Amid a Wave of Antisemitic Hate Crimes, a New York Unit Offers a Model of Resistance

As the nation faces mounting extremism, a veteran observer of antisemitic violence follows a security team that combats threats against Jewish targets.

The term “Vichy Republicans” was first used by the filmmaker Ken Burns to describe the tortured silence and hypocrisy of Trump’s colleagues and his richest supporters, some of whom came from New York’s prominent Jewish families. The complexity of what seemed to be a mounting GOP xenophobia and nativism had come at a time of rising liberal antipathy toward the marginalization and mistreatment of Palestinians by a conservative Israeli government. And so, to many observers of the American Jewish predicament, this serious upswing in far-right antisemitism now appeared to be occurring just as the policies of the state of Israel were being condemned, especially from the left and often among Jews themselves. The effect, even if it was the product of a false equivalency, was the sense that somehow, at its most extreme, a completely new form of “anti-Judaism” was emerging, as characterized by David Nirenberg, the former dean of the University of Chicago Divinity School. Debates about boycotting Israel ignited college campuses. Moreover, social media and its capacity to scapegoat had created what felt like an entirely new stream of venom aimed at Jews. But was it really? “Old wine in new bottles,” historian Shimon Samuels had labeled it when describing the situation in France 20 years before.

After Charlottesville, it was no longer possible to ignore the hate speech unleashed by the White House. 

Synagogues all over America were now under threat: hostages taken in Colleyville, Texas; gunmen shooting congregants in Los Angeles and tormenting shuls in Toledo and New Jersey; threats aimed at the reform temple in San Antonio where I went to religious services as a child.

Paulette entered this new world at a time when extremist views were being expounded by on-air personalities like Tucker Carlson. For years, his Fox News screeds—alluding to topics such as the preposterous great replacement theory or pushing the absurd notion that a Jewish cabal was financing “caravans of immigrants”—had been effectively sanctioned by the overseers of the network, Rupert and Lachlan Murdoch. 

If there was some way to understand Carlson’s tortured rationale, if he even had one, it would have been to somehow link the contemporary influx across America’s southern border to the decades-long assistance provided by the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS), which has been rescuing refugees since before the Holocaust. Carlson’s disinformation had dire consequences. After the Tree of Life attack, the suspect in custody, Robert Bowers, mentioned that rhetoric he had heard, matching language aired on Fox News, had compelled him to take an AR-15-style assault rifle into Squirrel Hill. (Bowers, who had faced 63 felony counts for the first mass murder in an American synagogue, was found guilty.) A few hours before he started shooting, he posted the following on Gab: “HIAS likes to bring invaders in to kill our people. I can’t sit by and watch my people get slaughtered.” Another post from Bowers was even more explicit: “Open your Eyes! It’s the filthy EVIL jews Bringing the Filthy EVIL Muslims into the Country!!!”