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Why a synagogue?

White supremacy and antisemitism in Colleyville

Jonah ben Avraham argues that the Colleyville attack is not evidence of a specifically leftist or Muslim antisemitism, but follows the same logic of white supremacist antisemitism as other attacks.

Less than 3 months after an 18-year-old neo-Nazi set fire to a synagogue in Austin, Texas, the state’s Jewish community came under attack again this week.

This time, the culprit was not a white nationalist. He was a Muslim. And already, social and traditional media are full of disgusting, Islamophobic responses to the attack.

But this attack is not about Islam. It’s not about a feud between Muslims and Jews or about Zionism or anti-Zionism. It’s not about anti-racist activism, and it’s certainly not about gun control or insufficient policing. This is not the left-wing counterpart to October’s arson; it’s highly unlikely the attacker was left-wing by any stretch of the imagination. Saturday’s attack was caused by the same antisemitic, fascist conspiracism that motivated the attack in Austin–and indeed, acts of violence across the country from Pittsburgh, to Poway, California, to New York.

It is believed that Saturday’s attack was intended to force the liberation of Dr. Aafia Siddiqui, a Pakistani prisoner of the United States’ imperialist war on terror. The attacker, Malik Faisal Akram, forced Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker, one of the hostages, to place a phone call to a New York City rabbi and communicate Akram’s demand that Siddiqui be released. Akram’s choice of target was not symbolic, but eminently practical: according to one of his hostages, Akram said during the attack, “Jews control the world. Jews control the media. Jews control the banks. I want to talk to the chief rabbi of the United States.” Responses to the attack have shared a sense of confusion: why Jews? Why target a synagogue? It appears that Akram was a true believer: he thought that rabbis would have the power to release Siddiqui.

The confusion over Akram’s targeting of Jews is misplaced–at least insofar as commenters see this episode as distinct from the other attacks on Jewish places of worship which have accumulated over the past several years. Robert Bowers, the Pittsburgh synagogue shooter, was motivated first and foremost by an opposition to immigration, and yet he targeted a synagogue. John Earnest in California possessed paranoid fantasies of a genocide of the human race; and so he attacked the Poway Chabad house. For some reason, those attacks felt more explicable to the media: antisemitism which can be written off as the violent hobby of a deranged fringe of neo-Nazis is assimilable within liberal notions of progress. But antisemitism is not a set of kooky myths; it is an oppressive ideology which trafficks in a conspiracist elevation of Jews above the highest ranks of actual human social power to explain real social events. It should not be so hard to connect white nationalist delusions of Jewish power over immigration policy with the delusion that a phone call made to a certain rabbi could bring about the liberation of a prisoner of U.S. empire.

Akram’s projection of Jewish power onto a suburban Texas synagogue is not particularly remarkable when measured against the motivations behind other antisemitic attacks: it follows the same basic logic as the great replacement, white genocide, the Zionist Occupation Government, or the Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion. Sometimes antisemitic conspiracism, as in Earnest’s case, operates on the esoteric plane; and sometimes, as in the case of both Bowers and Akram, it is very concrete. Sometimes the conspiracies revolve around a hidden kabal of baby-eating devil’s spawn, and sometimes they are about the political influence of people like George Soros, the so-called “Jewish lobby,” and apparently, one unlucky New York rabbi. Nevertheless, they all share the mark of subterranean Jewish power that has circulated among the reactionary right since the French Revolution. And crucially, regardless of who gets swept up in the conspiracist delusion, the impact is the same: someone declares war on the system that exploits and oppresses the vast majority of us, and takes aim at Jewish people as the proverbial head of the snake.

We have already started being bombarded by calls to turn tragedy into state-backed, racist terror. Republican politicians and right-wing Jewish leaders have already begun to scapegoat refugees, the BDS Movement, Linda Sarsour, the Council on American-Islamic Relations, and any number of other boogeymen. This is not only a cynical manipulation of Jewish trauma toward Islamophobic ends; it is also a manipulation that harms Jews. Racist responses to attacks on Jews only feed antisemitic narratives that the Jews are to blame for the crimes of white supremacy and capitalism. Moreover, the very forces responsible for pushing Islamophobic narratives around the Colleyville attack are also responsible for the growth of the antisemitic and conspiracist milieu that motivated it in the first place. Right-wing talk radio host Todd Starnes tweeted during the attack, “Remember when Biden failed to vet any of the Afghan “refugees”? #synagogue #colleyville.” I can only imagine that Robert Bowers would have agreed: Bowers selected his target, albeit inaccurately, based on its affiliation with the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society and its work to support refugees.

Saturday’s attack was nothing new. The influence of antisemitic conspiracism reaches across racial and ideological lines, and white nationalists have never been, and will never be, the only social force to find answers to political questions in the fantasy of Jewish control. But make no mistake: antisemitic conspiracism and the structural underpinnings that reproduce it are inbuilt features of racial capitalism, not pathologies of the disenfranchised and oppressed. We won’t find the roots of this attack in the anti-Jewish missteps of anti-racist activists or Muslim community leaders, not to mention their legitimate activism. Fantasies of Jewish control and “globalist” influence have been produced and reproduced in this country for decades at every level of civil society–from Congress, to the media, to corporate boardrooms and country clubs, to right-wing churches and gun shows–by the very forces of white supremacy that are now crying for Muslim blood. Jewish safety cannot be achieved with more racist policies, and certainly not with more racist cops, particularly when U.S. police stations continue to serve as veritable petri dishes for the growth of the fascist right. To disarm the threat of antisemitic conspiracism, we must wage a war against the structures and partisans of white supremacy, without which anti-Jewish racism would be a dead letter.

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Jonah ben Avraham View All

Jonah ben Avraham is a Midwest-based socialist and anti-fascist activist. He is a member of the Tempest Collective.