By Gabi Kirk
These are the 9 Black worshippers killed in the Emanuel AME Church.
The Reverend Clementa Pinckney
The Reverend Sharonda Coleman-Singleton
Depayne Middleton Doctor
The Reverend Daniel Simmons
May the memories of the holy be a blessing.
Every year since I could remember, my home synagogue in Los Gatos rents a church for the High Holidays to fit the crowds. Every year, there are cops standing outside the church, parked outside the parking lot, for security. My synagogue is not unique — most synagogues, JCCs, and Jewish institutional buildings around the country have multiple security layers. When visiting the Jewish Federation of Chicago a few years ago, I went through their around the clock security, metal detectors, and these creepy futuristic pod “security doors.”
The Jewish Diaspora remembers the L.A. and Kansas City JCCs, the Buenos Aires bombing, and the Copenhagen shootings, among others, and is terrified. Thus American Jews call upon state security to protect congregants and buildings. For me, this security took place without a trace of irony in Los Gatos & Saratoga, two incredibly wealthy, predominantly white adjoining suburbs in the most economically stratified county of the Bay Area. We called the police protectors, ignoring the violence they perpetrated elsewhere and the violence that created our segregated suburban enclaves.
Black worshippers are not afforded such “protection” — unless the state imposes it to control. This includes metal detectors in black schools, security guards and campus police to control youth, stop and frisk, or any other element of the prison-industrial complex which criminalizes black lives. Police standing outside a Black church would not even be comforting to many, but rather a reminder of more possible attackers as Black people die every day at the hands of police.
So how did Jewish institutions respond to a terrorist attack on a Black house of worship? Major institutions have put out statements condemning the attack, because they have a conscience. So the bare minimum standard is set. A few smaller Jewish racial justice groups have expanded the critique, calling out anti-Black racism and white supremacy. For this I am grateful. But I cannot really call them part of “institutional” Jewish life because they lack the foundational, financial, and historical place to be powerhouses. Yet I wonder, why have Jewish institutions like JCRCs, Foundations, and others kept it at such a surface level mourning? Why have some spoken only about gun violence or called it an “alleged hate crime” without naming the motivation for a white man to seek Black victims? It is easy enough to just be against hatred and bigotry, or weapons of destruction, but this attack was about more than that. This was planned for months. This was perpetrated by a man who supported colonial white supremacist governments in southern Africa. Why do Jewish institutions not name the foundational ideology of these attacks — white supremacy?
Because to name white supremacy is to look in the mirror and name Jewish complicity in this system. I do not just mean white privilege afforded to white Jews — and just in case you haven’t been following along, being Jewish absolutely does not equal white for the multiplicity of Jews of color. My own synagogue, growing up, had Jews of many different racial backgrounds and family arrangements, all protected by cop cars out front. American Jewish institutions, regardless of the race of their congregants, have, for decades now, benefited from white supremacist institutions in America. I also question why major Jewish organizations are for more gun control — but happily stand behind armed police for protection.
What does this all have to do with the Occupation?
Just before a white man murdered 9 Black people in cold blood, there was a Jewish terrorist attack against an ancient church in the Galilee. Yes, I used the “t” word. Setting fire to a hugely popular church to both Palestinian Christians and international tourists while there were people inside; leaving threatening messages; the clear motivation for the attack being based in a supremacist ideology with a well organized institutional movement behind it. Liberal Israeli groups and Israeli politicians can call it a hate crime all they want. Evidently the “t” word is reserved for those the state considers enemies — and if the arrest and prosecution record of Jewish terrorists is any indication, the Israeli state considers them nuisances at best, or seem to not care at all. Only attacks that threaten the Jewish character, not the democratic character, of Israel are “enemies.”
Jon Stewart, the unofficial spokesperson for liberal American Jews, fell apart when talking about the AME massacre last week. “We’re bringing it on ourselves…Al Qaeda, ISIS — they’re not shit compared to the damage that we can apparently do to ourselves on a regular basis.” I could easily hear many of my Israeli friends echo these sentiments. When we look at the depravity and violence of the Occupation, who is the real threat here? Regardless of attacks from others outside of the borders, Israel is doing a fine job of destroying itself and any hope for peace from within through Jewish supremacy and terrorism against Palestinians — and this is on both sides of the Green Line. Israel has built up the biggest security industry in the world after the U.S. Yet hiding behind rockets and tanks has seemed to do little for “security” — three consecutive massacres in Gaza has left Palestinians shivering and starving, but has not ended rocket fire, but simply pushed it off for a few months at a time. Instead, the daily violence and indignity of the Occupation has for many Palestinians convinced them that the only solution is through armed resistance.
American Jews, for the safety of our own community and for the survival of all people, need to change our approach to community security. What would it be like if we no longer had police in front of our houses of worship? Or guns pointed at our borders? I challenge us to imagine what a world is like where we root out white supremacy and Jewish supremacy, alongside anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, and all other forms of bigotry, at the source as a way to prevent future attacks. That, and not an ever increasing arsenal which is meant not for our protection but to keep powerless people down, is what will keep our community whole. Not just physically, but spiritually as well.