There’s been a lot of talk since 9/11 about anti-Muslim and anti-Arab discrimination and yet according to actual hate-crime statistics it is Jews who’ve had the most to fear.

According to the FBI’s Hate Crimes Statistics Report for 2002 there were 155 anti-Islamic incidents and 931 anti-Jewish incidents that year. And as anyone who follows these developments knows the majority of these anti-Jewish acts were perpetrated by Arabs and/or Muslims.

Of course the media has remained largely silent on this issue preferring instead to stick to their usual script of brown victims and white oppressors. But Jews themselves do not have that luxury. Indeed many young Jews who never before encountered anti-Semitism are now reading daily about synagogue burnings blood libels grave defacements school fire-bombings and the cold-blooded and deliberate murder of Jews. And many are experiencing hatred on a personal level for the first time as well. 

My own brush with anti-Semitism in the post-9/11 landscape first came while I was counter-protesting at peace rallies in San Francisco before the war in Iraq. Most of the vitriol was couched in anti-Israel terminology such as the hysterical accusations of genocide displayed on signs and the Intifada T-shirts worn by members of the crowd. On one occasion I was called a Zionist pig simply because I dared to hold an Israeli flag. Even more direct was the Arab teenager with a Kill the Jews sign in hand.

But I had become aware of anti-Semitism long before 9/11 mostly through my neighborhood grocery stores. San Francisco has many such corner stores the nicest of which are owned and run by Arab-Americans.

A former neighbor of mine made the mistake one day of engaging in a political conversation with our local Arab store owner. Somehow the subject of Australians came up and she mentioned in passing their attitude toward the British. Not knowing she was Jewish the man nodded in agreement saying how much he hated Jews. Dumbfounded she simply walked out the door without comment.

From then on the store became known as the Jew-Haters. We continued patronizing the place joking about how we were going down to the Jew-Haters for some milk or a loaf of bread. But our casual indifference concealed a real fear — evident in the fact that we both tucked our Star of David necklaces into our shirts whenever we went in after that.

I later switched neighborhoods and hence corner stores but in a cruel twist of fate it turned out the Jew-Haters owned another store in the vicinity of my new address. A friend of mine who isn’t even Jewish ended up in an argument one day with the owner who blamed Israel for the 9/11 attacks and conjured up the canard that 4 000 Jews stayed home that day on a tip from the Mossad. My friend pointed out how ludicrous and anti-Semitic these accusations were but to no avail. Not being able to stomach giving money to the Jew-Haters any longer neither of us returned to the store 

I still frequent other local Arab-owned corner stores mostly out of necessity but also because ironically they provide the friendliest service in the city. But in the back of my mind there lingers a nagging question. I can’t help wondering if they would be as friendly if they knew I was a Jew. In fact I wonder if they would want to slit my throat if they knew I was a Jew. As the young men behind the counter smilingly hands me my change such are the
thoughts that go through my mind.

Having lived most of my life as a tolerant egalitarian type I dislike feeling this way. But I’ve read too many disturbing passages in the Koran such as the one where Muslims are instructed not only to avoid befriending disbelievers but to kill them as well. I’ve seen the videos of Daniel Pearl and Nick Berg both Jews beheaded like animals by calm cool Arab terrorists. I’ve seen the photos of Palestinians triumphantly holding up their hands stained by Jewish blood and dancing gleefully in the streets — the heads and remains of Jewish soldiers held aloft.

But it is the story of Sebastien Selam the young Jewish DJ in France who was murdered last year by his Arab neighbor that haunts me the most. The two young men had been friends but after slitting Sebastien’s throat and mutilating his face with a fork the Arab youth simply said I have killed my Jew. I will go to heaven. How a person can reconcile his or her innate sense of humanity with such callous indifference to life — this is a question I continue to struggle with.

The mundane nature of evil has confounded mankind throughout history and the current situation is no exception. Today’s monsters could very well be the shop-keeper down the street a neighbor in your building or even someone you think is a friend. And for Jews in particular such realities raise difficult questions. All too often these concerns go unspoken for fear of giving offense but the rising body count should add some perspective. We have seen in the past where such willful ignorance leads. Can we really afford to go down that path again?


Previous articleForever Royal, Forever Loyal: A King’s Timeless Tribute To His Maker
Next articleRonald Reagan and the Jews