The Antidote to Hate Crimes

The stabbing of five people at an orthodox Jewish rabbi’s home in New York state during Hanukkah celebrations on Saturday added one more dreadful statistic to the wave of hate crimes associated with the resurgence of antiSemitism in the West. Then came news of a gun attack in a Texas church during service-time on Sunday. No doubt we shall be told in due course who the attackers were and what their motivation was thought to be. We in the U.K. will probably allow ourselves to wonder whether the frequency of mass shootings in the U.S.A. (see https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-50936575) has created a culture of indifference towards such violence, but we have nothing to be proud of when we consider the rise in knife crime in our own city streets. The fact is that the expression of hatred is becoming harder and harder to contain or neutralise. The kind of anger and abuse we find in social media easily translates into violent action, only we tend not to see or want to acknowledge the way in which it can affect both ourselves and others. There are no boundaries, it seems — except for some fashionable hate crimes which seem to draw a disproportionate amount of attention because endorsed by the celebrities of our day.

I was struck by the response of Mayor de Blasio to what happened in Monsey: he promised more security in Jewish areas, by which I presume he means more armed guards, and a programme of education in schools. As Rabbi Sacks sadly remarked, in a tweet published yesterday,

Antisemitism has returned within living memory of the Holocaust, and after more than half a century of programs of legislation, and education designed to ensure that it could never happen again.

Legislation and education don’t appear to have changed things, and while there are those who will say it was because a churchgoer had a gun on him that the attack in Texas was no worse than it was, some of us still find the thought of taking weapons into a place of worship highly questionable. Two thousand years since the birth of the Prince of Peace and we still have not learned that violence too often begets violence!

As 2019 races towards its close, we are faced with an ever starker choice. Do we want to be people of violence or of peace? Are we going to pass the poison on, or are we going to say, ‘No. I refuse to be part of that violence’? If our answer is ‘no’ we must be prepared for huge sacrifices. It will mean being extremely careful about how we speak or act, not in the sense of being cowardly but in the sense of being mindful how our words and deeds increase or decrease the stock of tension in the world. It may be ‘fun’ to denigrate others with our witty put-downs; it may be a relief to our feelings to disparage those with whom we disagree; it may even be a source of inner congratulation to have pointed out the wrongness of a policy or an individual’s behaviour, but we do need to think about possible consequences. It is no good lighting a touch-paper and then lamenting the fact that the building burned down. The only real antidote to hate-crimes comes from those who are not prepared to hate. Which will we choose?

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9 thoughts on “The Antidote to Hate Crimes”

  1. Thank you Dame Catherine for this thoughtful and timely piece. I hear from friends at Hampstead Parish Church that the local shops who were targeted with antisemitic graffiti at the weekend, responded by placing messages of welcome and inclusion in the space where the graffit had been. More power to peace!

  2. Dear Sister Catherine

    As usual, in a few words you touch the individual; raising pertinent, interesting and thought provoking choices to a current situation that concerns us all and you don’t just high light the issue, then leave it there. Thank you.

  3. Sister, are you (or is one of your readers) able to refer me to an article explaining this rise of anti-Semitism which I find baffling and haven’t witnessed here in NW Wales? I assume it has nothing to do with disapproval of Israeli politics, which I feel is a perfectly legitimate stance.

    • Explaining the rise of antisemitism is difficult, though there is a huge amount of history and background we could go into. I don’t really know where to start. I wonder if any of our Jewish readers would like to make a suggestion? We have always wanted someone to blame, someone to hate or fear, I guess. I get most of my own information about antisemitic outbursts or attacks from the Jewish Chronicle or the secular media. The one thing I would say is that being opposed to some of the state of Israel’s policies/actions or what is frequently termed Zionism (though it isn’t always that, either) is not to be confused with antisemitism, though I believe one should state clearly to what one is opposed and why, otherwise it can end up being antisemitic! If you use Twitter, Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg @TheRaDR is offering a short Twitter course on anti-semitiesm.

  4. I’ve found this post thought-provoking on many levels. How ‘clever’ at the time did I think my own retort to a relative over Christmas who was gushing over Christmas ‘being for the kiddies’; theologically correct, yes, but I could have put it more kindly, more charitably… more chance too that it might have been pondered on rather than the hearer possibly smarting at my words… ouch… (please don’t use my surname)

    • It’s very honest of you to share that comment with the rest of us, and I pray that whatever hurt or misunderstanding you feel you may be responsible for will be healed, and that you yourself will be at peace about it.

  5. Thank you for that. I think I understand the rise of antisemitism in pre-war Germany, and earlier manifestations. It’s the recent phenomenon which eludes me, the sudden burst, as it were.

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