San Diego Synagogue Shooting: Religious Minorities Scapegoated


Saturday 27th April saw another attack on a religious group at prayer, with a shooting at a synagogue near San Diego, California. This attack marks another instalment in a terrifying saga of attacks on religions places of worship. While worshippers gathered at the Congregation Chabad in Poway on  the last day of Passover, 19 year old John Earnest, student at California State University San Marcos, entered the synagogue and began shooting, killing one person and injuring three others. It has been noted that Earnest released a tirade of anti-semitic remarks before opening fire, thus this has been labelled a hate crime. Earnest was arrested and is now in custody, charged with one count of murder and three counts of attempted murder. The deceased has been identified as 60 year old Lori Kaye, the three wounded are in a stable condition. Prior to the attack Earnest had posted references to killing Jewish people on the forum site 8chan, referencing previous attacks on houses of worship such as that of the Synagogue in Pittsburgh six months ago and Christchurch last month. In his letter he goes on to claim responsibility for a fire at a mosque in Escondido a week after the Christchurch attack. The similarity in the letter to that of Brenton Tarrant’s, responsible for the Christchurch attack, suggests that may have been his inspiration.

President Donald Trump, speaking outside the White House Saturday, told reporters, “At this moment it looks like a hate crime, but my deepest sympathies to all of those affected and we’ll get to the bottom of it.” Israeli President Reuven Rivlin also weighed in, describing the recent shooting as “a painful reminder that anti-semitism and hatred of Jews is still with us, everywhere.” He added: “No country and no society are immune (to anti-semitism). Only through education for Holocaust remembrance and tolerance can we deal with this plague.” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has condemned the shooting, announcing he will hold a summit to discuss the increasing number of anti-semitic attacks around the world.

The abhorrent nature of such violent attacks on people engaging in peaceful worship is obvious and the rise of racial prejudices based largely on religion around the world is deeply alarming. This must act as a wake up call to the growth of the menace that is antisemitism. The West has seen a large increase in anti-semitic and anti-islamic sentiments in recent years, the greatest such since world war 2. The two attacks on the Jewish community in America has lead to many to consider whether the US is still safe considering the large white nationalistic movement.
This spike of anti-semitic incidents shows a surge of ancient prejudice in the 21st century. Pasted on a background of increased economic uncertainty with many looking to scapegoat religious minorities within their societies as they become feel marginalised within their own. With an upsurge in the importance of national identity as many feel threatened by multiculturalism. White nationalist groups have been able to flourish in this context. Providing a simple answer to those who have been marginalised, simply ‘they did it’, simplifying their problems and allowing them to gain some semblance of control over their lives.

In the case of the U.S., these sentiments are fanned by President Trump, in contradiction of  his message here. While denouncing the attacks, Trump has openly supported white supremacist groups and during his presidential campaign he attacked Hillary Clinton by posting a picture of her which included a star of David and a pile of money. Clearly anti-semitism is deeply rooted in society.

This incident comes six months after the shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, where Robert Bowers stormed the synagogue, killing 11 people whilst making anti-semitic statements. Furthermore, it was only one month ago when Brenton Tarrant stormed a number of mosques in Christchurch killing 50 worshippers. And more recently than that the church bombings in Sri Lanka. Clearly religiously aggravated attacks are on the rise.
Anti-semitic sentiments have been growing throughout the West with an antisemitic government campaign by Hungary’s far-right government, allegations of anti-semitism within the UK’s labour party.

The spike in anti-semitic attacks in Europe is more than worrying. In 2018, France saw a 74% increase on the previous year of anti-semitic incidents. with President Emmanuel Macron calling it the worst level of anti-semitism since World War 2. In addition, the same period in Germany saw a 62% rise.

The occurrence of attacks upon places of worship and a rise in anti-semitism is deeply concerning. In a background of political uncertainty and many societal issues, the Jewish and Islamic communities are quickly being scapegoated for all of society’s ills. Has the memory of the Holocaust faded enough in people’s minds that they do not see the grave danger of holding these views and allowing themselves to become radicalised by political groups? These are groups who seem to have the simple answer to very complex issues, merely saying ‘it was them’ instead of looking at the real causes of the problems in our society.