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We May Never Know the Motivations of the Man Who Shouted Anti-Semitic Slurs Before Trying to Kill Jews

Just one of those mysteries

Armin Rosen
November 28, 2018
Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images
A police line is seen surrounding the Tree of Life congregation on Oct. 30, 2018, in Pittsburgh. Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images
Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images
A police line is seen surrounding the Tree of Life congregation on Oct. 30, 2018, in Pittsburgh. Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images

This one seems about as straightforward as it gets: At around 9:30 on a Friday night, a 32-year-old man lurked outside of a Los Angeles synagogue in a rented car and then screamed anti-Jewish invective as he tried to run down two men emerging from the sanctuary. The would-be victims were able to shelter behind an electrical box as they noticed the car accelerating but the attacker, Mogadishu-born Mohamed Mohamed Abdi, was so determined to kill Jews that he ran a red light and made an abrupt U-turn in order to have a second shot at his targets. Had Abdi been successful, the U.S. would have gone only four weeks between deadly incidents in or around synagogues.

As if the target selection and time and day of the week of the attack weren’t enough, Abdi helpfully explained why he was doing what he was doing as he was doing it: The driver “yelled several expletives at the victims referencing their Jewish heritage,” according to an LAPD deputy chief. So, this is an open-and-shut case of someone very nearly killing Jews merely because they are Jews, right here on U.S. soil, in the middle of a major American metropolitan area. Or is it?

Readers had to hack through this thicket of self-contradiction that begins a Nov. 26 Los Angeles Times report on the incident: “Authorities are trying to determine the motivations and background of a 32-year-old Seattle man who allegedly tried to run down two men outside of a synagogue in Hancock Park last week in an attack that police have described as a hate crime.”

This was, perhaps, an improvement on The New York Times and Washington Post’s coverage of the attack, which is limited to brief Associated Press write-ups noting that Abdi “yelled anti-Semitic remarks” while hurtling towards his would-be victims. Despite the increased attention to anti-Semitism in America that followed the Tree of Life massacre in Pittsburgh, this recent attack in L.A. hasn’t been treated as a national story. Maybe that shouldn’t be too surprising: The recent string of arsons against Jewish targets in Brooklyn, and the fairly common harassment of Orthodox Jews throughout the city—which takes the form of actual violence with distressing frequency—haven’t garnered anything beyond than local attention either. In the former case, it seems mental illness and addiction were to blame for a series of attacks on Jewish targets and only Jewish targets. Maybe that’s because even these fairly threatening yet grindingly routizined manifestations of anti-Semitism don’t slot into an existing media or political narrative: As The New York Times noted last month, none of the anti-Semitic incidents in New York during the previous 22 months was the responsibility of anyone associated with a far right-wing group.

The attack in L.A. may have been of a kind that just isn’t deemed to be important or notable at the moment. Or maybe, because it can’t be blamed on a neo-fascist extremist, it’s contours are somehow more difficult for journalists and political leaders to recognize. It’s a shame we’ll never get to find out why it happened.

Armin Rosen is a staff writer for Tablet Magazine.