Biden after Texas synagogue attack: ‘We will stand against antisemitism’

US president says he’s sending a ‘clear’ message to those who spread hate; Bennett thanks rescuers, says Israel in solidarity with Jews worldwide

US President Joe Biden delivers remarks at the White House in Washington, DC, December 6, 2021. (CHIP SOMODEVILLA / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / Getty Images via AFP)
US President Joe Biden delivers remarks at the White House in Washington, DC, December 6, 2021. (CHIP SOMODEVILLA / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / Getty Images via AFP)

US President Joe Biden vowed Saturday to stand against antisemitism and extremism as he sent a message of support to members of a synagogue in Texas who were held for hours at gunpoint.

After an 11-hour siege, all the hostages were released during a rescue operation. Law enforcement officials confirmed the attacker’s death. It wasn’t clear if law enforcement killed him or he died by suicide.

The gunman, who has not been identified in the media, had reportedly demanded the release of a Pakistani national held in a nearby prison in return for the hostages’ lives.

“There is more we will learn in the days ahead about the motivations of the hostage-taker,” Biden said in a statement released by the White House. “But let me be clear to anyone who intends to spread hate — we will stand against anti-Semitism and against the rise of extremism in this country.

“I am grateful to the tireless work of law enforcement at all levels who acted cooperatively and fearlessly to rescue the hostages,” Biden said.

“We are sending love and strength to the members of Congregation Beth Israel, Colleyville, and the Jewish community,” Biden said.

Colleyville police secure the area around Congregation Beth Israel synagogue on Jan. 15, 2022 in Colleyville, Texas (Jessika Harkay/Star-Telegram via AP)

Vice President Kamala Harris said, “This morning, we are grateful that four people held hostage in a synagogue in Colleyville, Texas are safe and going home to their families. We thank the brave men and women in federal, state, and local law enforcement, and we stand in solidarity with the Congregation Beth Israel community and the entire Jewish community.

“While we will learn more about the hostage taker’s motivation, we know this: what happened yesterday at Congregation Beth Israel is a reminder that we must speak up and combat antisemitism and hate wherever it exists. Everyone has a right to pray, work, study, and spend time with loved ones not as the other – but as us,” she added.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett also thanked the US law enforcement agencies for ending the situation and rescuing the hostages.

“Relieved and thankful that the hostages of Congregation Beth Israel in Colleyville, Texas have been rescued. I commend the law enforcement agencies and teams on the ground who responded swiftly & courageously to ensure the safety of the hostages,” Bennett tweeted.

“This event is a stark reminder that antisemitism is still alive and we must continue to fight it worldwide. To the Jewish community in Colleyville and around the world: You are not alone – we stand united with you,” Bennett says.

Prime minister Naftali Bennett holds a press conference at the Kirya base in Tel Aviv, January 11, 2022. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

The man attacked the synagogue during services that were being carried on a livestream video. Before the video was eventually cut off he could be heard referencing Aafia Siddiqui, a Pakistani national known as the “Lady al-Qaeda.” Siddiqui was convicted in 2010 by a New York City federal court of attempting to kill US military personnel. She is currently serving an 86-year sentence at Carswell Air Force Base near Fort Worth, Texas, some 15 miles southwest of Colleyville.

During her trial, she reportedly asked that no “Zionist Jews” be on the jury and, following her conviction, blamed the decision on Israel.

In the wake of the synagogue standoff, police stepped up patrols at Jewish sites in New York City, Los Angeles and Dallas.

Community security groups also went on heightened alert.

The Secure Community Network, which coordinates security for Jewish institutions across the US, said there were no known threats to US Jewish communities, but that it was monitoring the situation.

Israel’s ambassador to the UN, Gilad Erdan, said that US leaders must take a stand against antisemitism.

“This horrific incident reminds us that US leaders must act today. Disaster awaits if serious action is not taken against antisemitism,” Erdan said in a statement.

A Texas state trooper blocks traffic on a road leading to a Colleyville, Texas, synagogue where a man was reported to be holding hostages, Saturday, Jan. 15, 2022. (AP Photo/Jake Bleiberg)

The FBI’s 2020 Hate Crime Statistics report showed that antisemitic hate crimes were 57% of all religious crimes, by far the largest proportion of any group in the US.

Anti-Jewish hate crimes dropped from 953 in 2019 to 676 in 2020, a decrease of 29%, according to the FBI, although anti-Jewish crimes again made up the majority of hate crimes based on religion in the bureau’s annual report. The ADL reported in April that the number of antisemitic assaults fell sharply in 2020 compared to 2019, although the number of reported antisemitic incidents barely decreased in the United States in 2020 from the year before, despite pandemic lockdowns.

A survey of American Jews released in October found that over the previous year, 17% said they “avoided certain places, events, or situations,” 22% avoided making themselves visually identifiable as a Jew, and 25% refrained from posting Jewish-related content online.

A companion survey of the general public, meanwhile, found that the proportion of Americans who say they understand what antisemitism is rose sharply in the last year, from 53% in 2020 to 65% this year.

The survey was part of an annual series commissioned by the American Jewish Committee to understand how Jewish Americans and the general public experience and perceive antisemitism.

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