The statements by Israeli politicians the moment Yom Kippur ended in response to the terror attack in Halle were detached from the facts. Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein’s comment was a prime example. “There is no occupation in Germany but Jews are still being murdered there on Yom Kippur in a synagogue,” he said, as if Jews were the only victims and the event had to be seen from an Israeli political perspective.
Jews in a synagogue on Yom Kippur were the prime target of the attacker in Halle. But when he failed to break through the reinforced door, a woman passing by in the street and a customer in a kebab shop – a symbol for many of the Muslim presence in Europe – were shot and killed.
“Feminism is the cause of declining birth rates in the West, which acts as a scapegoat for mass immigration, and the root of all these problems is the Jew,” said the attacker in a video he recorded. It was an anti-Semitic attack. But it was also an attack against liberal values and immigration, which on the far-right are identified with Jews.
In the wave of attacks between 2012 and 2015 in which Jews were targeted and killed in Toulouse, Paris, Brussels and Copenhagen, the perpetrators were Islamist terrorists. Jews were not the only targets. Iconoclastic cartoonists, theatergoers, security forces and just ordinary shoppers and passengers taking public transportation were murdered as well.
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To counter this threat, security around synagogues and other Jewish community buildings was intensified, transforming them into mini-fortresses, and there was a reorganization of national and international efforts to locate and neutralize Islamic State and Al-Qaida cells that carried out the bigger attacks and armed attackers. Legal constraints on surveillance and detention without trial were stretched and intelligence sharing between security agencies was greatly improved. It worked. Islamist attacks still occur, usually carried out by “lone wolves,” but the wave is over.
And as we saw Wednesday in Halle, the increased security of synagogues saves lives. When the attacker failed with the weapons he had at hand to breach the reinforced door of the synagogue, he had to run and kill others, not members of the Jewish community. But the response of security and intelligence agencies to the threat of neo-Nazi, far-right terror is different from what was called for when facing Islamist terror cells.
These aren’t organized or semi-organized networks. But it’s an ideology. And it can’t be stopped at the borders of a country or even a continent. It isn’t just Europe.
The statement by the attacker in Halle is nearly identical with that of the attacker who murdered 11 Jews in a synagogue in Pittsburgh nearly a year ago, or the perpetrator of the massacre in a mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand, in March, where 51 Muslims were murdered at prayer. It’s a global-racial white supremacist ideology that sees liberal openness to immigrants, to women’s and gay rights and tolerance toward any minority group as a threat to the white race.
This “great displacement theory” is just the updated version of the Nazi racial theories, as written by Adolf Hitler in “Mein Kampf,” in which Jews were not only deemed dangerous members of a degenerate race, but also those who had brought these liberal values into the world.
To carry out a neo-Nazi attack there is no need for terror infrastructure. The perpetrators are local white men filled with resentment and frustration, stoked not only by overtly white-supremacist websites and literature but also by ostensibly mainstream politicians, from President Donald Trump on down. They’re told that they’re the victims of an infestation of immigrants who have invaded their land and are taking away their jobs.
That’s their inspiration and they don’t need any other help when weapons and targets are available. And the target could be simultaneously Jews, Muslims, women, LGBT people and any other minority or immigrant group.
The sad irony is that across the world, these liberal values of openness and tolerance are universally seen as Jewish values – so much so that they justify attacking Jews in a synagogue in Yom Kippur. Everywhere that is, but in Israel.