Why the Attack on The Synagogue in Pittsburgh was Not an Example of Religious Intolerance.

I read this afternoon that Whitehouse spokesperson, Kellyanne Conaway called the Pittsburgh attack religious intolerance/persecution, and blamed the media for fostering those who ridicule religious groups.

It was not. I’m afraid that for once I have to agree with the president. The attack was anti-semitism. A hate crime, but not necessarily a religious hate crime.

But isn’t anti-Semitism religious persecution? Jews are a religious group aren’t they? So an attack on Jews, especially in a synagogue must be religious persecution, surely?

But jews are not exactly a religious group. The religion that many of them practice is known as Judaism, but the majority of jews do not practice it. A person can hardly be religiously-persecuted for a religion they do not practice, or even profess. In fact jews who convert to other religions still remain jews in the eyes of non-jews. The 19th century British Prime Minister, Benjamin Disraeli, converted to Christianity around the age of eleven––and attended church regularly––yet has always been regarded as Jewish both by his opponents and his supporters. This doesn’t seem to apply to other religions. Muslims who become Christian are Christians. Christians who become Buddhists are Bhuddists, so why not jews, if judaism is a religion?

(Incidentally jews who become Buddhists are known as BuJews).

Jews are not a race either. There are long-standing communities of jews in Africa, India and China, as well as Europe and the Middle East, and jews in all of these places are physically indistinguishable from other groups who live there, so anti-semitism isn’t exactly racism either, and just to add to the confusion, jews are not really a ‘people.’ Being a people would imply that they had a shared nationhood, but they do not. There is certainly the jewish nation of Israel, but most of the world’s jews do not live there––nor have they even visited––or ever even had any plans to do so.

So, jews are barely a group in any sense, and that is what makes anti-semitism so slippery, and at the same time so pervasive.

The Spanish Inquisition was religious persecution. Over the centuries, thousands of jews were sentenced to death for their religious convictions, but many escaped death by converting to Christianity. Many of those converts became very sincere christians, even to the point of assisting in the Inquisition.

Even so, they were never quite accepted as Christians, being known as Converrsos (converts), or less-flatteringly, as Maranos (pigs).

The Nazi persecution was not at all based on religion. Jews who converted to Christianity did not escape the camps. According to the rules at the time, anyone who had three jewish grandparents was subject to persecution, regardless of the religion they professed––or even if they had never been to any kind of religious ceremony in their lives. Benjamin Disraeli, had he been living in Nazi Germany would have been subject to persecution, no matter how Christian was.

These rules were slackened (in a diabolical way) as the Nazis conquered Eastern Europe. By the time the SS extermination units (Einsatzgruppen?) were making their way across Ukraine you only needed one jewish grandparent to be marked for death, and these units were nothing if not efficient. In Babi Yar, in 1941, 33,000 jewish men women, and children––even babies––were shot to death in a matter of three days.

Of course there were non-jews among these victims, but the vast majority were jews.

The slippery thing about anti-semitism is that most of its proponents know it’s wrong. The Nazis tried to hide their exterminations as they believed they would win, and would have to answer inconvenient questions about where so many people had disappeared to. As the holocaust reached its climax the Nazis used jewish guards, known as Sonderkommandos, to herd victims into the gas chambers, then drag the bodies to the crematoria. All the Sonderkommandos would them be killed and replaced on a three month cycle in order to stop the secrets getting out.

Modern anti-semites also know that they are wrong, so they disguise their hatred of jews as hatred of ‘international bankers’ or the ‘Hollywood elites’ or ‘the media,’ or ’communism,’ or ‘atheism,’ or ‘secularism,’ or any one of dozens of isms that may or may not have jewish adherents.

Patrick Bowers would not have known exactly why he’d felt compelled to kill jews when he burst into the Tree of Life last Saturday, but it certainly wouldn’t have been for religious reasons––or perhaps any concrete reasons whatsoever. He just believed in his ignorance-addled mind that he had to kill as many jews as possible.

He knew he was wrong though. Even as he surrendered to the police he claimed that the jews were practicing genocide against his people and, it seems from the transcripts that he tried to encourage the police to join him in his crusade.