Jewish Leaders Decry Claims Texas Synagogue Hostage Situation Wasn't Motivated by Antisemitism

'There'll be attempts to make today’s events in Texas about everything except antisemitism,' says one Jewish leader after the FBI asserted hostage situation wasn't 'specifically related' to Jewish community

Ben Samuels
Ben Samuels
A Police car sits in front of the Congregation Beth Israel Synagogue in Colleyville, Texas
A Police car sits in front of the Congregation Beth Israel Synagogue in Colleyville, TexasCredit: ANDY JACOBSOHN - AFP
Ben Samuels
Ben Samuels

Jewish officials and figures on Sunday rejected arguments that the assailant behind the hostage situation at Congregation Beth Israel in Coleyville, Texas was not explicitly targeting the Jewish community, stressing the incident was inherently motivated by antisemitsm.

“We do believe from our engagement with this subject that he was singularly focused on one issue, and it was not specifically related to the Jewish community,” FBI Special Agent in Charge Matt DeSarno had said following the situation's resolution.

Anonymous law enforcement officials had told the Associated Press earlier that the hostage-taker demanded the releaseof Aafia Siddiqui, a Pakistani neuroscientist suspected of having ties to Al-Qaida, from federal prison in Texas. He also said he wanted to be able to speak with her, according to the officials.

However, this notion was quickly rejected by high ranking U.S. officials and Jewish officials alike.

While U.S. President Joe Biden thanked the “courageous work” of U.S. law enforcement agencies, he condemned the targeting of the Jewish community, saying “let me be clear to anyone who intends to spread hate – we will stand against antisemitism and against the rise of extremism in this country."

Vice President Kamala Harris released a statement Sunday on the incident, saying "we stand in solidarity with the Congregation Beth Israel community and the entire Jewish community. While we will learn more about the hostage taker’s motivation, we know this: what happened yesterday at Congregation Beth Israel is a reminder that we must speak up and combat antisemitism and hate wherever it exists. Everyone has a right to pray, work, study, and spend time with loved ones not as the other – but as us."

Anti-Defamation League CEO Jonathan Greenblatt said "it was no accident a synagogue in Colleyville was attacked. Jews face the ongoing menace of antisemitism."

American Jewish Committee Managing Director of Public Affairs Avi Mayer noted that "there will be attempts to make today’s events in Texas about everything under the sun – except antisemitism. Don’t let it happen. The attacker targeted a synagogue and held four Jews, including a rabbi, hostage. This was an act of antisemitism, plain and simple."

Ellie Cohanim, the former U.S. special envoy to combat antisemitism, added "it had nothing to do with Jews but this radical Islamist targeted the Jews anyway. It's called antisemitism."

David Simon, creator of television shows such as "The Wire," noted that the FBI claims are "something narrowly semantic that I recognize from personal experience. When my father was held hostage in 1977, his captors did so because they targeted D.C.’s B’nai B’rith building with two other sites. Nothing explicitly anti-Semitic, but hey, Jews are always in season."

Fred Guttenberg, a gun violence activist and father of a victim of the Parkland school shooting, said "it is incumbent on mainstream media & the FBI to not minimize that yesterday's hostage crisis was a hate crime directed at Jewish people."

Rep. Jake Auchincloss, a first-term Democratic lawmaker from Massachusetts, said "Whatever the precise motivation of this deranged individual, the rising tide of antisemitism is a factor. Jews should not fear to worship together – in Texas, in Massachusetts, in America."

The Jewish Democratic Council of America said "While the details of the horrific hostage situation are still coming together, it is painfully clear that the perpetrator was motivated by antisemitism, in this case, by a delusional conspiracy theory related to the alleged influence of Jews," adding that "the perpetrator’s repeated calls heard on Facebook live for the release of a virulent antisemitic jailed terrorist and threats of violence only made this more clear. Such delusion stems from antisemitism, plain and simple."

Four hostages held at a Texas synagogue were released safely on Saturday after a nearly 11-hour-long standoff. It remains unclear whether the captor was shot by security forces or killed himself.

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