As news of the horrific knife attack in Monsey was breaking on Saturday – the police still in pursuit of the perpetrator, the injured victims being rushed to hospitals – the CNN anchor turned to the network’s correspondent in Jerusalem for reaction.
It’s hard to imagine how, in any other circumstances, a violent crime in the heart of the United States would cause a network to turn to a foreign nation for comment. But the spate of anti-Semitic attacks on American Jews over the past few months, culminating in this month’s Jersey City and Monsey attacks, sent them to what they assumed would be a logical address for the most immediate reaction to Jewish persecution: the Jewish state.
In reality, though, Israeli leaders are now often hesitant to be among the first to speak out against anti-Semitic violence in the Diaspora. It isn’t because they aren’t deeply concerned by the phenomenon, which is being covered thoroughly in Israel, but because the odds of saying the wrong thing are high.
The degree of difficulty in devising the appropriate response has also risen in an era where anti-Semitism has become a political weapon. Israel’s leaders are justifiably fearful that the slightest slip of the tongue will be transformed into ammunition in the left-right political wars overseas, and then fired against the Jewish state itself.
A week of anti-Semitic attacks in New York EDUARDO MUNOZ/REUTERS
That caution was evident in the defensive tone of the very first official response to the attack, provided by President Reuven Rivlin. “Anti-Semitism is not just a Jewish problem, and certainly not just the State of Israel’s problem,” Rivlin stated. “We must work together to confront this rising evil, which is a real global threat.”
Rivlin’s words set the tone for other Israeli officials. They walked a tightrope between Israel’s commitment to defending Jews around the world, refusing to stand by passively as they suffer and die at the hands of attackers, while avoiding the appearance of treading on the internal political and security matters of another country.
It took until Sunday for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to issue his carefully worded reaction at the start of the weekly cabinet meeting. “Israel strongly condemns the recent displays of anti-Semitism, including the vicious attack at the home of a rabbi in Monsey, NY, during Hanukkah,” he said. He also expressed willingness to “cooperate however possible with the local authorities in order to assist in defeating this phenomenon. We offer our assistance to every country.”