As a Jew living in 2018, I am familiar with the need for security outside synagogues. I walk past it every morning and evening. I am familiar with the high fences, the security cameras and the paid security as well as the volunteers that I thank every Shabbat morning for keeping us all safe. Last weekend’s attack in Pittsburgh has shown how patently clear just how much it is sadly needed.
European Jewry has long recognised the need for security, with attacks on schools and supermarkets; any Jewish building is a target to antisemitic violence and we have long accepted that this is our reality. But things are getting worse.
America was a place where Jews felt safer than they do in Europe. A place where Jewish buildings don’t have to have airport level security. Something that is not to be taken for granted when just the act of wearing a Kippah (Jewish head covering) in the street in some countries can put your life in danger. This attack hit us where many did not expect it, seemingly out of the blue, with no warning or high alert issued.
But I am not shocked.
This attack was not a shock as it is the result of an individual climbing out of a long-ignored but publicly viewable cesspool of hate, to enact his long-discussed ideas, shared in plain site online, in the real world. Social media is not a vacuum. It is not a place in which racist and antisemitic ideas are routinely debated and defeated and minds changed. It is a place where these obscenities fester. It is a place where evil individuals radicalise others towards extremism, a recruiting ground for violence. This is not limited to one political view but to all extremism. The internet is our generation’s battleground and if we don’t take control of it, as a society rooted in decency, we will see more of these horrific attacks.
This attacker is alleged to have been a prominent producer of far right antisemitism on Gab, a fringe social media site that ideologically refuses to nip extremism in the bud, using free speech as a shield from responsibility. Twitter continue to allow David Duke, a famed antisemite and former KKK leader a platform, and are yet to remove a video in which the Leader of the Nation of Islam, Louis Farrakhan refers to Jews as “termites.” Facebook routinely fails to take down horrific antisemitic rhetoric and cartoons. Youtube is awash with far right vloggers, debating subjects such as the level of Jewish control in the media and banking, to thousands of supporters. This is a sector-wide failure to enforce the same level of supervision as would be expected for life beyond the internet, and something must be done.