My original plan for this week’s blog post was to write more about my friend Jan. I’m hoping to tell the rest of that story next week, but I’ve been derailed by the December 10 shooting in a Jersey City kosher supermarket.
People I know are scared, and rightly so. According to the New York City police department, In New York City alone, anti-Semitic hate crimes are up 63% this year compared to last (https://www.cnn.com/2019/09/04/us/anti-semitic-hate-crimes-new-york/index.html). According to the Anti-Defamation League, the rise across the U.S. from 2013-2018 was 150%.
To put these attacks in a larger context, let’s consider some FBI statistics. Please keep in mind, however, that an estimated half of all hate crimes are not reported to police, and half of those that victims do report are not forwarded by police to the FBI. Groups that have been targeted by the government are extremely reluctant to ask law enforcement for help. While the FBI reports 188 hate crimes against Muslims in 2018, the Council on American-Islamic Relations recorded 1,664. Undocumented immigrants won’t be likely to complain to authorities either, thus skewing the numbers of attacks on Hispanics.
Another possibly biased statistic: African-Americans are 12.7% of the population, and Jews are roughly 2.1%. That ratio is 6:1. Yet the ratio of FBI-reported hate crimes (per the chart below) is 2:1. In other words, these statistics suggest that a Jew is three times more likely to be attacked than a Black person. Given the level of police violence against African-Americans, I’d say these numbers are improbable, and it is more likely that African-Americans are simply going out of their way to avoid contact with the law.
Here are the FBI’s official statistics:
Anti-Black Anti-Hispanic Anti-Semitic Anti-Muslim Total all categories
2015 1,745 299 664 257 5,850
2016 1,739 344 684 307 6,121
2017 2,013 427 938 273 7,175
2018 1,943 485 835 188 7,120
Even taking the FBI numbers at face value, the total number of hate crimes in the US spiked by 17% after the Trump election—and has remained high.
Now back to hate crimes in the New York metropolitan area. A very large number of the perpetrators of these attacks are young African American males, and the targets are Orthodox Jews. Why is this happening between the Black and Jewish communities, which were strongly allied during the civil rights movement? I don’t really have answers. Still, it reminds me of what in India they call communal violence, fomented by the Hindu nationalist Modi government against Muslims. Or the genocides by Hutus against Tutsis in Rwanda, and by Christia Serbs against Muslims in Bosnia and Croatia.
After the Holocaust, the cry was “Never again!” But since WW II, the world has seen eight mass killings that are universally considered to be genocides. See https://www.spiegel.de/international/genocide-since-1945-never-again-a-338612.html. That list of mass killings does not include wars, no matter how fraudulent the excuse for hostilities, nor how unequal the forces are, nor how vast the disparity between casualties on one side and the other—for example, the US invasions of Vietnam and of Iraq. It also doesn’t include deaths resulting from economic blockades and sanctions that have denied food and medical supplies to civilian populations, which we might consider the modern equivalent of siege warfare. In addition, political considerations may prevent the inclusion of other atrocities, such as the massacres in Chile after the coup of 1973.
My concern is that mass violence is happening here, perhaps not reaching the level of Nazi Germany—at least not yet—but already quite terrifying to those who live in affected communities. The level of hate between groups has been rising, and certain politicians keep pouring gasoline on the fire. What can we do to overcome the distrust between our communities, to bring our peoples together again? What can you and I do to quench the conflagration?
This is a wonderful piece, Martha. Very cogent and to the point. As to why young black men are targeting Orthodox Jews—very simple answer, the anger of young Black men has to go somewhere, and Orthodox Jews are a vulnerable population who often seem more prosperous than they are. Also, because of their larger families and, proportionately, lower incomes, many Orthodox Jews have moved into what has been black and Hispanic neighborhoods; so this ingenders resentment and anger. There is also the fact that many Orthodox Jews do not mix with other, non-Jews, so non-Jewish groups in these neighborhoods feel disrespected. And of course there is the old adage that one property of capitalism is to pit different groups against each other, although that has not been as bad as it was when I first came to NY, in 1966, and the city felt full or race, class, and ethnic resentment and anger. It was an extremely segregated city then; now it is more economically divided and racially or ethnically.
The Hasidim don’t even associate with non-Orthodox Jews. On a visit to NYC a couple of years ago, Sylvia and I walked through one of their neighborhoods. They wouldn’t even look at us. When we stopped into a store to ask directions or something, the woman replied brusquely, as though we were intruders and she wanted us out of there as soon as possible.
Uur current president provides enough hateful motivation for those unfortuate vulnerables to use it as “reason” to be violent. I also see a frightening resemblance to Germany inthe 30’s.