Why the Jews? Debate Erupts Over How to Explain the Mumbai Terror
By J.J. Goldberg
Thu. Dec 18, 2008
On December 5, just one week after terrorist atrocities left at least 180 dead in Mumbai, The Jewish Week of New York published a blistering editorial, consecrating the event as one more milestone in antisemitism.
Sitting in his home, Larry Yudelson, a veteran journalist and observant Jew, was incensed as he read the piece. In a December 11 posting on his popular blog, Yudeline, Yudelson lambasted it as “an editorial that will live in infamy.”
Quoting its opening, Yudelson wrote: “You wouldn’t know from this paragraph — or the eight that follow — that nearly 200 non-Jews were killed in the coordinated terror attacks, whose primary targets were foreigners in Mumbai. The official paper of the UJA-Federation of Greater New York treats them as unpersons.”
It was, he wrote, “a particularly egregious example of the particularistic Jewish response.”
In fact, however, it is not clear whether the Chabad victims were hit simply for being Jews or—in a city of 5,000 native Indian Jews whose nine synagogues were left unscathed—they were targeted as symbols of Western Jewry, Zionism and Israel or – as many observers believe – modernity, globalization, Western civilization or some combination of all of them.
Survivors of the hotel attacks report that the terrorists also specifically sought out Americans and British citizens and, of course, the mostly upper-class Indian patrons at these sites. The attackers prioritized them for murder, often passing over other non-Indians. Moreover, while under siege, one of the terrorists at the Chabad center called a popular Indian TV channel. On the air, he ranted specifically against the recent visit of an Israeli general to the Indian-ruled section of Kashmir, where India is locked in a bitter, decades-old conflict with Pakistan. Israel has become an increasingly important arms supplier to India in this clash.
“There were complex dynamics at work here,” said Jerome Chanes, a prominent sociologist of American Jewry and scholar of antisemitism. “It was about India and Pakistan; it was about ethnic tensions, and it was about antisemitism.”
“The terrorists hate the West as the antithesis of their absolutism,” agreed Rabbi Irving Greenberg, a pioneering theologian and scholar of the Holocaust. “And they hate the Jews because they see them as a symbolic representative of Western civilization. The Jews are a focus, but this is a much broader agenda.” By contrast, he said, “the Nazis were focused specifically on killing Jews.”
Still, Judeocentric particularism has its staunch defenders. The author of the Jewish Week editorial, Jonathan Mark, the paper’s associate editor, argued in an interview that “no one would ever challenge the Amsterdam News or El Diario or the Advocate,” referring to leading black, Hispanic and gay community newspapers, “if they took a position that reflects their community.”