Common stereotypes I often hear are that Jewish people hold power in the banks, Hollywood and the government. These are antisemitic beliefs that are dangerous and can lead to violence.
On Jan. 15, four people were taken hostage by an armed man in a Colleyville, Texas synagogue where they were held for 11 hours. The hostages narrowly escaped with their lives.
The gunman was a British citizen named Malik Faisal Akram. His motive: demand the release of Aafia Siddiqui, a woman serving an 86-year sentence after being convicted of attempted murder of U.S. soldiers.
After initially believing Akram did not specifically target the Jewish community, the FBI declared the incident a hate crime and act of terrorism.
Akram took these innocent people captive because according to Jeffrey Cohen, one of the congregants whom Akram took hostage, he was genuinely convinced that Jewish people held the power to release Siddiqui from prison.
Like Akram, many hold a misconception that Jews have some unspoken power. This ideology is damaging to the Jewish community, not only in Texas but the whole world. Dangerous antisemitic conspiracies led Akram to the conclusion that the Jewish population controls the world and could utilize their power to free Siddiqui.
In originally dismissing the fact that this terroristic act was a hate crime immediately after the attack, the FBI undermined the severity of the situation and antisemitism in America.
According to the United States Department of Justice, the definition of a hate crime is “crimes committed based on the victim’s perceived or actual race, color, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity or disability.”
According to their definition, holding people at gunpoint at their place of peace for 11 hours in hopes their religion could release a prisoner would, in fact, be considered a hate crime.
The circulation of antisemitic rumors is all too familiar and present in today’s society. Well-known Hollywood director Oliver Stone claimed that “America’s focus on the Jewish genocide by Adolf Hitler and his National Socialist henchmen in Germany and Austria is a result of ‘the Jewish domination of the media.’”
In October 2018, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy posted a tweet accusing “three Jewish billionaires — George Soros, Tom Steyer and Michael Bloomberg — of trying to ‘buy’ the midterms.”
It is crucial to acknowledge just how hateful it is to claim that “Jewish people are in power and control.” These dangerously false accusations made by prominent people fuel people like Akram to commit violent antisemitic hate crimes.
The Jewish community has been and still is a target for damaging conspiracy theories. People fail to recognize the overt hate and prejudice tied to these theories. Ignoring the influence of these baseless claims has led four innocent people to be traumatized for the rest of their lives.
It’s easy for people to sweep things under the rug when they don’t look at these problems through a deeper lens. Just because Akram didn’t express an overt dislike for Jews doesn’t mean what he did wasn’t a hate crime.
It is time to put a stop to antisemitic conspiracies. The further we allow people to believe and perpetuate harmful stereotypes, the more hate crimes will take place and the more lives will be lost.