Week after week come new headlines of attacks upon Jews walking the streets of ordinary, traditionally Jewish New York neighborhoods.
Since the beginning of December, there have been eight attacks upon Jews, starting with the shooting assault on a Jersey City Jewish supermarket which left three innocents dead.
Quite simply, even a mere year or two ago, this was not a problem one would have expected to see in the post-Second World War United States. A new menace to Jewish life, a reawakened anti-Semitism, reminiscent of the 1930s, with its Nazi and fascist infection, when Jews were last victimized in American streets, is now with us and a high proportion of this anti-Semitic violence is being perpetrated by African-Americans.
The problem is also large when viewed in the total context of hate crimes in the US: in the third quarter of 2019, anti-Jewish incidents comprised roughly half of all hate crimes recorded by New York City police.
After the Jersey City attacks, some local blacks despicably blamed Jews for living in the neighborhood and thus supposedly causing the attack.
Astonishingly, a local black official, Jersey City School Board member Joan Terrell-Paige, asked “Where was all this faith and hope when Black homeowners were threatened, intimidated, and harassed by I WANT TO BUY YOUR HOUSE brutes of the jewish [sic] community?” whom she accused of having “waved bags of money” in front of black homeowners.
In one of the five assaults in New York City during Chanukah, a Jewish man, walking in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, was confronted by a gang of black youths screaming anti-Semitic obscenities at him, one of whom threw his drink at him.
In another assault, also in Crown Heights, a Jewish man was accosted by a group of eight black teenagers and knocked to the ground.
More serious still, this past weekend, a machete-wielding African-American man, Grafton Thomas, attempted to murder several Jews after entering a rabbi’s home in the orthodox Jewish neighborhood of Monsey in upstate New York. Thomas stabbed five people, one of whom was seriously injured.
More than a century ago, Lord Alfred Douglas, the lover of Irish playwright and wit, Oscar Wilde, devised a euphemism for the-then illegal activity of homosexual sex, ‘The love that dare not speak its name.’ Today, as though it were illegal or grossly offensive to identify anti-Semitic acts committed by anyone other than whites, officialdom substitutes the vocabulary of the mealy-mouthed. It would appear that attacks on Jews are viewed as serious and deserving of scrutiny and action only when committed by credentialed haters like white supremacists.
Thus, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio claimed in the midst of December’s anti-Jewish attacks that “‘most’ of the ‘violent and anti-Semitic attacks around this country’ are ‘fermented systematically and in an organized fashion by right-wing forces’” and that President Trump was also largely responsible for this.
Similarly, Representative Rashida Tlaib (D–MI) asserted that the Jersey City attack was a case of “white supremacy.” Still others opt for silence.
Where are the African-American community leaders, local and national, decrying this anti-Jewish violence perpetrated by members of their community? Where are the New York City Democratic representatives? Senator Charles Schumer has condemned the attacks as “pure evil” and called for a federal investigation into the attack, but why have we heard nothing, for example, from Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez?
Only last October, Representative Ocasio-Cortez could be found absurdly accusing President Donald Trump of anti-Semitism. Now, when confronted by actual anti-Semitic assaults in the streets of her own city, not a word was to be heard from her.
Mayor de Blasio, it is true, was not silent, observing that “It’s not enough to condemn anti-Semitism — we have to confront it … The NYPD … will bring the perpetrators to justice.”
However, as the Orthodox Jewish newspaper, Vos Iz Neias, notes, “Mayor De Blasio’s policy has proved to be consistent: send out a tweet (only sometimes). Arrest the perpetrators. Release them a few hours later back onto the streets … The mayor cannot claim to be serious about eliminating anti-Semitic attacks in the city, while at the same time refusing to keep the perpetrators of these very crimes off the streets.”
New York Governor, Andrew Cuomo, has been forthright and active, describing the Monsey attack as a case of “domestic terrorism” and issuing instructions to state police to increase patrols in Orthodox Jewish neighborhoods across the state, but the silence from many other Democrats and African-African-American leaders remains alarming and symptomatic of the problerm.
The systematic ignoring and misidentification of black anti-Semitic assaults is an unsustainable and unserious approach to a profoundly serious problem. Regrettably, at this moment, we have no reason to expect progress because the reluctance to confront black anti-Semitism is not mysterious: it stems from a general reluctance to condemn anti-Semitism committed by anyone other than white racists because doing so would call attention to the widespread nature of the problem and beg the question of its durability and resurgence.
Any searching examination would soon reveal that anti-Semitism is not simply another bigotry, but rather an intellectual and spiritual disease which invests Jews with virtually supernatural capacity to harm humankind as the essential first step in mobilizing the masses to persecute and even murder them.
Those who wish to rid the world of the Judeo-Christian moral and intellectual legacy can do no better than targeting its Jewish progenitors. This is why anti-Semitism has been rife across time and place, operates without the normal stimulants of ethnic animosity or competition for territory or resources, and even appears in societies devoid of Jews.
The African-American community must confront the problem of anti-Semitic sentiment and violence within and this can only start with the African-American leadership recognizing the problem, taking the lead, forthrightly condemning the assaults, and visibly engaging in acts of solidarity with Jews.
In short, positive words without positive action, or worse, coupled with negative action, has not and will not suffice.
This is a moment of truth for Democrats and for African-Americans, to be counted in substantive opposition to the haters within their ranks with a view to marginalizing them, or to quietly acquiesce in this alarming state of affairs, to the detriment of American Jews and society in general in the years to come. Their decision will shape the country the United States will become.
Dr. Daniel Mandel is Director of the Zionist Organization of America’ s Center for Middle East Policy and author of H.V. Evatt & the Establisment of Israel (Routledge, London, 2004).