I Called the Douglas High Shooting a Credibly anti-Semitic Attack. The Response? An anti-Semitic Deluge

Nikolas Cruz had a well-documented hatred of Jews; the school he shot up had a 40% Jewish population. But to some on the left, who rightly point out the bigotry behind other mass shootings, the idea he targeted Jews fuels a vicious pushback

Screenshot of comments on Natalie Lifson’s Medium post on the Parkland school shooting

On February 14th 2018, 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz took an Uber to Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, the institution from which he had been expelled a year earlier, and began shooting. 17 students and teachers were killed and another 14 injured. 

The atrocity has spurred intense debate over pertinent issues such as gun reform, mental health care, and the effectiveness of social services.

But what still isn't being discussed is that Douglas High School is more than 40% Jewish, that Cruz believed that Jews were part of a conspiracy to unseat white people from power and destroy the world, and that the shooting could credibly be termed an anti-Semitic hate crime.

Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School student Emma Gonzalez reacts during her speech at a rally for gun control at the Broward County Federal Courthouse in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. February 17, 2018

But there seems to be something threatening, or at least deeply uncomfortable, for many people about this contention. From personal experience, the response, at least on social media, is a deluge of vicious anti-Semitism.

Personal accounts of students who attended high school with Cruz have pegged him as an anti-Semite who believed that white people were the master race.

According to one individual who knew him and contacted me but was concerned about going public, he was actively hostile towards Jews, black people, and Muslims in particular throughout high school and had threatened them in the past. In fact, that source claims that several of the violent incidents he was expelled for were attacks against Jews. Six victims of his massacre were Jewish. 

One example of his blatant anti-Semitism was recorded in Instagram chats with like-minded white supremacist friends. During one of the rants in the chat, Cruz spoke of his birth mother, saying, "My real mom was a Jew. I am glad I never met her." 

Screenshot of comments on Natalie Lifson’s Medium post on the Parkland school shooting

According to the Florida Department of Children and Families, who investigated Cruz in 2016 after he posted graphic, violent, and disturbing images on Snapchat, Cruz had, at one point, decorated his backpack with swastikas

While town records state that only 1.6% of Parkland is Jewish, members of the Parkland Jewish community were quick to point out that the listed demographics only take into account religious Jews. According to Jews who live in Parkland, the majority of the Jewish population is secular, or ethnically and culturally Jewish but not religiously, and would not have self-identified as such in the census.

The shooting has shaken the local Jewish community. According to a local rabbi, Parkland "is a small community where nearly half the population is Jewish, so everyone has been touched by what happened."

At one point in the coverage, it was suggested that Cruz was part of a white supremacist organization, the Republic of Florida Militia whose head claimed to have trained Cruz in the art of gun violence with the explicit purpose of targeting people of color and Jews in the event that they rise up against white people, but also denied any knowledge of or involvement in the shooting. "We’re not a big fan of Jews," Jerub speculated on Cruz’s motives. "I think there were a lot of Jews at the school that might have been messing with him." 

Screenshot of comments on Natalie Lifson’s Medium post on the Parkland school shooting.

However, soon after claiming Cruz as a member of ROF, Jerub backtracked, stating his claims that he trained Cruz with ROF were a “misunderstanding” propelled by the "lying Jew media." That last comment was far less widely quoted in the media.

While there is room to question Cruz’s exact motivations - from mental illness to anger over his expulsion - I find it troubling that such a visible connection to anti-Semitism is being overlooked as irrelevant enough to entirely exclude it from many major news articles.

If a known hater of minorities blatantly and frequently spoke about abhorrence for any other minority and then shot up a school - even one he used to attend - that consisted mostly of members of that ethnic group, people (who care about social justice) would at least be discussing the possibility that it was a hate crime.

We're not having that discussion and not taking Cruz’s anti-Semitism seriously because common anti-Semitic tropes paint Jews as powerful and privileged, which leaves room for people to ignore the fact that the long history of prejudice against us continues to this day.

Students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School are welcomed as they arrive at another Florida school before meetings with Florida state legislators. Tallahassee, Florida, U.S., February 20, 2018

According to the FBI, 1.7% of Americans are Jewish, but last year 54.2% of religiously motivated hate crimes were against Jews and 11.5% of overall hate crimes were against Jews.

Ironically, the erasure of the Jewish aspect of Cruz’s massacre continues. The memorial for the dead students and teachers, located at Pine Trails Park, consists of 17 crosses, one to represent each of the dead. It is pretty tone-deaf to "honor" Jewish students in death with symbols of another faith.

The media’s unwillingness to acknowledge Jewish issues as they relate to current events is not an isolated incident either. At the Nazi-led Charlottesville march in August 2017, a key Nazi chant was "Jews will not replace us!" Yet it was mostly up to the Jewish press to highlight it.

Many members of the Parkland community, in partnership with students and families all over the country, have been spurred on to activism. The students behind "March For Our Lives" plan to take to the streets of Washington D.C. to demand that their “lives and safety become a priority” in order to “end violence and mass shootings” in schools.

February 17, 2018 Protesters hold signs at a rally for gun control at the Broward County Federal Courthouse in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

It’s good to hear that that the march has targeted not only guns but the intersection between bigotry and gun violence; that dangerous, racist ideas that cause people to view other people as subhuman are primarily at fault. 

But it’s alarming for me that those same lessons, when raised about the Parkland shooting, and about Jews as targets, trigger instead a stream of bigoted invective.

When I published my first response to the shooting, and asked why it wasn't being called out as an anti-Semitic hate crime, I was taken aback at the vitriol.

Comments range from anti-Semites despising Jews for supposedly taking over the world to claiming American Jewish high schoolers deserve to be shot due to Israel’s crimes to completely denying that anti-Semitism is a problem that needs to be addressed and asserting that Jews are always "playing the eternal victim". 

Screenshot of comments on Natalie Lifson’s Medium post on the Parkland school shooting

If the social media response to Cruz’s massacre has taught me anything, it’s that a loud minority of people truly despise Jews, but it’s the rampant casual anti-Semitism and the flippant attitudes towards hate crimes against Jews that are also dangerous, sometimes bordering on complicity.

While it makes sense that communities of color and other frequently targeted ethnic and belief groups are be at the forefront of the social justice movement, it is important to not entirely ignore Jewish struggles, as is the alarming trend.

It is vital for people on the left to understand that the fight against anti-Semitism is not a zero-sum war with battling against other forms of race-based oppression. But anti-Semitism shouldn’t be considered just the complaint of the privileged; we must engage in a discussion about the fight against anti-Semitism as a much larger struggle against white supremacy.

We can acknowledge that someone shot up a Jewish school because he was anti-Semitic without it taking away from the struggles of other minorities.

When Jews say we are targeted, people often respond with: "Show me real hate crimes against Jews and then we’ll believe you when you say you’re discriminated against." Then an individual who talks about wanting Jews dead shoots up a school that’s largely Jewish - and many people still refuse to acknowledge that it’s a hate crime.

Screenshot of comments on Natalie Lifson’s Medium post on the Parkland school shooting

The Jewish community is not a large one. I know people who knew some of those kids, who went to Jewish summer camp with them, whose parents were family friends.

There is more than enough evidence to warrant a discussion about the possibility of the Douglas High School shooting being an anti-Semitic hate crime. But it’s not happening, and we need to query if this is because people do not take anti-Semitism seriously.

If your struggle for social justice, against racism and against gun violence in America can’t include Jews - even dead Jews – it’s time to rethink.

Natalie Lifson is a playwright, producer, lyricist, and screenwriter.