The German Synagogue Shooter and the Irredeemable Anti-Semite

August 4, 2020 | Ben Cohen
About the author: Ben Cohen, a New York-based writer, has contributed essays on anti-Semitism and related issues to Mosaic and other publications.

Following the recent anti-Semitic outbursts on the part of several American and British celebrities, there have been well meaning attempts to respond with outreach and education, hoping that athletes, musicians, and media personalities can be enlightened out of their prejudice. The success of these efforts remains in question. But, argues Ben Cohen, such an approach cannot work in every case. Take the example of Stephan Balliet who, on Yom Kippur of last year, , attempted to murder the worshippers in the synagogue in the German city of Halle; stopped by a reinforced door, he resorted to killing two passersby before the police arrived. Balliet’s trial, which began last week, reveals a disturbing truth about anti-Semitism:

[T]here are those, like Balliet, who reject notions [of tolerance] as a modern form of Jews poisoning wells, and who are perversely reinforced in their worldviews when they encounter Jews (or those they perceived as Jews) speaking about the Holocaust, or the evils of racism, or the difficulties faced by immigrants in their host societies. No conventional form of education is going to work in these cases.

If we have learned anything from Balliet’s trial so far, it is that we should assume that such attacks are always a possibility, in good times and in bad, and that our resources are best invested in preventing them. When it came to the synagogue in Halle on Yom Kippur last year, that challenge was as basic as stationing a police car outside the building—a measure that was, incredibly, not taken by the authorities in that city, despite the fact that it was Judaism’s holiest, and therefore busiest, day. The analysis of the lonely pathology that Balliet represents will continue, as it must, but it has taken more than enough lives already.

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