What do pro-Israel Jewish Americans, Italian Americans, and American Southerners have in common? First and most obviously, they have proud traditions based on Judeo-Christian ethics. Judaism, Catholicism, and Protestantism, the predominant religions in the groups, share belief in God though there are many and complex variations in their beliefs and practices. Second, another important thing they have in common is that their cultures are increasingly under attack in America, particularly with respect to removal and desecration of their monuments and symbols.
In December, 2023, a pro-Palestinian protester scaled a large menorah on the town green in New Haven, Connecticut, and placed a Palestinian flag in the candles. In Oakland, California, an 11-foot menorah was broken and thrown into a lake. In Juno, Florida, a menorah made of sand was destroyed. According to the Anti-Defamation League, antisemitic incidents are up 360% from a year ago, including 553 acts of vandalism, many involving synagogues.
On June 24, 2020, also in New Haven, Connecticut, the Christopher Columbus statue in Wooster Square Park was removed during a racially-charged violent protest led by an attacker wearing a t-shirt upon which was printed “WHITE LIVES MATTER TOO MUCH.” The statue had been given to the city in 1892, on the 400th anniversary of Columbus’s discovery of the new world, by the Italian American community, and the city promised to protect the statue in perpetuity. According to the Washington Post, as of October 26, 2021, at least 40 Columbus monuments had been removed in the US, most of them in the months following the death of George Floyd when violent protesters ran amok in American cities. Despite legal battles in New Haven, Syracuse, New York, and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and in many other cities, more Columbus statues are vulnerable and more will fall.
And in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, on the campus of the University of North Carolina, a Confederate statue in place since 1913 was toppled by violent protesters on August 20, 2018. The base of the statue was removed in January 2019 amid threats of further violence. The Southern Poverty Law Center in February 2021 claimed that over 160 additional confederate symbols were removed in 2020 during and after the violence of that summer. Many more monuments and statues were subsequently removed by local governments, purportedly to prevent further violence. In December 2023, the Confederate Memorial in the Arlington National Cemetery was removed despite legal efforts.
The attacks on the monuments of the three groups have followed similar strategies. Violent protesters attacked from the shadows, frequently with their faces hidden behind keffiyeh, or by masks and hoods, in the name of aggrieved minorities. They then vandalized or removed monuments and symbols and threatened further violence. In the cases of the Italian Americans and the Southerners, irresolute local governments then removed symbols under threats of further violence rather than protect them. Whether local governments will protect monuments and symbols important to the Jewish community remains to be seen. Their track record has not been impressive.
Why are these groups attacked? Are the attacks individual uncoordinated actions carried out by justifiably aggrieved minorities against monuments representing oppressive cultures? The evidence suggests otherwise. The tactics are the same—violence and threats of more violence. The timeframes, at least for the majority of Confederate and Columbus monuments, are the same— in 2020 in the aftermath of the George Floyd death. And the perpetrators also appear to have much in common. Though detailed information regarding their identities is limited—few have been prosecuted—they use violence, disguise their faces, and usually attack at night. Black Lives Matter leaves graffiti and signage. And according to the Anti-Defamation League, the increase in violence in the last year against the Jewish community has also come from the far left.
There have always been attacks on Jewish symbols and monuments. But in 2020 a dramatic increase of violent desecrations and removals came first to the Italian American and American southern communities and then to the Jewish community.
Same playbook, same play.
The Smiths, an 80’s British band, wrote in their popular song Ask, “if it’s not love, then it’s the bomb . . . that will bring us together.” Fortunately, no bomb has yet accompanied the attacks in America, though what a bomb could do in Israel is unthinkable. It is time that these three American cultures whose symbols and traditions are under attack recognize that whatever their differences, they now have a common enemy, and that it is time to share some love and fight back together before it’s the bomb that unites them. A good start is to insist that governments protect their monuments and symbols.