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From New York to Israel, no safe spaces for Jews

guest column

What happened during your winter break? Many Jews at Duke reconsidered publicly displaying their faith.  

On December 10, two gunmen attacked a Jersey City, NJ kosher grocery store and Jewish school, murdering four people. Just weeks later, on December 28, a knife-wielding man carried out a stabbing rampage during a Hanukkah party at the home of Monsey, NY Rabbi Chaim Rottenberg. 

Where  is the outcry? Four days after the October 2018 massacre at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life Synagogue, Duke students gathered to paint a message of love and unity on the East Campus bridge. This was a powerful community response to the attack, which was commited with clear white supremacist motives. The suspect, Robert Bowers, accused the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, a Jewish nonprofit, of bringing “hostile invaders to dwell among us.” Such white supremacism is indubitably something we should all unite against. 

The motives behind the attacks on Orthodox Jews in the New York City area are more complicated. Many of the attackers are African-American, members of a historically victimized group themselves. David Anderson and Francine Graham, the attackers in Jersey City, showed interest in the Black Hebrew Israelites movement, labeled a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. Grafton Thomas, the Monsey assailant, researched Hitler and “Zionist Temples” online. 

In recent months, harassment and violent attacks against visibly Jewish New Yorkers have become disturbingly commonplace. In 2018, NYPD recieved over 200 reports of anti-Semitic incidents. Among the areas hardest hit by this rise in anti-Semitism are those with large Hasidic Jewish populations such as the Crown Heights and Borough Park neighborhoods in Brooklyn. “A substantial proportion of these hate crimes involve brutal physical attacks on Orthodox Jews who are easily identifiable,” says Brian Levin, director of the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism. 

The targeting of visible Jewishness is a common thread throughout the recent spate of anti-Semitic attacks. Many Hasidic Jews can be identified with shtreimels (fur hats) or rekelach (frock coats). Religiously observant Jews cover their heads with kippot (caps), while Star of David necklaces are commonplace among secular Jews. Even visiting Jewish institutions, such as the Tree of Life synagogue, signals Jewishness to would-be attackers. Anti-Semites target Jews, not Jewish divisions. 

We must ask ourselves what steps can be taken to combat this anti-Semitism crisis. Many, including prominent Israeli politician Avigdor Lieberman, point to Israel as a safe-haven for Jews and push for immigration. Members of the Monsey Jewish community have expressed similar sentiment. "I am 50 years old and I have always dreamt of living in Israel,” Monsey resident Zvi Weill stated. “We have discussed it in the past and now I want it more than ever.” 

A flight across the world to the Jewish homeland, however, only exposes Jews to another deadly form of anti-Semitism. Upon landing, their Jewishness becomes assumed, making them visible targets for anti-Semitic terrorist attacks. 

In Israel, attacking Jews is an industry, oiled by an entity with international recognition and observer status at the UN. The Palestinian Liberation Organization and the Palestinian Authority (PA) have promoted terrorist attacks against Jewish civilians since their establishment. Today, the PA’s Martyr and Prisoners Funds are used to incentivize the murder of Israeli Jews by financially rewarding convicted prisoners. According to David Makovsky and Ghaith al-Omari, senior fellows at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, the PA has awarded monthly stipends to prisoners in Israeli prisons since 2004, when these funds were enshrined in Palestinian law. “There is an entire official compensation apparatus that rewards prisoners who spent more time in Israeli prisons,” they write in the Washington Post. 

The practice of rewarding terrorism has been commonplace since the Second Intifada (2000-2005), when 719 Israeli civilians were killed in frequent stabbings and over 140 suicide bombings. In 2018 alone, the PA spent $330 million on payments to families of “martyrs” and convicted prisoners. 70% of these prisoners, according to the Israeli Prisons Service, “have blood on their hands.” Despite US Congressional action to stem this blood money, PA President Mahmud Abbas has vowed to keep it flowing. “Even if we have only a penny left, we will give it to the martyrs, the prisoners and their families,” Abbas stated. As of 2010, Arab citizens of Israel who commit terrorist attacks receive an annual bonus of $1,728 from the PA. The goal is clear: promoting the murder of Jews at the hands of their non-Jewish neighbors.

What would your reaction be if Robert Bowers, the Tree of Life synagogue assailant, were rewarded a monthly salary of $3,400? This is the reality for 10,500 current and former prisoners in Israel and the families of 37,500 terrorist “martyrs.” It came as no surprise when the PA granted terrorist Hakim Awad a $14,000 annual salary after his conviction for murdering the Jewish-Israeli Fogel family. On March 11, 2011, Awad broke into the family’s home and slayed the five family members as they slept in their beds. After his conviction, Awad told the judge, “I am a person like you, I have no mental condition, I never had a serious illness. My only illness is the Israeli occupation." This is no satisfactory justification. There is no explanation for murdering the Fogels, including 11-year-old Yoav, 4-year-old Elad and 2-month-old Hadas, that does not entail hatred towards Jews. What was Awad’s punishment? The Washington Post reports that he will be paid more than $1.9 million dollars from the PA Prisoners Fund by the end of his sentence.

Anti-Semitism sees no borders. Regardless of the attack’s location or motivation, anti-Semitic terrorists must face justice and their vile ideology must be rejected. We need to be unified in combating anti-Semitism, whether by crossing denominational lines or recognizing when actors across the world engage in blatant Jew hatred. It is unacceptable for Jews or members of any religious group to fear displaying their faith. Jews at Duke and their brave allies must work together to fight anti-Semitism in all of its forms.

Ezra Loeb (T’22) and Max Cherman (T’20) are executive members of the Duke Israel Public Affairs Committee.

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