The resolution of an 11-hour armed hostage situation at the Congregation Beth Israel synagogue in Texas last week may have ended a day of horror, but the incident continues an all-too-familar escalation of antisemitic hate and violence in this country, and proves that terrorism has many faces.
That the suspect—a British citizen—sought the release of an imprisoned Islamic terrorist by attacking a synagogue was itself something of an aberration: The FBI has determined that white, right-wing, antisemitic homegrown extremists are America’s number-one terrorist risk. The transnational nature of this attack, and the reality that the terrorist responsible for it bought into a deeply antisemitic conspiracy about Jewish power that permeates the Internet and a broad cross-section of extremists, makes this challenge more daunting.
Throughout history, the Jewish people have been the scapegoat and target of hatred, whatever its form or purveyor. The greatest stain across the face of human civilization—the Holocaust—was committed against Jews.
Whether it's the Proud Boys wearing T-shirts that read "Nine Million Was Not Enough" or a gunman hijacking a peaceful Sabbath service in Texas, Jews are in the crosshairs and our nation seem incapable or unwilling to stop it.
Jews do not need "religious tolerance." We don’t want to be tolerated the way one tolerates loud music or suffers an inconvenience or a minor injustice. The whole construct implies we are "others," when in fact the Jewish people are fully integrated into American cultural, social, political and economic life. We want to belong.
Ignorance, prejudice and fear drive hatred and violence. We can and should treat those symptoms in our schools and places of worship but we must also gird ourselves as a society against such views and the inevitable violence that accompanies them.
We must set up new legal and law enforcement mechanisms that target terrorist groups like the Oath Keepers and The Base. For example, we know that antisemitic domestic extremists such as the Proud Boys receive inspiration and support from international extremist organizations. By designating these "local" groups as "Foreign Terrorist Organizations," we can bring the full resources and weight of law enforcement and intelligence communities to bear against them.
We can also do a better job of monitoring potential sources of antisemitic violence. The man who attacked the Congregation Beth Israel Synagogue was evidently an admirer of a convicted terrorist, Aafia Siddiqui, now imprisoned in Texas. Were there clues on social media that a violent attempt to free her was possible? Are followers and champions of Siddiqui — convicted of opening fire on American interrogators in Afghanistan—on any law enforcement watch lists?
That the synagogue attacker was able to fly to the United States from the United Kingdom is proof that we are not paying close enough attention. He arrived here unmolested, despite the fact that M15, Britain's counterintelligence and security agency, apparently investigated him in 2020 and determined he was a "subject of interest." That he obtained a firearm in the U.S. as a foreign national exposed yet another vulnerability for our society. We need to get smarter before the next tragedy.
If history has taught us anything it is that the Jewish people will endure. We have survived unspeakable horrors for our beliefs and still emerged stronger and more resolved that a peaceful world in which the civil rights of all are respected is the only way to guarantee our own security. This means disrupting information, and marginalizing and rooting out the extremists among us.
This guest essay reflects the views of Jack Rosen, president of the American Jewish Congress and a resident of New York City and Southampton.