At a time when anti-Semitism appears to be rising, The Times of London takes the unusual step today of running as its main front page photo a positive picture of orthodox Jewish children celebrating Purim yesterday.
IS ANTI-SEMITISM ONCE AGAIN GETTING WORSE?
[Note by Tom Gross]
This dispatch mainly concerns Western anti-Semitism. There appears to have been a rise in attacks and threats towards Jews this year, particularly in the U.S., which is of course disturbing.
We should remember, however, that there were quite a number of bomb threats and anti-Semitic attacks, including deaths, before Donald Trump entered politics and the anti-Trump media didn’t run the kind of perhaps overly alarmist stories some are now running.
See for example, this dispatch from 2014: Three dead (including a 14-year-old boy and an elderly woman) in pre-Passover shootings at Jewish buildings in Kansas City
Abe Foxman, a Democrat who until recently served as director of the Anti-Defamation League, and spent a lifetime calling out any expression of anti-Semitism, big or small, makes a similar point in the interview below, saying Jewish leaders and the media should stay calm – at least for the time being.
1. The biggest Israeli hi-tech deal in history
2. Dutch media: “Muslims shout anti-Semitic slogans during Dutch protests”
3. Fillon’s French party apologizes for “anti-Semitic” cartoon of presidential rival
4. “Metal music still has an unaddressed Nazi problem” (March 6, 2017)
5. “Anti-Semites are becoming bolder in Britain, and that should worry us all” (Daily Telegraph, March 8, 2017)
6. “At least 7 U.S., Canadian JCCs receive bomb threats on Purim” (JTA, March 13, 2017)
7. “NY Jewish Children’s Museum hit with bomb threat” (JTA, March 9, 2017)
8. “Two more bomb threats hit Silicon Valley, Brooklyn” (JTA, March 10, 2017)
9. “Abe Foxman says wave of anti-Semitic hate is no ‘crisis’” (Forward, March 5, 2017)
10. “The Jewish right is dead wrong for downplaying anti-Semitism” (Forward, March 8, 2017)
11. “The Israelization of anti-Semitism” (Boston Globe, March 9, 2017)
12. “In Atlanta, anti-Semitism is viewed through lens of history” (AP, March 3, 2017)
[Notes by Tom Gross]
THE BIGGEST ISRAELI HI-TECH DEAL IN HISTORY
Despite the fact that international anti-Semites are increasingly trying to jump on the “boycott Israel” campaign, the Israeli economy continues to prosper.
Today U.S. chipmaker Intel announced that it would buy the Israeli company Mobileye, the world leader in making autonomous driving technology, for $15.3bn. The deal is the largest ever cross-border acquisition of an Israeli company.
Mobileye, which is based in Jerusalem, is working with many of the world’s biggest auto manufacturers to pave the way for self-driving cars and trucks.
Mobileye was co-founded in 1999 by a professor at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. The company was previously best known for inventing the technology now used in cars throughout the world to alert drivers to obstacles when parking, using an Israeli-developed sensor system.
DUTCH MEDIA: “MUSLIMS SHOUT ANTI-SEMITIC SLOGANS DURING DUTCH TURKISH PROTESTS”
Holland’s second largest circulation daily newspaper, Algemeen Dagblan, reports today that hundreds of Muslims shouted anti-Semitic slogans as violent clashes erupted with Dutch police yesterday following the Dutch government’s refusal to allow a nationalist Turkish Cabinet minister to campaign in Holland for Turkish President Erdogan.
After a false rumor spread that the visiting Turkish minister had been arrested, the crowd gathered in front of the Turkish consulate in Rotterdam and began shorting “Jews are our cancer” and “Jews out,” shortly before the outbreak of violence that led to the injury of five persons, according to the Dutch press. To my knowledge there were no Jews involved in the Dutch decision to ban the Turkish minister.
FRENCH PARTY LED BY FILLON APOLOGIZES FOR “ANTI-SEMITIC” CARTOON OF PRESIDENTIAL RIVAL
The French Republican party, led by Francois Fillon, apologized yesterday for tweeting what some said was an anti-Semitic caricature of rival presidential candidate Emmanuel Macron.
On Friday, the French Republicans posted and then quickly deleted an image of the centrist Macron with a hooked nose, a top hat and cutting a cigar with a red sickle, based on an anti-Semitic cartoon used in Vichy France when the government collaborated with the Nazis to round up and kill Jews.
Fillon slammed the image as “unacceptable.” He said that the cartoon “evoked the images of a dark period of our history and exploited an ideology that I have always fought against. I will not tolerate my party using caricatures that use the themes of anti-Semitic propaganda.”
Macron is not Jewish. The first round of France presidential election is on April 23. Macron, Fillon and the far-right candidate Marine Le Pen, are the three leading contenders according to the polls.
I attach several articles below. See also:
Metal music still has an unaddressed Nazi problem
By David Anthony
March 6, 2017
ANTI-SEMITES ARE BECOMING BOLDER IN BRITAIN, AND THAT SHOULD WORRY US ALL
Anti-Semites are becoming bolder in Britain, and that should worry us all
By Gideon Falter, Chairman of Campaign Against Anti-Semitism
Daily Telegraph (UK)
March 8, 2017
Today in Britain, it is practically impossible for a Jewish layperson to achieve a prosecution for an anti-Semitic hate crime. I see you raising an eyebrow, so I will explain.
Recently my charity was approached by a non-Jewish lady who had been mistaken for a Jew and consequently borne the brunt of unsolicited threats and abuse whilst minding her own business in a busy public place. As a non-Jew, she expected that her abuser would be swiftly investigated and prosecuted. Unfortunately victims of anti-Semitism experience a very different reality, as she soon found out.
But the Chairman of Campaign Against Anti-Semitism would have no such difficulty, you might think. It is certainly what I thought. Let me tell you my story. On 4th July 2015, neo-Nazis planned to march through Golders Green, the heart of Jewish London, during the Jewish Sabbath. That was unacceptable to the Met, so they proposed confining the neo-Nazi “anti Jewification” march to the memorial at the centre of Golders Green to those who died fighting the Nazis.
Only when we threatened a large counterprotest which threatened to cause traffic problems did the Met decide to move the neo-Nazis to a kettling pen in Westminster. I decided to go along and see what they had to say. Most did their best to stay within the law on incitement, which meant that their speeches were angry, rants against an unspecified “you know who”, but when Jeremy Bedford-Turner took the mic, he felt no constraints.
Even his audience of neo-Nazi thugs seemed surprised by his candour as he intoned that “...all politicians are nothing but a bunch of puppets dancing to a Jewish tune, and the ruling regimes in the West for the last one hundred years have danced to the same tune.”
Evoking medieval libels which claimed that Jews drank the blood of non-Jewish children, Bedford-Turner told his followers, that the French Revolution and both World Wars were massacres perpetrated by Jews. He concluded that England was “merry” during the period of the expulsion of Jews from England and concluded with a call to “free England from Jewish control.”
This is out-and-out incitement of the kind that is criminalised because history shows us where it leads. I reported Bedford-Turner’s speech to the police, and presented them with the video the neo-Nazis had helpfully placed online. Most Jewish people would at this point encounter apathy from the Met. Perhaps because I run a national charity which works with Downing Street and the Home Office, and because my evidence was incontrovertible, the case was passed straight to the Crown Prosecution Service’s counterterrorism division. And that is where the trail went cold.
After five months I asked the Chief Crown Prosecutor for London to obtain a charging decision. By return, I received e-mails from the CPS informing me that Bedford-Turner was “entitled” to engage in such incitement. I requested the so-called Victim’s Right to Review and that was declined on the basis that his speech did no harm, and that it targeted all Jews, and I could not be the victim as I am not “all Jews”. I met the Chief Executive of the CPS and the Director of Public Prosecutions but they were unmoved. I threatened legal action and was told to do my worst. And so to the High Court, where a pro bono legal team, led by Brian Kennelly QC, supported by junior counsel Jamie Susskind and solicitor David Sonn challenged the CPS’ decision not to prosecute. After countless pages of legal arguments, 20 months after the speech, a few days before we were due in court, the CPS capitulated. Their surrender was unequivocal. But all that this means is that the CPS must reconsider its decision not to prosecute.
It may yet start the process all over again by finding new reasons not to prosecute. And that is why it is practically impossible for a Jewish layperson to achieve a prosecution for an anti-Semitic hate crime. Our criminal justice system is failing badly.
Anti-Semitic crime in our country is rising relentlessly, especially violent crime. Anti-Semitism rots society from within. It is the glue that binds the far-right, the gateway drug to Islamist extremism, and the conspiracy theory that excites the far-left. The figures are not yet in for 2016, so at present 2015 stands as the worst year on record for antisemitic hate crime. Of the 15,442 hate crime prosecutions that year, only 12 were for anti-Semitic crime.
Britain is one of the best places in the world to be Jewish, but it is also one of the safest in which to be an anti-Semite. Anti-Semites are becoming bolder, and Jews are increasingly fearful for their future. Once again, Jews are on the front line and that should worry everyone.
AT LEAST 7 U.S., CANADIAN JCCS RECEIVE BOMB THREATS ON PURIM
At least 7 JCCs receive bomb threats on Purim
March 13, 2017
At least seven Jewish community centers in the United States and Canada received bomb threats while they were hosting Purim events.
The threats, either called in or emailed, were reported Sunday at JCCs in Rochester, New York; Chicago; Indianapolis; Milwaukee; Cleveland; Houston, and Vancouver, British Columbia.
Most of the JCCs were evacuated and searched. None of the threats turned out to be credible.
For some of the centers it was their second threat in the past week.
The threats are part of a wave that has hit JCCs, Jewish schools and other Jewish institutions since the start of 2017. More than 150 threats have been received since the beginning of the year, according to the Secure Community Network, which coordinates security across Jewish organizations in North America.
On Sunday, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo called the second such threat against the Rochester JCC in less than a week “a despicable and cowardly act” of anti-Semitism. Cuomo ordered the New York State Police to launch a more intense investigation into the threats, and to work with federal and local law enforcement on the investigation.
“Like all New Yorkers, I am profoundly disturbed and disgusted by the continued threats against the Jewish community in New York,” Cuomo said in a statement. “As New Yorkers, we will not be intimidated and we will not stand by silently as some seek to sow hate and division. New York is one family, and an attack on one is an attack on all.”
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker said he plans to provide additional law enforcement intelligence and staffing to the JCC in Milwaukee so it “continues to be a safe place” after it was evacuated Sunday for the fourth time in six weeks.
Meanwhile, a rally was held Sunday outside the Rady Jewish Community Centre in Winnipeg, Canada, which was evacuated due to a bomb threat on Thursday, “to send a signal of unity against fear and terrorism.”
TWO MORE BOMB THREATS HIT JEWISH CENTERS IN SILICON VALLEY, BROOKLYN
Two more bomb threats hit Jewish centers in Silicon Valley, Brooklyn
March 10, 2017
A Jewish Community Center in Silicon Valley and a Brooklyn Jewish senior center both received bomb threats.
The Addison-Penzak JCC in Los Gatos, California, was evacuated Thursday after receiving a bomb threat at 11:45 a.m. The building also includes a day school and the local offices of the Jewish federation and Jewish Family Services, a social service group.
According to a Facebook post by the center, the evacuation proceeded smoothly and police came with canine units to investigate. By 4:50 p.m., law enforcement determined that the threat was a hoax and everyone returned to the building.
Another bomb threat was received Friday morning by the Jasa Senior Citizen Center in Brooklyn, New York, via text message, according to News12 Brooklyn. The threat came one day after the Jewish Children’s Museum in Brooklyn was evacuated due to a threat.
These latest threats come days after a wave of bomb threats Wednesday hit 20 JCCs, day schools and offices of the Anti-Defamation League. In total, more than 100 bomb threats have targeted Jewish institutions since the beginning of the year.
NY JEWISH CHILDREN’S MUSEUM HIT WITH BOMB THREAT
NY Jewish Children’s Museum hit with bomb threat
By Josefin Dolsten
March 9, 2017
NEW YORK – The Jewish Children’s Museum in Brooklyn was evacuated after receiving an emailed bomb threat.
The museum was evacuated Thursday morning following a call to the police, AM New York reported.
Devorah Halberstam, the museum’s director of foundation and government services, told JTA the evacuation was still ongoing as of 11:15 a.m.
“It’s a trying time for us as a Jewish people especially, and we need to be aware and we need to take heed, and we need to be careful,” Halberstam said.
She added: “I’m referring to all the threats that have been going on both locally and internationally – it’s something that is very frightening. Unfortunately anti-Semitism has been around for the longest time and I guess things don’t change, now it’s done by emails and phone calls. They use technology to hide behind it.”
Jewish institutions, including community centers and Anti-Defamation League offices, have been hit with more than 100 bomb threats so far this year, all of them hoaxes. Tuesday and Wednesday saw the sixth wave of threats, with 21 Jewish sites targeted in the United States and Canada.
Last week, the New York Police Department said that anti-Semitic incidents were up 94 percent in New York City over this time last year.
CRISIS OR NO CRISIS?
Abe Foxman Says Wave Of Anti-Semitic Hate Is No ‘Crisis’ – And Jews Should Lay Off Trump
By Nathan Guttman
March 5, 2017
Abraham Foxman has been delivering a surprising message to Jewish leaders in recent weeks: Stay calm and lay off President Trump.
“I’m telling them: ‘Cool it, cool it,’” he said, “But it’s very tough. People are very emotional.”
The former national director of the Anti-Defamation League, who had spent a lifetime calling out any expression of anti-Semitism, big or small, spoke to the Forward amid a wave threats to dozens of Jewish community centers and vandalism incidents targeting Jewish cemeteries.
“Serious but not critical” is how Foxman views this wave of hate crimes. That’s why he is sounding a contrarian voice to the Jewish leadership and urging it to ease off on President Trump.
Foxman spoke before the arrest of a St. Louis man for allegedly making several of the JCC threats.
He said he was satisfied that Trump condemned anti-Jewish attacks during his address to Congress Tuesday, after seemingly avoiding taking a firm stance.
“OK, enough. He uttered the words,” Foxman said. “Now its time for law enforcement to do the work.”
Foxman is no Trump supporter and he tries to remain non-partisan even after retiring from three decades at the helm of the Anti-Defamation League.
Even though Foxman believes Trump empowered haters with his appeals to far right wing white nationalists, he does not think the president himself is a bigot.
“He legitimized it, but he did not create it,” Foxman said. “Trump is not an anti-Semite.”
Foxman, who now heads the center for study of anti-Semitism at the Museum of Jewish Heritage in in New York, believes the Jewish community is making a serious mistake in trying to pin the raise of anti-Semitism on Trump and in expecting the president to come up with the answer to the problem.
Instead, he suggests the community take a step back from political score-settling and focus on the culture in the country that has created the wave of hate.
“We woke after the elections up to discover that our country is not as loving of each other as we’d like it to be,” he said. “It’s convenient for us to blame (Trump).”
He believes, in fact, that Trump is “slowly, slowly” beginning to “put the cover back” on the sewers where anti-Semites and bigots thrive.
The danger, Foxman believe, is with the Jewish community’s reaction to the rise in anti-Semitic incidents. He argued that the issue “has been hijacked politically by Democrats who’ve made it a political issue to attack Trump, and by Republicans who have made it a political issue to defend him.”
Foxman believes that the demand that Trump come up with a plan to combat the anti-Semitic attacks is misguided, since it is up to the Jewish community to suggest such plans.
“The whole issue has become a political football and that doesn’t serve us,” he added.
Foxman sought to offer some historical perspective, which, he believes, would put the recent surge in threats and attacks against Jews in the right perspective. He pointed to ADL and FBI annual reports that find, year after year, Jews to be the leading target of hate crimes in America, and to polls that show 10 to 12% of Americans are “seriously infected” with anti-Semitism.
During his years at the ADL, Foxman experienced incidents where Jews and non-Jews were killed in anti-Semitic attacks including in Chicago, Seattle, Los Angeles and in Washington. Those deadly incidents put the wave of bomb threats at Jewish community centers and synagogues into perspective.
“I am not shocked that this is happening,” Foxman said. “What we’re seeing now is serious, but it is not a crisis.”
Would an earlier response from President Trump make a difference? Foxman is skeptical.
“Does anyone think that had he condemned it earlier we wouldn’t have threats to 90 JCCs? I don’t think so,” he responded. “It would have made us feel better. But that’s all.”
“THE JEWISH RIGHT IS DEAD WRONG FOR DOWNPLAYING ANTI-SEMITISM”
The Jewish right is dead wrong for downplaying anti-Semitism
By Jane Eisner
March 8, 2017
Even though nearly half of the country’s Jewish community centers have received bomb threats; swastikas have defaced schools, colleges and synagogues, and cemeteries have been desecrated, there still seems to be a question about whether America is really experiencing a surge of anti-Semitism.
Mystifyingly, other Jews are asking the question. While those skeptics decry the politicization of anti-Semitism by forces opposed to President Trump, they are guilty of doing the very same thing in support of his agenda.
Jews have long been the largest target of hate crimes, Lori Lowenthal Marcus, a political conservative commentator, wrote in a recent piece. And, she argues, what is happening now may be the result of just better reporting, not necessarily more hate.
Or, as Evelyn Gordon argued in Commentary in January, the rhetoric of the far right is more benign than the actions of the anti-Israel (and therefore anti-Jewish) far left.
Even Abe Foxman, who spent half a century at the Anti-Defamation League calling out every Hollywood star, fashion designer and pro athlete who so much as uttered an anti-Semitic phrase, recently told the Forward that what we are experiencing is “serious, but not critical.”
“We woke up after the elections to discover that our country is not as loving of each other as we’d like it to be,” said Foxman, who now runs a center for the study of anti-Semitism at the Museum of Jewish Heritage, in New York. “It’s convenient for us to blame [Trump.]”
I wonder whether his former colleagues share his sanguine attitude, after they had to deal with a new wave of bomb threats at ADL offices just the other day. (“Another day, another bomb threat,” one sardonically told me.)
ADL employees are professionally prepared for this brutal battle. But how about the parents of the 4-year-olds evacuated out of day care at the JCC? Or the senior citizens told to rush out of threatened buildings, even when it may be difficult for them to move?
What about the descendants of Jews whose final resting places were destroyed and defamed, their grief compounded by seeing gravestones callously toppled into the ground?
As a journalist, I’m trained not to jump on bandwagons but instead to skeptically view the parade from the sidelines and, in so doing, to challenge the easy narrative. Even in the past few months, as my colleagues and I have received hateful, anti-Semitic messages more virulent than anything I’ve seen in decades, I’ve tried to moderate my shock, put it into context. Twitter didn’t exist years ago. Volume doesn’t always correspond to depth.
Desecrating Jewish cemeteries is, alas, a common tactic to erase Jewish history and memory. Which is why the Nazis deliberately dismantled Jewish burial grounds in Germany, Poland and across the swath of Europe they once controlled, using the stolen gravestones as paved stones on roads.
It is why the Jordanians destroyed tens of thousands of Jewish graves ) on the Mount of Olives when they controlled East Jerusalem, using the stones for buildings or latrines. (And why Palestinians were so upset about plans to build a museum in downtown West Jerusalem on an ancient Muslim gravesite.)
It is why local and state governments enact specific laws against desecrating cemeteries. A burial ground is not just another piece of public or private property. It has a recognized sacred purpose.
Even if this has happened before, however, I am baffled by those in our community who would minimize the pain when it happens now.
The same holds true for the intentional disruption caused by the repeated series of bomb threats against JCCs and schools around the country. No deaths or injuries, thank goodness, but low-grade terror, nonetheless. Is that to be discounted, too? A man arrested for making eight of those bomb threats seems unconnected to right-wing politics, but what about the roughly 100 other cases?
This surge – and that is the accurate word here – of anti-Semitism is confusing because it occurs against a backdrop of continued public admiration of Jews and Judaism in America. This is not Nazi Germany, where ever-larger numbers of citizens participated in or enabled the discrimination that turned into the Holocaust. Nor is it government sanctioned – not when the president (finally) denounced it and when all 100 senators demanded that the administration do more.
So while Foxman is right to caution against hysteria – and he’s no Trump supporter – there’s an undeniable connection to the anti-Semitic forces unleashed by the Trump campaign and given social permission even by top White House officials. It may be politically expedient to say so. It also is true.
The Jewish left has been rightly criticized for overlooking blatant anti-Semitism or its disguised anti-Israel counterpart spewing from its radical siblings. But the Jewish right is engaging in the same delusional tactic to protect a president who claims he will be a better friend of Israel without so far offering any proof.
Sacrificing concern about Jews at home for politics abroad only hurts us all.
THE ISRAELIZATION OF ANTI-SEMITISM
The Israelization of anti-Semitism
By Monika Schwarz-Friesel and Jehuda Reinharz
The Boston Globe
March 9, 2017
In the twenty-first century, criticism of Israel that is grounded in antisemitic thinking and aimed at Jews in general has become the dominant verbal form in which Judeophobic ideas are articulated and disseminated. Between 2002 and 2012, the Israeli Embassy in Berlin and the Central Council of Jews in Germany received over 14,000 emails, letters, postcards and faxes from all regions of Germany. Figuring that this material could provide us a window into the contemporary German mind vis-à-vis Israel, we conducted a study of these messages and found that the vast majority began with criticisms of Israel’s policies but immediately deteriorated into antisemitic assaults. We call this phenomenon the “Israelization of Antisemitism.”
We found a similar pattern in a smaller study of over 2000 emails sent by citizens of eight European countries to their Israeli Embassies. We believe that the results are representative of similar antisemitic discourse worldwide, including in the United States, as a recent ADL investigation showed that 2.6 million antisemitic messages were posted on Twitter between August 2015 and July 2016. To be certain that we did not conflate anti-Jewish and anti-Israel sentiments, we defined in advance the definitions of criticism of Israeli policies and anti-Jewish hatred.
Another startling conclusion of our study was that, contrary to popular assumptions, it is not exclusively alt-right, neo-Nazis and/or extreme left-wingers who think this way. On the contrary, the language of contemporary antisemitism, as in the past, is anchored in and spread by the educated mainstream as much as by fringe groups. Rather than physical attacks on Jews – with some exceptions – today’s assaults are verbal, ideological and cloaked in the guise of a critique of policies of the State of Israel.
Antisemitic attacks throughout the centuries have been grounded in demonizing Jews as the ultimate evil. This concept was found repeatedly in the messages we studied. For example, in one 2007 letter to the Israeli Embassy, the writer states, “The Israelis are and remain, no matter what a show they put on, the greatest racists, war criminals, warmongers, murderers, child-murderers, violators of international law, torturers, robbers and thieves, Nazis, liars, [and] terrorists…” Another message sent to the embassy in 2008 announces plainly, “Here’s one in the kisser for you, you filthy Jew. You’re to blame for the misery in the world!”
In addition to demonization, a second millennia-long antisemitic idea delegitimizes the very existence of Jews, paving the way first for segregation and then elimination or genocide. Just as Jews have no right to exist, it is claimed, a state so abysmally evil and destructive has no right to exist. In the minds of these antisemites, Israel has become the Collective Jew and should be destroyed. Racist delegitimization draws on stereotypes of Jews as exploiters, parasites, and homeless nomads, as in this message from 2006 sent to the Central Council of Jews in Germany: “Only dissolution of the Israeli state can counter the Jews’ solidarity and thereby also their highly aggressive tendencies as a united people that ruthlessly indulges its congenital aggression and frustration. The Jews who move away from Israel will then have the possibility of settling elsewhere. In Old Testament times, the Jews were already a nomadic people that emigrated at one point to Egypt, at another to Babylon, the latter, by the way, because of moral turpitude, after which they moved back to Israel.”
Looking at the messages as a whole, there was little variation among the different years except the spikes we noticed during times of military conflict such as the 2014 war in Gaza. This event ignited a storm of anti-Israel and anti-Jewish commentary in Europe and the United States that continues to this day – spread most widely online. It is also interesting to note that these conflagrations were defined always in one-sided terms, with Israel as the sole aggressor. This unilateral framework applies not only to Israel’s military conflict with the Palestinians and Arab States but also to the condemnation of Israel for human-rights violations that are defined as almost exclusively characteristic of Israel in comparison to the records of other countries.
When Israel, the Jewish state, is denounced as uniquely evil and immoral, antisemitism is clearly at play. Modern antisemites have turned “the Jewish problem” into “the Israel problem.” In this world where we are trying to eliminate racism, misogyny, homophobia and more, it is time to include the age-old hatred of Jews as well.
IN ATLANTA, ANTI-SEMITISM IS VIEWED THROUGH LENS OF HISTORY
In Atlanta, anti-Semitism is viewed through lens of history
By Jeff Martin
March 3, 2017
ATLANTA (AP) – Amid a surge of bomb threats and vandalism at Jewish institutions nationwide, members of Atlanta’s Jewish community have felt a familiar wave of apprehension about what may come next.
Because all of that, and worse, has happened in the city before.
Six decades ago, during the turmoil of the civil rights era, 50 sticks of dynamite blasted a ragged hole in Atlanta’s largest synagogue. A generation earlier, in 1915, Jewish businessman Leo Frank was lynched during a wave of anti-Semitism.
Some fear that history is once again arcing toward the viperous climate that set the stage for the earlier violence.
“It’s heartbreaking to see the attacks and threats and desecration of Jewish cemeteries in recent days,” said playwright Jimmy Maize, whose play “The Temple Bombing” is on stage this month at Atlanta’s Alliance Theatre. “I have to say that writing this play feels too much like history repeating itself.”
His play, which addresses anti-Semitism, fear and courage through the drama of the 1958 explosion, was inspired by a book by Atlanta author Melissa Fay Greene.
“We learned over several decades the power of hate speech,” Greene said. “It can lead to people being harmed and killed.”
This past weekend, more than 100 headstones were discovered toppled or damaged at a Jewish cemetery in Philadelphia. In New York, a Rochester cemetery was targeted this week in the latest in a string of anti-Semitic incidents around the county. Cemetery officials said Thursday at least a dozen grave markers were desecrated.
Jewish community centers and schools in several states also have been targets of recent bomb scares.
On Friday, federal officials said a 31-year-old man is a suspect in at least eight of the threats made against Jewish institutions nationwide, and a bomb threat to New York’s Anti-Defamation League.
Atlanta has played a prominent role in American Jewish life since the late 1800s. Jewish immigrants began some of its most successful businesses, according to the Institute of Southern Jewish Life.
Atlanta was at the forefront of the new, industrial South, and many of its factories were Jewish-owned, said Jeremy Katz, archives director at Atlanta’s William Breman Jewish Heritage Museum.
Jewish businessmen gained respect and became community leaders. But their success also led to anti-Semitism from Southerners who felt left behind by the changing economy, said Stuart Rockoff, the former historian for the Institute of Southern Jewish Life.
“There was this push and pull, and it was kind of a powder keg that ignited with the Leo Frank case,” Katz said. “Before the Frank case, Jews were fairly accepted in the community because social lines were drawn by color of skin rather than religion, so Jews really flourished in the South.”
Everything changed on a spring day in 1913, when 13-year-old factory worker Mary Phagan was found strangled in the cellar of Atlanta’s National Pencil Company. Frank, the factory’s manager, was arrested and put on trial. As newspaper articles inflamed anti-Semitic passions in and around Atlanta, he was convicted and sentenced to death.
Georgia Gov. John Slaton, convinced Frank was innocent, commuted his sentence to life in prison. In August 1915, a mob snatched Frank from the state prison in Milledgeville and drove him to Marietta, where Phagan had lived, and hanged him from an oak tree.
“The Leo Frank case showed that Jews were not immune from that type of violence and discrimination,” Rockoff said.
In the following years, many Jews didn’t speak of the Frank case.
But by the late 1940s, Rabbi Jacob Rothschild at The Temple in Atlanta had begun speaking out against racial injustice in Atlanta, said his son, William Rothschild. Some believe that made the synagogue a target for extremists.
The bomb exploded about 3:30 a.m. Oct. 12, 1958. A few hours later, during Sunday morning classes, “there would have been hundreds of children in the building,” said Peter Berg, now senior rabbi at The Temple. But the children hadn’t yet arrived, and no one was injured.
“I remember feeling emptiness,” recalls Carol Zaban Cooper of Atlanta, who was 14 when her synagogue was bombed, and went on to become active with the Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta. “I felt hollow, numb.”
Alfred Uhry, author of the play and movie “Driving Miss Daisy,” attended The Temple as a child and had just moved to New York when it was bombed. He recalls the horror of seeing a photo of the destruction in The New York Times.
“It showed a side of the building blown off, and I had gone to Sunday school there,” Uhry said.
A bombing suspect’s first trial ended with a hung jury and the second with an acquittal.
Atlanta Mayor William Hartsfield said “every political rabble-rouser is the godfather of these cross burners and dynamiters who sneak about in the dark and give a bad name to the South.”
Atlanta Constitution editor Ralph McGill called it a harvest of hate. One day after the blast he wrote, “It is the harvest of defiance of courts and the encouragement of citizens to defy law on the part of many southern politicians.”
“To be sure, none said go bomb a Jewish temple or a school,” he added in the Pulitzer Prize-winning editorial. “But let it be understood that when leadership in high places in any degree fails to support constituted authority, it opens the gate to all those who wish to take law into their own hands.”
Racial hatred put everyone in danger, McGill wrote.
“When the wolves of hate are loosed on one people, then no one is safe.”
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