When Culture Crumbles, the Attacks Start
JNS.org – Immediately after 11 people were murdered at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh on Saturday, media pundits and politicians began their political bean-counting: Whom to blame? Who would profit from the mass murder in the upcoming midterm elections?
To confront a crime like this seriously, first we need intellectual honesty and a national desire to respond to the overall phenomenon. And a phenomenon it is. The slaughter may have been perpetrated by a man from the delusional fringes of the extreme right, an antisemite who still uses the derogatory term “kikes,” but it is also part of a much bigger picture in American culture. Every month or two, a murderer enters a school or some other public place and murders civilians indiscriminately.
Antisemitism in the United States is not at its peak. It may be on the rise, as it is in Britain, France, and Germany. But antisemitism was actually much worse in the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s. So why was no mass murder like Saturday’s committed against the Jewish community in those days?
The reason has to do with public order and the authority of the state.
The “fashion” of mass murder started with the 1959 killing of the Clutter family in Kansas, detailed by writer Truman Capote in his book In Cold Blood. Previous slaughters had passed under the radar, some of them against blacks in the racist South, who were de facto unprotected by law. American society was not horrified by these killings, just as the world was not horrified by the murder of Jews in the Holocaust, because the Germans managed to convince everyone that the law did not apply to Jews and anyone who could do so was allowed to kill them. This basic situation has changed very little, particularly when it comes to the Jews in Israel.
There is no reason to be dragged into the public debate in the US about acts of mass murder. The Democrats always bring up the issue of gun control and oppose the idea of armed guards in public places. It is clear to Israelis that in a sick and violent reality like the current one in the US, it would be best to have guards at the doors of synagogues and other buildings.
The killer on Saturday may have acted alone, but the climate enables insane events. It is hard to say what is causing that climate, but it is clear that it can be summed up bluntly: Jews are easy victims for both the right and the left.
The polarized campaign over Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s appointment has created a sense that the US is divided and on its way to civil war. President Donald Trump’s own contributions to that dangerous atmosphere, with his personality and media provocations, do not encourage a healing process. When the framework of society breaks down and cultural values crumble, a process similar to what happened with the Weimar Republic begins. The first to be hurt will be the Jews.
Amnon Lord is an Israeli journalist with the daily newspaper Makor Rishon.