For the second time in six months, Jews have been gunned down, allegedly by a self-proclaimed white supremacist, in their house of worship on U.S. soil, just for being Jewish. And for the second time in six months, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has responded to the killing of American Jews, allegedly by a self-identified white supremacist, without calling out the alleged perpetrator or mentioning their right-wing white-supremacist ideology.
In his condemnation of the shooting at the Chabad synagogue in Poway, Calif., on Twitter, Netanyahu called the incident an attack on the “heart of the Jewish people,” but he followed that with a vague assertion that “the international community must step up its struggle against antisemitism.” He didn’t use the word “terrorist,” which he and other Israeli leaders and media reach for systematically to describe violent attacks in which the assailants are Muslim or Arab — even when the victims are not Jewish. Netanyahu’s politics won’t allow him to explicitly condemn anti-Semitic ideology unless it manifests in explicitly Islamist ways. Anti-Semitism that doesn’t have anything to do with groups Netanyahu sees as enemies of Israel barely seems to move him at all.
Netanyahu is far more florid in his descriptions of threats that line up with his worldview. He’s called Palestinians and other Arabs “wild beasts” who seek to infiltrate Israel’s borders and has called the war with militant Islam a “struggle of civilizations.” In February, after 80 Jewish graves were desecrated in France but no one was injured, Netanyahu’s response was more emphatic: He specifically called out the “wild antisemites” who committed the act and called it “a plague that endangers everyone, not just us.” Two Israelis who recently moved to California were among those injured in the Chabad synagogue attack, but Netanyahu still couldn’t muster up any specific outrage that condemns what is clearly a pattern of violence with a specific source.
His obscure call for action by “the international community” is particularly confounding, as Netanyahu has allied his government with openly anti-Semitic leaders. Who does he expect to take on this struggle? Viktor Orbán, the Hungarian xenophobe and textbook Jew-baiter? Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro, who recently said that the Holocaust can be forgiven and called Nazism a leftist movement? President Trump, who just a day before the San Diego shooting revisited his comments from two years ago that there were some “fine people” among the self-proclaimed neo-Nazis in Charlottesville who chanted “Jews will not replace us?” (It took Netanyahu three days to respond to that rally.)
The leading Jewish organizations dedicated to combating anti-Semitism, all of them unquestionably pro-Israel, are calling out white supremacy now. In its statement after the shooting, Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem, issued a statement that it “strongly condemns the actions of the anti-Semitic white supremacist at this house of worship.”
The Anti-Defamation League tweeted on Sunday that “domestic terrorism and white supremacy are serious concerns,” and an op-ed by one of its employees called out the Trump administration for not doing enough to combat the phenomenon. In January, the ADL published a report titled “Right-Wing Extremist Violence is Our Biggest Threat. The Numbers Don’t Lie.”
By the ADL’s count, domestic extremists killed at least 50 people in the United States last year. The alleged perpetrators were overwhelmingly “linked to right-wing extremists,” and “white supremacists were responsible for the great majority of the killings, which is typically the case.” According to the ADL, “right-wing extremists collectively have been responsible for more than 70 percent of the 427 extremist-related killings over the past 10 years, far outnumbering those committed by left-wing extremists or domestic Islamist extremists — even with the sharp rise of Islamist-extremist killings in the past five years.”
But Netanyahu won’t even acknowledge who’s committing these crimes. By refusing to condemn white nationalism, Netanyahu is essentially denying that there is any white supremacist terrorism problem in the United States or the rest of the world — even though, allegedly, self-proclaimed white nationalist killers recently claimed the lives of 12 American Jewish worshipers and 50 Muslim worshipers in New Zealand.
Netanyahu’s refusal to acknowledge these statistics sends the message that the Israeli government doesn’t care about the real security threats facing Jews in the United States, and contributes to their further endangerment. In that sense, it is the flip side of the frequent refrain by some Israelis that American Jews don’t understand the severity of the security situation in Israel.
The reason behind it seems pretty transparent. After the Pittsburgh synagogue massacre, Netanyahu convened a cabinet meeting in which he spoke of the “new anti-Semitism” in Europe and “radical Islam” — two phenomena that played no role in the fatal shooting in Pittsburgh allegedly by a self-identified white nationalist who hated immigrants — but Netanyahu never once mentioned white nationalism. The man arrested in the San Diego attack, who specifically said he was inspired by the Christchurch, New Zealand, shooting, is also under investigation for a mosque arson; his anti-Semitic ideology is equally Islamophobic. But Netanyahu appears not to recognize the fact that Jews and Muslims are victims of the same hatred. It just doesn’t fit his narrative or his strategy.
So Israel, which is supposed to be a safe haven for Jews and which assumes the mantle of combating and defeating anti-Semitism everywhere in the world, is refusing to recognize the existence of the most familiar and classic form of the problem. And it’s doing nothing about a manifestation of white ethnic nationalism that is surging with great force in the United States, and whose victims are not only Jews but also the people Netanyahu portrays as Israel’s greatest enemy, Muslims. Netanyahu has positioned Israel in a place where it is politically and morally incapable of defending Jews against anti-Semitism, because he has defined it in misleadingly narrow terms.
The result is that U.S. Jews looking for comfort — and resolve to fight for their safety and way of life — now cannot find it in the Jewish state: a country whose whole existence is premised on being necessary for Jewish survival.