|BMG in Lakewood, New Jersey|
“The FBI has received credible information of a broad threat to synagogues in NJ,” the agency’s Newark office shared on social media Thursday afternoon, shortly after briefing Jewish leaders in the state.
“We ask at this time that you take all security precautions to protect your community and facility,” the alert said. “We will share more information as soon as we can. Stay alert. In case of emergency call police.”
This is very distressing. I don’t believe that the FBI is in the habit of issuing warnings like this unless they have strong evidence. It has to be more than just ‘chatter’ on social media by run of the mill militias and fringe groups like the KKK, Neo Nazis, or White Supremacists.
Making this doubly scary are the words ‘broad threat’. I assume this means that there must be some sort of planned attack against multiple Jewish targets in a coordinated effort planned, and to be executed by these groups working together. Much as was the case where militias consisting of radicals fringe groups planned and executed the storming of the Capital on January 6th of 2021.
This does not change my fundamental belief hat the vast majority of the American people are not in any ways antisemitic. I believe that they are just as appalled by this kind of news as I am. But that does not make the situation any less dangerous.
That these fringe groups exist and have been around for a long time is not in question. Nor do I believe their numbers have significantly increased. But clearly they are far more emboldened than at any time in history.
They have been emboldened by the kind of rhetoric spewed by rapper Kanye West - and more recently by NBA basketball star Kyrie Irving. Both of whom have a huge following. When celebrities of that caliber make antisemitic comments, it doesn’t take rocket science to realize how much of an impact that makes. Although their fans are still a tiny minority of the American people - a lot of them are brainless zombies who believe every word their heroes utter on social media.
It’s true that Irving issued what seems like a sincere apology (after he was suspended from 5 games). But the damage has already been done. With each antisemitic lie issued by a popular cultural figure, fringe groups probably believe that West and Irving’s fans will join them. Thus becoming even more emboldened.
I’m sorry to say that all of this can largely be blamed on the former President. His desire for power means accepting support from wherever he can find it. Even from rabid antisemites.
To be clear and reiterate what I have said many times, Trump is not antisemitic himself. The evidence for that is so ample, that I am not going to bother demonstrating it. But the evidence of his accepting – even desiring - the antisemitic vote is indisputable. Which is why those fringe groups love him so much. They think he is one of them. And Trump has said nothing to discourage them of that notion.
I also believe that Kanye West was himself emboldened by Trump’s ‘dog whistles’. West, one might recall, was a huge supporter of the former president. If I recall, correctly West and Irving are close friends which might explain Irving’s comments.
After 6 years of this kind of dog whistling by a president, what is happening in New Jersey is not all that surprising.
If there is a silver lining to all of this, it is that the vast majority of American people not only accept us as equals but in many cases even admire us as a people.
It doesn’t take much to get almost an entire country to believe in ‘The Big Lie’. This is what happened in Germany of the 1930s. Jews were well integrated in to German society. But along came Hitler and together with his chief propagandist, Joseph Goebbels, convinced the masses that the Jews were so evil that that had to be expelled from the country. And if that didn’t work - executed en-masse. Which they almost succeeded in doing - slaughtering 6 million European Jews. All while their countrymen remained silent.
Anyone that has ever seen archival footage of 1930s Germany under Hitler (who never missed an opportunity to spew his virulent antisemtism) cannot miss the absolute adulation the German people had for him. Huge gatherings such as those at the 1936 Olympics showed tens of thousands of Germans who once considered German Jews part of their people, cheering Hitler on with Nazi salutes and shouting ‘Heil Hitler’.
While anything is possible, I nevertheless still do not believe that in our day the American people would ever fall to the level of believing in that kind of big lie. Although a lot of MAGA Republicans do believe Trump’s ‘big lie’ about the election, that is categorically different than believing the Jews are an evil people.
But as I said, the threat of serious violence against New Jersey Jews is very real* nonetheless. And we need to do whatever it takes to prevent a potentially huge and tragic event from happening. Which is why I’m glad the FBI is on top of this and doing everything they can to prevent it. Including telling all New Jersey Jews to be vigilant.
I’m also glad to see that public advocacy groups like Agudah and the OU are taking it seriously, too. Perhaps all of that vigilance will deter these fringe groups I suspect are behind this - from executing their plan. On the other hand, out of an abundance of caution, perhaps the Jews of New Jersey should just stay home this Shabbos?
*Update Apparently the FBI has lifted their warnings. They caught the individual behind all this. Glad to hear that my speculation proved not to be the case.