During a recent interview that surfaced this week, President Obama answered a question about whether Americans were overreacting to terrorism. He said: “It is entirely legitimate for the American people to be deeply concerned when you’ve got a bunch of violent, vicious zealots who behead people or randomly shoot a bunch of folks in a deli in Paris.”
Later, at a briefing this week, press secretary John Earnest told reporters: “The adverb that the president chose was used to indicate that the individuals who were killed in that terrible, tragic incident were killed not because of who they were but because of where they randomly happened to be.”
Contrast those statements to what Mr. Obama had to say when protests occurred after multiple African Americans were killed by the police over the past year. At that time, Mr. Obama was not afraid to label the underlying issue of racism in the United States, calling it “deeply rooted.” When a human life is cut short through violence, it is a heinous crime, a tragedy beyond words. However, when a person is targeted specifically because of their identity, it is our duty not only to mourn, but to speak up against bigotry.
Calling the kosher supermarket attack “random” is akin to saying that the Birmingham church bombing tragically killed a bunch of random churchgoers. Leaving out that the chosen target was a predominantly African American church and a stronghold for the civil rights movement would be racism by omission. As would be the failure to mention the underlying culture of racism that fueled that particular terrorist attack. It was a culture that was, and in many ways still is, pervasive. It is the deep, sick soil on which “violent, vicious zealots” grow.
We have learned from recent events over the past year: pretending that racism does not exist does not make it disappear. Neither will pretending that radical Islamist anti-Semitism does not exist make it go away. The only possibility for ridding our world of these scourges is to see them, to label them, and to eradicate them through the power of education and the pursuit of justice.
Every individual should have the right to express his or her complex identity without fear of being a victim of a hate crime. We cannot pick and choose which groups we defend— hate is hate. And it is only if we actively stamp out this hate, wherever it exists, can we say with certitude that “we shall overcome.”
Mr. President, please take responsibility for your remarks. In your Nobel Peace Prize address, you said: “We lose ourselves when we compromise the very ideals that we fight to defend. And we honor those ideals by upholding them not when it’s easy, but when it is hard.” As the leader of the free world, your words are powerful and have a profound effect on the world. Clarify your choice of words and speak out against radical Islamist anti-Semitism and the targeted killing of Jews at the Paris Hyper Casher market.”
Authors: Roni Bat Lavi and Yerusalem Work