Jewish Journal

Homeland Insecurity

by Rob Eshman

July 11, 2002 | 8:00 pm

Two words have yet to come up in the commentary and analysis of the tragic July 4 shooting at Los Angeles International Airport. Those words: Buford Furrow.

Furrow was the last man to purposely target Jews in a shooting rampage in Los Angeles. The Aug. 10, 1999 attack at the North Valley Jewish Community Center (NVJCC) seriously wounded two children, concluding a rampage that left Joseph Ileto, a Filipino American postal worker, dead.

The shooting mobilized the Jewish community, which immediately organized for increased security. It also resulted in a continued outpouring of concern from the general community. Then-Attorney General Janet Reno flew in for a memorial service, the community held rallies, newspapers editorialized against the barbarity of it all.

Is what happened at the El Al ticket counter any different from what happened at the NVJCC? Yes and no. Then as now, a madman, fed full of anti-Jewish hatred, walked into a place where he knew his victims would be Jewish and started shooting.

Then-Mayor Richard Riordan quickly labeled the NVJCC shooting for what it was: a hate crime against Jews. Last week, our elected officials and law enforcement spokesmen expressed sympathy, but urged us not to apply labels until all the facts are in. Mayor James Hahn was so insistent that we should all return to enjoying our holiday, I almost went out and threw another barbecue.

This time, I got the sense that by July 6, with the Bradley Terminal again abuzz with passengers, and the LAPD and FBI rebuffing most press questions with a continual chorus of "further investigation is needed," that shooting-up a Jewish-identified facility just isn't as big a deal.

I asked Holocaust historian Michael Berenbaum what he makes of that. "We've developed a higher threshold for these kinds of attacks," he told me. "We have to be careful that we don't come to accept them as the cost of doing business."

I can understand the reason for the lack of strong, blunt language. Officialdom feared that saying the "T" word -- terrorism -- would cause mass panic. Maybe politicians were afraid of offending Muslims by leaping to the conclusion that a crazed, gun-wielding Muslim American must be motivated by anti-Israel sentiment, and can't just be despondent or drugged-up like other crazed, gun-wielding Americans.

Or maybe officials understood that the shooting, on a day when law enforcement and intelligence services were operating at their highest level of preparedness, was proof positive that "homeland security" is, at the end of the day, more of a boast than a guarantee.

I also suspect officials weren't clear whether an attack against an Israeli target counts as an attack on Jews. Short answer: yes, it does. Think of anti-Israel demonstrators at the Federal Building carrying signs equating the Star of David with the swastika. The line between anti-Israeli violence and anti-Jewish violence isn't just thin, it's essentially non-existent.

The question of whether the shooting was an act of terrorism, a hate crime or just a crime will be debated for some time. I have a hunch that investigators will end up agreeing with what Yuval Rotem, consul general of Israel in Los Angeles, has been saying since July 4: attacks like these don't occur in a vacuum. They grow out of an environment that demonizes Israel and Jews and justifies violence against innocents.

You need only read media translation services to glimpse the crude, hate-filled and conspiratorial language the Arab media directs against Israel and world Jewry on a regular basis. The Internet is full of it, as is Abu Dhabi-based Al-Jazeera television, beamed via satellite into homes from Ramallah to Rancho Park. Even in the more moderate Arab-American press, such as The Minaret, this propaganda goes largely unchallenged.

Furrow was an unstable soul twisted toward an act of horrid violence by white supremacist hate speech and literature. The same influences, sponsored by religious leaders and state-controlled media, bore down on the Muslim shooter at LAX. The chilling fact is there is a lot more money and resources behind the hate spewed in the Muslim press, and several million more listeners.

You don't have to uncover a flotilla of shaheeds putting ashore at midnight on a Malibu beachhead to wonder if what is at work here isn't more than hate speech gone postal. "Is this the internationalization of the intifada?" Sam Freedman, author of "Jew vs. Jew," asked during a visit to Los Angeles last week. "Perhaps this is part of the intifada being fought outside Israel and the territories."

Think of the time several weeks ago in France in which a gang of Muslim youth descended on a Jewish soccer team with fists and knives. There have been similar incidents around the world, verbal and physical assaults on Jews by Muslims wrapped in the flag of Palestinian resistance. None of this need be organized, a la Al Qaeda. Given America's bounty of readily available guns, spontaneity can be deadly enough.

I hope Freedman's hypothesis turns out to be incorrect. But if he's right, may the memory of the victims, Yaakov Aminov and Victoria Hen, be as a blessing, and a warning, to us all.

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