In the month since the presidential election, many in the American Jews have been in mourning over Donald Trump’s victory. For all too many Jews and the organizations that purport to represent Jewish interests, partisan disappointment has led to a great deal of loose and highly irresponsible comparisons of our present situation to Weimar Germany and the rise of Hitler. It is in that context that a new report from the Community Security Service (CSS) about terrorist incidents and attacks on Jews and Israelis in the United States since 1967 is critical reading for those who wish to re-focus the Jewish community on real rather than imagined threats to its security.
The report, which was written by Yehudit Barsky, one of the top experts on radical hate groups in the country, provides a comprehensive analysis of the recent history of anti-Semitism in the United States. She paints a frightening picture of the rising toll of violence against Jews from two distinct sources: white supremacists and radical Islamists. But more than just seeking to scare Jews about these threats, the CSS has some conclusions and recommendations that should be taken to heart.
This serves as a reminder that for all of the talk about Islamophobia, both before and after the election, Jews and Jewish institutions remain the main targets of religious-based hate crimes in this country. This is a fact borne out by the FBI’s annual reports on hate crimes. The latest available report is from 2014 and that one, like every other issued since the outset of such compilations confirms this fact. In that year, 58.1 percent of all religious hate crimes in this country were directed at Jews. Only 16.3 percent were anti-Islamic.
As Barsky notes, white supremacists account for a considerable percentage of the attacks the report details. That will make it even more important for the new administration to continue efforts to monitor such hate groups and to ensure that any encouragement the alt-right claim to have received during the election is matched by a determination by the government to root out these criminals when their vile speech spills over into violence.
But the CSS report reminds us how Islamist ideology has also motivated terror attacks that specifically targeted Jews. While much of the reporting on the subject of hate crimes has focused on individuals, the report correctly states that the problem here is rooted in ideology. Just as skinhead and neo-Nazi ideas are behind white supremacist attacks, Islamist anti-Semitism that combines age-old religious-based Jew-hatred with resentment of Israel and fuels the efforts of those who have committed violence.
Some of the conclusions contradict conventional wisdom.
One such conclusion is the “critical role of pre-operational surveillance.” Monitoring hotbeds of hate is key to stopping attacks, but, in the effort to avoid accusations of Islamophobia, efforts by law enforcement to keep tabs on radical mosques and other Islamist centers have been abandoned and wrongly branded as acts of prejudice. Without good intelligence, it’s only a matter of time before another major attack might be successful.
Another key point is that attacks on Jews are often precursors to larger incidents in which secular institutions or sites are targeted. It is also true that “lone wolf attacks”—which is how many Islamist terrorist incidents in this country are characterized—are always “lone.” In each case, the attacker received inspiration if not instruction from radical groups. The notion that these are isolated one-off attacks is a delusion that can only lead to more such terrorists slipping through the fingers of law enforcement.
Finally, complacency is “deadly.” The more the country and the Jewish community ignore the source of inspiration for religious-based hate crimes derived from radical Islam and instead concentrate on largely political disputes with no connection to terrorism, the more likely it is that the killers will evade detection. Moreover, the report also makes clear that Jewish institutions need to devote more resources to security.
The CSS should be commended for compiling this report at a time when so much of the discussion about anti-Semitism is divorced from the facts about terrorism. Let’s hope it gets a wide circulation and is taken to heart even by those who are currently muddying the waters on hate with absurd comparisons to Nazi Germany.