Synagogue incident a warning we aren’t paying enough attention to

Why is antisemitism so hard to believe, even when it stares us straight in the face? Nowhere is this more obvious than in this past weekend’s events in Colleyville, Tex. It was in this tiny Dallas suburb where an international terrorist chose to invade the town’s tiny synagogue demanding the release of a fellow terrorist, a woman associated with al Qaeda being held in a nearby federal prison.

Surely there were more significant targets. Large department stores, government and municipal buildings, but this extremist honed in on a small Jewish house of worship, where only a sprinkling of congregants were in attendance due to COVID restrictions. Indeed, as he burst into the small sanctuary the service itself was being live streamed. Many congregants following the services at home were horrified with what played out on their screens.

The banal explanation by the FBI following the safe release of all the hostages that in fact the storming of the Beth Israel House of Worship “ … was not related to the Jewish community …” is frankly mind-boggling. The terrorist was trying to free a fellow extremist whose views on Israel and the Jewish people leaped over the line of anti-Israelism to Jew hatred.

The imprisoned fellow terrorist, Aafia Siddiqui, charged with attacking American servicemen as an al Qaeda operative in Afghanistan, was a bitter antisemite. When she was captured her first words were that the case against her was a “Jewish conspiracy.”

In the days following her arrest she dismissed her lawyers on the basis that they were Jews and demanded that all potential jurors in her upcoming trial be given DNA tests to ensure they were not “Israelis or Zionists” as though political affiliations can be determined genetically.

This coming from a woman who received her PhD in neuroscience, paradoxically enough from Brandeis University, a University founded by the Jewish community and named after Louis Brandeis, the first American Jew to serve in the U.S. Supreme Court. She had been in the United States on a student visa.

Are we to believe that a fellow al Qaeda terrorist determined to free Siddiqui would be unaware of her virulent Jew hatred? Are we to accept the word of the FBI that the extremist who stormed the synagogue on the Jewish Sabbath had no idea who was in the building and in fact that it was a Jewish house of worship?

All of this coming at a time when antisemitism is reaching unseen before heights in both the United States and Canada. In Texas alone the ADL, the most renowned of Jewish self-defence and human rights organizations, reported 10 such incidents including a fire at an Austin synagogue resulting in thousands of dollars in damage, a neo Nazi group displaying a virulent anti-Jewish banner over an Austin highway overpass and the scattering of hateful antisemitic material in Hays county, an Austin suburb.

Here in Canada similar reports of anti-Jewish activity has been seen in various cities and towns across the country and this latest siege of a Texas synagogue will ramp up concern about Jewish safety no matter how the FBI and others want to try to tamp down the reality of what occurred.

The terrorist broke into the synagogue sometime after 11 a.m. when the service was concluding. It is not without irony that the congregants may have been chanting the final prayer of the Sabbath service, “Adon Olam,” which praises God and recognizes the Lord’s guardianship of Jewish lives with these final words in the prayer;

“My soul and body are His care;

The Lord doth guard, I have no fear.”

This time the small group of Jews in that Texas synagogue were lucky. Next time — and there will be a next time — perhaps not. Antisemitism is a clear and present danger that can no longer be simply explained away.

Bernie Farber is a former CEO of Canadian Jewish Congress and chair of the Canadian AntiHate Network. Follow him on Twitter: @berniefarber

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