearing for their lives. And while it's a necessity to have armed security in front of synagogues, it shouldn't have to be. This isn't something that is required with other houses of worship. That should tell you something. The only way we'll defeat this evil mentality that surrounds us is to all work together. It might sound too idealistic, but people's lives depend on it. We must continue to hold onto hope.
Hope is all we have and while it may seem futile, it's very strong.