For BLM rioters, attacking Jewish symbols is not an aberration. It’s a routine.
Late August’s surge of riots and protests in Kenosha, Wisconsin, after the police shooting of Jacob Blake, has stirred much political debate. In that debate, we should not overlook one incident during the rioting that reflects one aspect of the larger Black Lives Matter organized movement: Graffiti in front of a local synagogue proclaiming “Free Palestine.”
Even after several days, Kenosha protests stretching into August 27th’s wee hours saw Townhall reporter Julio Rosas continue to live-tweet his way through the din. Around 1 AM that morning, Rosas caught a BLM demonstrator who had momentarily broken away from the nearby mob; Rosas’ posted clip shows the masked protester is spray-painting “Free Palestine” in a large, black scrawl on the driveway of Beth Hillel Temple—Kenosha’s 93-year-old Reform synagogue, and a National Historic Landmark. Rosas pointedly included temple’s flagpole in his shot; set prominently near the building’s front doors, it proudly displays both an American and an Israeli flag. (See our featured image for a still of Rosas’ video showing the vandal in action.)
In the background of Rosas’ video, one can hear car horns honking, ambulances howling, and protesters endlessly chanting “Black Lives Matter” and beating on drums. Meanwhile, though multiple onlookers film his vandalism, the black-clad graffitist hardly seems to notice as he saunters away.
Someone from the BLM crowd spray-painted “Free Palestine” in the driveway of the Beth Hillel Temple in Kenosha. pic.twitter.com/sJACaqZlai
— Julio Rosas (@Julio_Rosas11) August 27, 2020
This one act of vandalism might not seem like much in comparison with, in Jonathan Tobin’s words, “the toll of dead and injured, the businesses and homes that have been destroyed along with the savings and lifetimes of hard work they represented, as well as the concerns about the shooting of Blake…” Still, Tobin continues, that makes it all the more:
…important to ask why, with so much else going on, there seems to almost always be both time and effort available to lash out at symbols of the Jews. It’s also worth wondering why it is when people do that, they seem inevitably to do so in a manner that links houses of prayer to the grievances of Palestinian Arabs and the alleged villainy of Israel.
He’s right; the Kenosha instance is not exactly a fluke.
Kenosha’s Beth Hillel is the latest Jewish house of worship to be tagged with the “Free Palestine” slogan—widely understood to mean the destruction of Israel as a Jewish state and its subsequent replacement with an Arab-Muslim majority Palestine in which Jews would, once again, be a vulnerable minority—during recent BLM protests (much less the only synagogue to be targeted for vandalism in general).
As I documented in June, the protests and riots in Los Angeles directly following George Floyd’s murder saw the same tag (accompanied by a large “Fuck Israel” for good measure) sprayed across the facade of Beth Israel synagogue.
[A screenshot of JTA’s published photograph of Beth Israel’s vandalized outer wall. Screenshot accessed May 31, 2020.]During the same protests, the nearby Baba Sale and Kehillas Yaakov synagogues were defaced with multiple spray-paint scribbles, including the words “racists”, “pig(s?)”, and the number 12—a slang term referring to police.
[A screenshot of JTA’s published photograph of Beth Israel’s vandalized outer wall. Screenshot accessed May 31, 2020.]
Rioters also reportedly attempted to graffiti Temple Shaarei Tefila, but were fought off by a Jewish volunteer security guard (though they did manage to paint “Black Lives Matter”, and anti-police epithets on the adjacent sidewalk). All four synagogues are located in L.A.’s Fairfax District, which has been a famously Jewish area for decades.
[A screenshot of reporting about Kehillas Israel’s vandalism. Circled in red are the words “racists” and “pig(s?)”.]Jewish businesses and Jewish schools in the area were also vandalized, as was a statue of Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg, famous for saving hundreds of Jews from the Nazis. Owner of several stores in Fairfax, Aryeh Rosenfeld told The Jerusalem Post that during Saturday night riots, he witnessed
[A screenshot of reporting about Kehillas Israel’s vandalism. Circled in red are the words “racists” and “pig(s?)”.]
people driving down the Fairfax district streets screaming, “effing Jews,” at them.
He also told The Jewish Journal that “looters smashed his windows and glass cubbies, damaged the air conditioning system and stole the cash drawers, the iPad checkout stand, suits and hats. They threw yarmulkes onto the street and merchandise around the store.”
While the physical attacks on Jewish interests in LA during BLM riots are arguably the most severe so far, there have been others. The same weekend also saw a BLM riot across the country in Richmond, Virginia, in which a protester hurled a brick through the window of a historic synagogue—Beth Ahaba (the brick-thrower was treated to a loud scolding from several other protesters for doing so).
New York City
Thinly veiled threats and anti-Jewish dog whistles have emerged as well. On June 6 (0nly days after the May 30-31 riots gripped so many areas of the country), a self-identified “leader of the…movement” insinuated on live television that its adherents would set fire to New York City’s Diamond District if policy-makers did not concede to the movement’s demands.
Other BLM actions have readily adopted the myth that Israel trains American police to deliberately brutalize ethnic minorities; popularized by inaptly named Jewish Voice for Peace and its “Deadly Exchange” campaign, the conspiracy theory builds on old, anti-Semitic tropes alleging a shadowy and powerful Jewish cabal that seeks world domination. According to Deadly Exchange, Israel exports police racism and violence to the United States in an effort to preserve and spread its own so-called white supremacist, capitalist, imperialist system.
(We’ve covered the Deadly Exchange lie extensively, including in:
Only days after the above televised threat, on June 13, “anti-racism” protesters in France assembled in solidarity with Black Lives Matter-USA; demanding an end to police violence, some of the protesters also accused “dirty Jews” of fomenting police brutality and racism. Accordingly, Palestinian flags and signs blaming Israel for racist violence were evidently a popular choice with members of the crowd; television coverage shows the French protesters echoing Deadly Exchange-esque claims that Israel is a “laboratory of police violence.”
Anti-racism protesters in Paris today shout "Dirty Jews!" pic.twitter.com/APQCep0da0
— Hillel Neuer (@HillelNeuer) June 13, 2020
The protesters against police violence in France for some reason brought placards condemning Israel https://t.co/oyj5y0Dxgy
— Hillel Neuer (@HillelNeuer) June 13, 2020
It doesn’t stop there. On July 1, a Black Lives Matter march in our nation’s capital featured demonstrators with Palestinian flags screaming “Israel we know you, you murder children too!” interspersed with the usual “Black lives matter!” and “Palestinian lives matter!”.
They immediately switched to the more standard “Black Lives Matter” chant after the “Israel kills children” one. pic.twitter.com/6oBVtlVpU8
— Nic Rowan (@NicXTempore) July 1, 2020
In its coverage of the event, The Washington Examiner noted,
The march, led by Harvard University rising senior Christian Tabash, attracted about 200 people…[and] was held in tandem with a series of “Day of Rage” demonstrations against Israel’s territorial claims on the West Bank.
…Tabash also led the group in the reading of poetry detailing the crimes of Israel against Palestinian Muslims. One poem entitled “Mr. War” decried the Israeli government: “Curse thee, the corrupters of Zion. F— this occupation!” The poem later referred to the Jewish state as the “puppet master of continents,” a reference to a centuries-old conspiracy that Jewish people secretly rule the world.
While Tabash walked out in front of the marchers, he paused several times to say that the Palestinian movement is “intrinsically tied to Black Lives Matter” and calls to defund police departments. Tabash said that “American capitalism” and the Israeli state were built on the same principle: repression of minorities.
“And that’s why we say police from Palestine to Mexico to the United States — police as a whole — need to go!” he shouted.
Only days ago, at least two protesters commemorating the 57th anniversary of the March on Washington led by Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., proudly wore matching t-shirts emblazoned with an image of the a controversial and openly anti-Semitic painting. The Jerusalem Post reported:
Two protesters at the March on Washington 2020 were photographed on Friday wearing t-shirts depicting the image first painted as a mural in London by the artist Mear One. The image depicts Jewish bankers playing a game similar to monopoly on the backs of people of color, underneath the masonic Eye of Providence.
…The image on their shirts was flanked by the phrase: “All we have to do is stand up and their little game is over.”
— Jennie Taer 🇺🇸🇮🇱✡️ (@JennieSTaer) August 29, 2020
Celebrities Weigh In
The image had been tweeted approvingly on June 6th by the famed rapper Ice Cube; backlash against him for sharing the anti-Semitic painting helped ignite a firestorm of celebrities coming to his defense, endorsing his sentiments, or sharing Nation of Islam-inspired content, and—in the same breath—stating their support for BLM.
Among them were professional athletes DeSean Jackson and Stephen Jackson, and musicians Nick Cannon, Wiley, and Jay Electronica. USA Today reported:
Disturbingly, BLM leadership, including Lawrence Nathaniel—a prominent activist and founder of an official South Carolina BLM chapter—spoke out in defense of Cannon’s remarks. Nathaniel asserted that he saw “nothing wrong” in Cannon’s use of Louis Farrakhan-inspired anti-Jewish stereotypes.
The above examples are only a few of many instances in which supposedly “anti-racist” organizing in the wake of George Floyd’s tragic killing has invited or promoted anti-Semitism. Yet Rabbi Dena Feingold of Kenosha’s Beth Hillel has dismissed her own synagogue’s defacement as “trivial”; she maintains that the vandal is not representative of the broader BLM movement, and that any anti-Semitism expressed during BLM protests is “not about us [Jews]”.
In a recent interview, Rabbi Feingold insisted:
[The graffiti is] a trivial matter. What’s happened these last few days is not about us and what’s happened to us. It’s about the issues of systemic racism that plague our society. About police policy, about implicit bias, white privilege and those bigger issues is what this is about. It doesn’t change anything at all.
…We can clean up graffiti. It’s not something that lasts, like the killing of a human being or paralyzing of someone, and people of color living in fear when they go about their daily lives.
On the one hand, I sincerely appreciate Rabbi Feingold’s declaration of her community’s continued, determined opposition to racism; no amount of anti-Semitism from BLM proponents (or anyone else) should be enough to end Jews’ long, rich history as empathetic and committed fighters for others’ civil rights.
On the other hand, I think Rabbi Feingold is missing the forest for the trees and ignoring a dangerous trend; the vandalism of her synagogue by a BLM rioter did not emerge in a vacuum. Instead, the sentiment and action are consistent with the stated worldview of most BLM organizations. Nor were Temple Beth Hillel’s decades-long history of anti-racist activism, vocal support for Black Lives Matter, and Rabbi Feingold’s involvement with left-wing anti-Israel groups enough to inoculate the synagogue from attack (however easy to clean) by a BLM participant.
As historian Yisrael Medad wrote in response to Rabbi Feingold’s remarks:
Earlier this year, the synagogue had signed an interfaith letter that condemned “a broken societal system which disproportionately affects communities of color.” Incidentally, it was originally built with a gym and basketball court because, back in the 1920s, Jews were not welcome at the nearby YMCA.
…Progressives, in lending their support to the radical movements we witness rampaging through America’s streets, in identifying with their goals and, most importantly, in subjugating the interests of Jews to these, they increase not only the probability of Jewish community debilitation but in physical attacks on Jewish institutions as well. Physical attacks on Jews is the next stage.
If BLM and Rabbi Feingold seek toward a truly healed, egalitarian society, they should condemn in equal measure all “racist systems”—even systems that define and perpetuate certain bigotries as aspects of “justice”.
Samantha Mandeles is Senior Researcher and Outreach Director at the Legal Insurrection Foundation.