There needs to be a change in the public debate about anti-Semitism. Last week, after the horrific shootings in a Jersey City kosher grocery store that left four victims dead, including a Jersey City Detective, you would expect there to be an enormous outcry of some sort. Following both the Tree of Life (2018) and Poway (2019) synagogue shootings, major debates took place over gun control and White supremacism. Of course, the topic of anti-Semitism came in third in those discussions. However, since the shootings took place, there is no talk of gun control, no talk of White supremacism, and only a small smattering of anti-Semitism discussion.
Let’s take each of these issues separately. The easiest one to explain is the lack of White supremacism. The perpetrators weren’t white; they were black, and had some ties to the historically anti-Semitic Black Hebrew Israelites. So, unless you are Congresswoman Rashida Talib, who did so in a now deleted tweet, you had no way to link this atrocity to White supremacism. And of course, there is little-to-no discussion on anti-Semitism coming from non-White folks.
Surprisingly, though, there hasn’t been much noise about gun control in the aftermath of this attack. Despite obvious motives of past attacks including the Florida night club, Texas Walmart, and the two incidents previously mentioned, heavy debates over the future of firearms erupted between the talking heads on cable news and your friends on Facebook and strangers on Twitter. But after this incident, nothing. The segments on Fox News, CNN and MSNBC that included a gun control debate were few and far between. Even the top candidates for the 2020 election barely used this as a jumping off point. Joe Biden and Elizabeth Warren each included some form of gun control in their statements on Twitter, but then went straight back to arguing healthcare and climate change. Bernie Sanders left it out completely of his tweet. This incident was slightly more than a blip on the radar of all the leading Democratic presidential candidates as far as their talking points are concerned.
But that takes us to the main issue here: Why doesn’t this bring more attention to anti-Semitism on a national stage? In the tweets issued by the three candidates mentioned before, anti-Semitism was the lead story, and in the case of Bernie Sanders, it was the only story. However, Pete Buttigieg left it out completely from his tweet, where he offered his sympathies to the family of the victims, and specifically Detective Joseph Seals. No mention of anti-Semitism, just a general “combat all hate” message. Even President Trump, who took the time to tweet out an Ami Magazine poll that had him at an 89% approval rate among Orthodox Jews, couldn’t be bothered to give more than a “thoughts and prayers” tweet before going back to tweet-storming about impeachment.
But none of these were even the most egregious statements made by politicians in the aftermath of Jersey City. New York Mayor Bill de Blasio opened his press conference with the statement “Until yesterday we had not seen in the New York Metropolitan area for many years the level of violence directed at the Jewish community that we saw in Jersey City.” While it may be true that domestic terrorism and mass shootings have not been seen in New York City in quite some time, de Blasio conveniently ignored the rise in anti-Semitism in his city, under his watch. A lot of people give President Trump heat (sometimes deserved) for his rhetoric, but it baffles me to see just how much de Blasio has gotten away with since he took office. According to the ADL’s “heat map,” where they map out all reported anti-Semitic incidents, there have been 345 reported anti-Semitic incidents in New York City since de Blasio took office in 2014. Under Bloomberg, there were just ten. TEN! And Bloomberg was there for three terms! Oh, and don’t tell me that this is Trump’s fault. New York City voted for Clinton in 2016 by a 79-18 margin.
To say that de Blasio has ignored this growing issue is a tremendous understatement. When the Mayor sits there and laments the closeness to New York that this took place, while simultaneously allowing the issue to fester, he comes across as disingenuous and clearly doesn’t care about the welfare of his constituents so long as the perpetrators don’t fit his political needs. He did the same thing at the beginning of his first term when officers Ramos and Liu were killed in Brooklyn, an incident that saw the NYPD quite literally turn its back on him.
So, what can be done? From a policy perspective, I’m not sure. But from a rhetoric perspective, I actually think that the Jewish people need to adopt a page from the Black Lives Matter (BLM) crowd. Now, now, wait. I am not suggesting we kneel for the anthem, or protest police, or even start a JLM campaign. But the actions of the BLM movement, and their thought leader, Colin Kaepernick, have managed to keep this dialogue going for three years at this point. We need a voice that publicly admonishes our leaders for failing to take action, and puts the pressure solely on the shoulders of those who can be held accountable.
So, who should do this? Who should be the Jews’ counterpart to Kaepernick? The obvious answer is New England Patriots star receiver Julian Edelman. Edelman is extremely outspoken, and has already proven himself a tremendous ally to the Jewish people. Each year, the NFL allows players to wear custom cleats to support a cause of their choice. Last season, Edelman wore footwear emblazoned with the logo of the Tree of Life Synagogue and a Star of David along with the #STRONGERTHANHATE. This year, his cleats were in support of baseball in Israel. How impactful would it be if he called out pundits and politicians for continuing to ignore the dangerous rise in anti-Semitism in our country? By no means do I want to put Edelman on the spot; I only picked him since he has been none-too-shy about his opinions in the past. There are plenty of other athletes as well. Alex Bregman is one of the rising stars for the Houston Astros. But it doesn’t have to be an athlete. The person doesn’t even have to be Jewish (in fact, that would probably have more of an impact). It could be anyone within the public eye. In order to advance this dialogue to more than just a “whenever something happens” discussion, there has to be a face behind it. So, for all the celebrities who read the Queens Jewish Link, please consider showing your support for the United States’ number one target for hate crimes - the Jews.
Izzo Zwiren is the host of The Jewish Living Podcast, where he and his guests delve into any and all areas of Orthodox Judaism.