Opinion |

Why Didn't Israelis Condemn the Buffalo Shooter's Hate Crime?

Chaim Levinson
Chaim Levinson
A man mourns at a memorial at the scene of a weekend shooting at a Tops supermarket in Buffalo, New York, U.S. last week.
A man mourns at a memorial at the scene of a weekend shooting at a Tops supermarket in Buffalo, New York, U.S. last week.Credit: LINDSAY DEDARIO/ REUTERS
Chaim Levinson
Chaim Levinson

Since last week, I’ve carefully followed the Instagram page of Noa Tishby, a valued diplomat and our special envoy in the fight against global antisemitism.

On May 14, an American antisemite committed a heinous hate crime in Buffalo, murdering 10 people. But from Tishby, nothing. Zero. No posts, no stories. Her Instagram was as empty as your bank account the day after you buy a house.

It’s okay if you have no idea what incident I am talking about. That’s exactly the point. At 2:30 in the afternoon on May 14, 18-year-old Payton Gendron entered a supermarket in a Black neighborhood and began shooting. It was no ordinary American-style massacre (watch some football, eat chicken wings and then go out to shoot people) like the shooting at the Sandy Hook school. This was a hate crime based on an ideology going back centuries that sees Black people as a danger. Gendron traveled three-and-a-half hours from his home to a Black neighborhood for the purpose of killing its residents.

Israeli celebrity Noa Tishby.Credit: Alon Shafransky

He left behind a 180-page manifesto whose text lacks structure or rationality but whose message is clear. Its core is all about “replacement theory,” which holds that a campaign is underway to replace white Americans with Black people, Jews (as in the chant heard in Charlottesville, Virginia, “Jews will not replace us”), Muslims and others. The manifesto is replete with antisemitic images. If he had not murdered Black people, he would have been happy to murder Jews. The ideology is the same ideology.

The affair was received in Israel with a yawn. The next day, on the most widely watched news broadcast in Israel, Channel 12, the main headline was about the dramatic rise in real estate prices, about Noam Raz’s funeral, the release for publication of the name of the officer killed in Khan Yunis, the business about MK Yomtob Kalfon, the Kan flag incident, gales in Tiberias and someone who was bitten by a snake. About Buffalo, the first report came 30 minutes into the broadcast.

On Channel 13 news, there was no mention of the massacre at all. Nothing. There was an investigative report into hair straighteners. Channel 11 was more generous: It mentioned the massacre in its top headlines and later in a report 31 minutes into the broadcast. But why just complain about the television broadcasts? Even Haaretz, for all its global orientation and broadsheet format, failed to put the Buffalo massacre on the front page.

I checked the Twitter pages of the prime minister, president, foreign minister and diaspora affairs minister. Quiet. Nothing. I looked for a single expression of sorrow or concern about the rising level of hatred. A call for an alliance between all the victims of white supremacist ideology. I looked for something from that man of the United States, Benjamin Netanyahu. Silence. In fact, I found nothing on social media about the massacre from any Israeli politician. Utter silence.

I searched “Buffalo” in Hebrew on Twitter and found a few news reports. From all the influencers, silence.

Noa Tishby, who finds antisemitism in every post by Palestinian-American real estate magnate Mohammed Hadid, found nothing antisemitic in the Buffalo massacre. It just passed her by. I looked at the pictures from Buffalo. I saw images of a large delegation from AIPAC, from Jewish community centers and the Israeli-American Council, which came to Buffalo to identify with the community that was attacked in such a cruel manner. I wondered where our consul general in New York, Asaf Zamir, who had spoken so eloquently on CNN that same week about unbalanced media coverage in connection with the death of the Palestinian journalist Shireen Abu Akleh. He couldn’t dedicate a single evening to a community in mourning?

In this case, there’s no reason to play the game “What would have happened if they had been Jews?” Not so long ago, we were witness to a similar incident when the victims were Jews, namely the 2018 massacre at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh. An American antisemite killed 11 people while they were praying. There was shock, condemnation and pain expressed from wall to wall.

It’s natural that a person identifies more with his or her own group, but you have to be completely blind to ignore the fact that the United States has a problem of “white supremacy.” It has a problem with Jews, with Black people and with Muslims. Estimates are that 40 million people believe in this garbage. From their point of view, we are subhumans that seek to replace them. It’s all the same hatred.

Behind this total disregard are several factors. Some of them are political. For one, there is no Donald Trump in the White House, so there’s no one to blame for the incitement. Secondly, Black people are seen as “anti-Jewish” and “anti-Israel.” They are not a group we can identify with, but are instead a hostile one. Thirdly, it’s a public relations problem: A supermarket filled with old people isn’t gripping in the way that a school with children is.

And then there are racist factors: At the end of the day, they are Black people. One more, one less. If they didn’t get shot by some white supremacist monkey, then they would have been killed in a gang shootout. And some of it is due to the fact that we have grown used to it. As news goes, another mass shooting in America is as routine as another new girlfriend for Omer Adam. Oh, was racism involved this time too? Well, who has the time to read the fine print.

But the main reason is that it’s simply not interesting. People are trapped inside themselves, inside their communities. It’s easy for them to distance themselves from involvement with others and say, “It will never happen to us/It’s not our problem/It’s a problem for African Americans/It’s a gun control issue/It’s not the Jews’ or Israel’s problem.”

These are natural defense mechanisms for coping with such atrocities. It’s more fun to watch “Married at First Sight” than to reflect on the frightening number of neo-Nazis roaming America, the freest and most powerful country in the world.

I don’t pretend to be above this. Do I really feel the same horror and sorrow as I did after the Tree of Life massacre? No. I understand the problem, I am aware of it, but it doesn’t burn inside me. It’s good to be in liberal Manhattan and not surrounded by mental cases roaming the woods in militia uniforms.

But the next time a Jewish community is attacked in the U.S. by those lunatics, Israelis and Jews will be filled with holy rage. The world’s Noa Tishbys will be there. They will demand that politicians in the U.S. and from all over the world immediately condemn it. They will be angry and upset. How can people go about their daily lives while Jews are victims of oppression and violence, the targets of a herd of psychopaths?

They will demand sterner punishments for antisemitism. They will look for the deeper social factors that link Bohdan Khmelnytsky, Adolf Hitler, Ahmad Yassin and Timothy McVeigh. There’s nothing more classically Israeli than to get angry at others, to ask why they make us suffer, to demand solidarity and a connection that we don’t offer them.

The truth is it’s not really interesting when the victims are Jews and or Black people; maybe a little more if they are wealthy white Harvard graduates. Everyone is wrapped up in himself. Is it sad? Is it unfortunate? I have no idea. But the massacre in Buffalo pulled off the mask of those who demand solidarity with Jews and sharing their pain. So it is. So what reality show is on TV tonight?

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