Media Struggle to Explain Recent Wave of Anti-Semitic Attacks Without Blaming Jews, Trump

Recovery and clean up crews descend on the JC Kosher Supermarket in the aftermath of a mass shooting on December 11 / Getty Images
January 2, 2020

The recent spate of anti-Semitic attacks in the New York area has confounded media outlets, the natural inclination of which is to blame such outbreaks of anti-Semitism on Donald Trump and his white nationalist supporters. Unfortunately, from the media's perspective, the suspects in these recent attacks targeting Jews were neither white nor supporters of Donald Trump.

The NBC News affiliate in New York, for example, has been roundly criticized for an article published Thursday that appears to suggest that Jewish communities are partly to blame for rising anti-Semitic violence in suburban areas that have seen an influx of Jews.

Critics noted that the article was framed in a way that would never be considered acceptable in the context of a different minority community:

The expansion of Hasidic communities in New York's Hudson Valley, the Catskills and northern New Jersey has led to predictable sparring over new housing development and local political control. It has also led to flare-ups of rhetoric seen by some as anti-Semitic.

Now, a pair of violent attacks on such communities, just weeks apart, worry many that intolerance is boiling over.

On Dec. 10, a man and woman killed a police officer and then stormed into a kosher grocery in Jersey City, fatally shooting three people inside before dying in an hours-long gunfight with police. The slayings happened in a neighborhood where Hasidic families had recently been relocating, amid pushback from some local officials who complained about representatives of the community going door to door, offering to buy homes at Brooklyn prices.

In response to the shooting at the kosher grocery, Jersey City board of education member Joan Terrell posted a tirade on Facebook suggesting the deadly attacks were a justified response to legitimate grievances among black residents sparked by intimidation and harassment by the "brutes of the Jewish community." Terrell resisted calls for her resignation in response to the Facebook post and received support from MSNBC host Al Sharpton's National Action Network.

"How dare they speak out against someone saying how they feel. [Terrell] said nothing wrong. Everything she said is the truth. So where is this anti-Semitism coming in? I am not getting it," said Carolyn Oliver Fair, executive director of the North Jersey chapter of the National Action Network.

The NBC New York article was published several days after a Daily Beast piece that somewhat awkwardly attempted to blame Donald Trump for the recent wave of anti-Semitic violence and suggested that anti-Semitism in the black community was a superior form of hatred when compared to anti-Semitism among white nationalist Trump supporters.

Anti-Semitism in the black community, the article explained, is "sometimes wedded to quasi-progressive concerns about racial justice, or, more broadly, to grievances against Jews as usurious landlords or agents of gentrification," a mixture of "baseless hatred and socio-economic grievance" that "stands in stark contrast to the wordy theoretical manifestoes of white supremacist anti-Semitism."

The Daily Beast article sought to further expound on these differences by arguing that white anti-Semitism is a far greater problem because Donald Trump is president and a vicious anti-Semite such as Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan is not:

And in terms of scale, there is simply no comparison between right-wing anti-Semitism, which arguably stretches into the White House itself (if not Trump, then some of his recent advisers), and the fringe sects, street violence, and bigotry found among small segments of the African-American community.

It cannot be a coincidence that the rise in anti-Semitism coincides with the rise in Trumpism...

Anti-Semitism in the black community, meanwhile, is something "we must understand" in order to eradicate it.

Media circumspection and efforts to "understand" in response to horrific acts of violence might not be such a bad thing. However, the media's track record suggests they are only willing to afford it under certain circumstances, depending on where the alleged bad actors in the story happen to fall on the political spectrum.