Set back from a main street on one side, and obscured by trees and shrubs on another, it’s easy to miss Torah V’Emunah, an Orthodox synagogue in a residential North Miami Beach neighborhood.
“We don’t even have a sign in front of the synagogue,” said Miriam Bensinger, the rabbi’s wife. “People in the Jewish community know what it is.”
The inconspicuous synagogue become a center of controversy this week after authorities say vandals spray-painted swastikas and the word “Hamas” in bold red letters on the pillars at the building’s entrance early Monday morning.
The vandalism appears to be part of the protests that have erupted since Israel began its offensive against Hamas in Gaza on July 8. Since then, more than 1,400 Palestinians have died, perhaps 70 percent of them civilians. Israel has suffered 59 casualties, including 56 soldiers and three civilians.
While polls show that Americans generally support Israel’s war against Hamas, there have been more than 200 anti-Israel protests around the country, including in Washington, D.C. Increasingly, demonstrators’ criticism of Israel’s actions has taken on an anti-Semitic tinge, according to Oren Segal, director of the ADL’s Center on Extremism.
“There are Holocaust analogies, apartheid analogies, signs saying ‘Death to Israel,’ and sometimes they’re replacing ‘Israelis’ with ‘Jews.’”
Still, he said, this activism is nothing like what is happening in Europe, where mobs have burned down Jewish property and threatened worshipers in synagogues.
The graffiti on the Florida synagogue was amateurish, with the arms of the swastikas painted in the wrong direction.
The defacing of the synagogue has been considered “criminal mischief,” according to police reports.
“This is not Europe,” Segal said. “The concern is that as people use this inflammatory rhetoric” it will be translated into intimidation and violence.
So far there has been no violence, with only reports of shoving between pro-Palestinian and pro-Israel demonstrators in Los Angeles and Boston, Segal said. What is changing is that online rhetoric, unrestrained by the anonymity of the person posting it, “spilling over to the demonstrations,” he said.
The hashtag “#Hitler Was Right” and the slogan “Blaming Hamas for rockets is like blaming a woman for punching a rapist,” “We’re seeing that on the ground now,” he said.
ADL reports that phrases such as “Jews=Killers” and “Jews are Killing Innocent Children” were found near the entrance to a Jewish summer camp near Malibu, Calif. And leaflets which threatened violence if Israel does not pull out of Gaza were left on cars in a predominantly Orthodox Jewish neighborhood of Chicago.
Authorities have not made any arrests in the Miami incidents, but the police have increased area patrols. And leaders of the Jewish and Muslim communities are trying by working together behind the scenes, said Syed Faisal, a founding board member of the Coalition of South Florida Muslim Organizations.
“We stand together as one when it comes to protecting the places of worship,” Faisal said. “We’re trying to take a more calm stand, a more peaceful stand, because at the end of the day, the violence is not going to help anyone.”
The anti-Jewish activities come after several surveys have showed a decrease in such incidents in the United States. In April, the ADL reported that anti-Semitic acts were down 19 percent in 2013 over the year before, continuing a multi-year trend. And last month, a Pew survey found that Jews were the religious group that Americans felt most warmly about.
“There’s no doubt that the country is the safest place for Jews,” Segal said. “But next year I wouldn’t be surprised if the numbers [in the ADL anti-Semitism audit] were up.”
Since the fighting in Gaza broke out, some commentators have noted that the strong identification of Jews with Israel is a double-edged sword: Just as Jews blur the distinction between themselves and Israel with slogans such as “We stand with Israel,” Israel’s extreme detractors likewise make no distinction between Israel and the Jewish people when they place blame.
Segal rejects the comparison. “Holding Jews accountable for the perceived actions of Israel when those actions are equated with what the Nazis did is not what any Jew is asking for,” he said. “Demonizing Jews for expressing support for Israel as it defends itself from terrorist attacks is morally bankrupt and potentially dangerous.”
David Holzel is a WJW senior writer. April Simpson reported from Miami.
If American Jews are going to publicly defend Israel’s brutal bombing of Gaza and the taking of close to 2000 lives, most of whom, as the article notes, are women and children, then they better be prepared to take the heat and not pretend to dictate what their critics can and cannot say. They can’t have it both ways.
More interesting is how there is little or no ‘outcry’ about Islam’s execution of 1000’s of Christians in Iraq, Syria and other places. Nor is there any words about the ‘collateral’ damage caused by Obama’s drone strikes. The millions of US ‘aid’ given to Hamas and the Palstine Authority, and used to build tunnels and rockets, as well as to maintain launching platforms in UN facilities, can no longer be hidden. Even though both the administration and tthe liberal media will try. But the ‘blind’ will stay ‘willfully blind’. Make no mistake, anti-semitism has never been eradicated, it was only reduced to a low grade cancer, even in the USA. A cancer than can easily mtasticize. Think Carter and apertheid, think CAIR and its many acronyms, and BDS.
So how long before the vandalism is tracked back to a member of the community that was vandalized?
In response to Morton Friedman: in addition to being anti-Zionist/pro-Palestinian I have long condemned Obama’s drone wars policy, as well as the many war cimes committed by the U.S. in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere. However, I am also mindful that the destabilization and neutralizing of Iraq, and the attempts to neutralize Syria, are at least partly done for the sake of Zionist interests. There is a thread which runs through Oded Yinon’s “A Strategy For Israel in the 1980s,” “A Clean Break,” PNAC’s “Rebuilding America’s Defenses,” and any number of Christians in Iraq and Syria are suffering from Islamist extremists not only let loose by the destruction of Iraq and destabilization of Syria, but organized by Zionist influenced western interests with the help of the Gulf monarchies. But realistically, since when does Jewish power care about the fate of members of the Eastern Orthodox church, which have been victims not only of ethnically cleansing in Palestine, or the aftermath of Zionist-driven interventions in Iraq and Syria, but also in Kolomoisky’s Ukraine, and apparently also in Russia during the revolution?
Israel continues to occupy and lay siege to Gaza, which houses many Palestinians who arrived there during earlier waves of Jewish ethnic cleansing. Israel’s most recent slaughter in Gaza was a “war” of choice. Hamas only broke a long-standing truce after Israel retaliated against Palestinians generally, and against Hamas organizations in the West Bank specifically, claiming it was all in retaliation for the kidnapping and killing of three Israeli Jewish youths, for which the blame was falsely put on Hamas. Other deceptions were involved, including the Israeli government maintenance of the pretense that they didn’t know the fate of the three youths, when they already did, a pretense enforced by a gag order on the press (including the compliant NYT).
If you support it, own it.