The terrorist attack targeting a Congregation Beth Israel Synagogue in Texas on Shabbat elicited a flurry of responses and declarations, many of them, most notably from President Biden, diverting attention away from the blatant anti-Semitic motives.
Biden: “Not enough information”
President Joe Biden released a statement about the attack soon after the release of the hostages referencing the blatant motives behind the attack targeting a synagogue on Shabbat.
“There is more we will learn in the days ahead about the motivations of the hostage-taker,” the statement read. “But let me be clear to anyone who intends to spread hate—we will stand against anti-Semitism and against the rise of extremism in this country.”
In his address to the media on Sunday, the president emphasized that the attack was an “act of terror”, repeating the phrase several times while identifying the motive as being connected to gaining the release of a Pakistani terrorist.
President Biden briefly spoke about the Texas synagogue hostage situation while volunteering at Philabundance, a hunger relief organization in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania pic.twitter.com/Jsnhhh1JMJ
— Bloomberg Quicktake (@Quicktake) January 16, 2022
The president was asked about the weapon used in the attack and noted that the availability of weapons in the US was problematic.
When asked for details on the motives of the terrorist, Biden tried to deflect. The reporter pressed on, asking why the gunman targeted the specific synagogue but the president continued to deflect:
“We don’t have — I don’t think there is sufficient information to know about why he targeted that synagogue or why he insisted on the release of someone who’s been in prison for over 10 years, why he was engaged — why he was using antisemitic and anti-Israeli comments. I — we just don’t have enough facts,” Biden said.
FBI: One issue, not related to Jewish community
The FBI identified the hostage-taker as Malik Faisal Akram, 44. While Akram was described in the media as a British citizen who was homeless and had a history of mental illness, his religion, ethnicity, and national origin are not being reported.
This presidential deflection away from the obvious anti-Semitic element of the attack was echoed by the FBI.
“We do believe from our engagement with this subject that he was singularly focused on one issue, and it was not specifically related to the Jewish community,” FBI Special Agent Matthew DeSarno said from the scene on Saturday night.
When pressed by the media, he made an astonishing statement that the attack should not be perceived as a threat to the Jewish community.
“I’m not ready to add any more about the demands set, except that they were specifically focused on one issue that was not specifically threatening to the Jewish community,” he said.
The insistence that the attack was not anti-Semitic in its essence but was, instead, focused on the release of the Pakistani terrorist, Aafia Siddiqui, only underscores the Jew-hating focus of the incident as she was notoriously anti-Israel and anti-Semitic. During her trial, she told the judge that she didn’t want Jews in the jury “if they have a Zionist or Israeli background,” adding: “I have a feeling everyone here is them, subject to genetic testing.” After her conviction, she said, “This is a verdict coming from Israel and not from America. That’s where the anger belongs.”
President of the synagogue: “Random violence”
This misdirection was furthered by the synagogue itself which released a statement saying:
“We know that a situation of this magnitude could increase the concern many of us live with on a day-to-day basis due to antisemitism,” president of Congregation Micahel Finfer said. “It is important to note that this was a random act of violence. Indeed, there was a one in a million chance that the gunman picked our congregation. Further, the FBI is confirming that the attacker appeared to be working alone.”
The head of the Reform Judaism movement, Rabbi Rick Jacobs, strongly disagreed.
“There’s no doubt that the underlying whole premise of yesterday was antisemitism,” Rabbi Jacobs told MSNBC in a Sunday interview. “The hostage-taker didn’t go to McDonald’s, didn’t go to some random place, and that is part of the story of antisemitism, to single Jews out.”
“I don’t know one Jewish person who’s in the dark about yesterday’s antisemitic attack,” Jacobs continued. “Obviously it’s important to know what we’re discovering about the hostage-taker, but the truth is, on a Sabbath morning, a community gathered in prayer… somebody come in bent on harm. That is hardly something we would call just an incidental detail. That is a focal point.”
Even the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) noted the anti-Jewish element of the attack in a tweet calling it the “latest antisemitic attack on Jewish Americans”
Media watchdog Honest Reporting slammed this obfuscation:
“Overall, the attack on the Congregation Beth Israel synagogue did not occur in a vacuum, having followed deadly shooting incidents at synagogues in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and Poway, California in 2018 and 2019, respectively,” Honest Reporting wrote. “Rather, it comes against a backdrop of rising antisemitism — at a time when the vast majority of religiously-motivated hate crimes in the US target Jews.”
Donald Trump Jr. posted a derisive tweet ridiculing the FBI’s statements. “Oh good, for a second there I was worried that Islamic Extremist Terrorists may have targeted a synagogue on purpose,” the former president’s son wrote.
Trump Jr. went on to criticize the FBI by making an oblique reference to tactics used by the law enforcement agency when dealing with “domestic terrorism” that blurred the line between investigation and complicity.
“How long has the FBI been watching/working with the synagogue terrorist?” Trump Jr. wrote. “Must be a while now considering how slow they have been to give us anything other than the bs ‘TX synagogue hostage taker’s demands were specifically focused on issue not connected to the Jewish community’.”
This was echoed by Pamela Geller, a right-wing activist, who tweeted, “So ask yourself, who is this new department of ‘domestic terrorism’ going to target?”
These concerns are over a new unit formed by the Justice Department to combat domestic terrorism.
“The threat posed by domestic terrorism is on the rise,” Assistant Attorney General Matthew Olsen told the Senate Judiciary Committee. “The number of FBI investigations of suspected violent extremists has more than doubled since the spring of 2020.”
It should be emphasized that there is no federal domestic terrorism statute. US law defines domestic terrorism as violence intended to coerce or intimidate either a civilian population or government policy. Prosecutors have alleged that the riots on January 6 have been classified as domestic terrorism. Attorney General Merrick Garland was called to testify before Congress after he issued a memo at the behest of the White House comparing disgruntled parents at school board meetings to domestic terrorists.