This afternoon, President Donald Trump will visit Pittsburgh and the Squirrel Hill neighborhood where 11 Jews were murdered on Saturday as they prayed, in the Tree of Life synagogue. It is reported that several politicians are declining to appear with the president, among them Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto. What follows are three statements from progressive Jewish groups on the massacre.
The Pittsburgh branch of Bend the Arc, a progressive Jewish organization committed to racial equality, sent an open letter to the president saying he had “incited” the killings and asking him not to come to Pittsburgh till he denounces white nationalism. Some excerpts:
For the past three years your words and your policies have emboldened a growing white nationalist movement. You yourself called the murderer evil, but yesterday’s violence is the direct culmination of your influence.
President Trump, you are not welcome in Pittsburgh until you fully denounce white nationalism.
Our Jewish community is not the only group you have targeted. You have also deliberately undermined the safety of people of color, Muslims, LGBTQ people, and people with disabilities. Yesterday’s massacre is not the first act of terror you incited against a minority group in our country.
President Trump, you are not welcome in Pittsburgh until you stop targeting and endangering all minorities.
The murderer’s last public statement invoked the compassionate work of the Jewish refugee service HIAS at the end of a week in which you spread lies and sowed fear about migrant families in Central America. He killed Jews in order to undermine the efforts of all those who find shared humanity with immigrants and refugees.
President Trump, you are not welcome in Pittsburgh until you cease your assault on immigrants and refugees.
The Torah teaches that every human being is made b’tzelem Elohim, in the image of God.
This means all of us.
In our neighbors, Americans, and people worldwide who have reached out to give our community strength, there we find the image of God. While we cannot speak for all Pittsburghers, or even all Jewish Pittsburghers, we know we speak for a diverse and unified group when we say:
President Trump, you are not welcome in Pittsburgh until you commit yourself to compassionate, democratic policies that recognize the dignity of all of us.
Jeremy Ben-Ami of the liberal Zionist Jewish group J Street writes, that Pittsburgh did not “happen in a vacuum.” He opposes the “both sides” claim of some Israel defenders, that both left and right are responsible for what Ben-Ami terms “the nightmarish proliferation of hatred, white nationalism and anti-Semitic tropes” that are the context for the violence. Excerpts:
This hate crime did not take place in a vacuum. It’s clear that the murderer was motivated in part by a belief that liberal American Jews, including groups like the refugee aid organization HIAS, were working to help immigrants and people of color subvert “the white race” in this country.
And it’s clear that this kind of anti-immigrant, anti-Semitic thought has been spread not only by far-right groups, but by President Trump and some of his allies in the Republican party. In the lead up to next week’s pivotal midterm elections, we have seen a transparent effort by Trump and some Republican candidates to turn bigotry and fear into a political weapon.
In rallies and political ads and social media posts, they have dehumanized immigrants and refugees seeking a better life in this country. They have claimed that Democrats and “globalists” — a common alt-right code word for Jews — seek to promote immigration and violence in order to endanger and undermine average Americans.
In particular, the president and GOP leaders have spread vicious conspiracy theories about the prominent Jewish philanthropist George Soros. Relying on a classic anti-Semitic trope, official campaign ads funded by the National Republican Campaign Committee have portrayed Soros as an evil, all-powerful puppet master controlling Democratic candidates, refugees and protesters.
Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) tweeted that Soros may be paying the “caravan” of asylum-seekers to “storm the US border.” Rep. Steve King (R-IA) traveled to Austria to tell a far-right website that Soros may be funding the “Great Replacement” of the white race — a major neo-Nazi conspiracy theory. Even after a bomb was sent in the mail to Soros’ home, House Majority Leader Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) posted — and later deleted — a tweet charging that Soros and two other billionaires of Jewish descent were seeking to “buy” the election.
These toxic conspiracy theories and dog whistles are being used to mobilize voters. But they’re also sowing hatred against journalists, immigrants, Latinos, Muslims and Jews — hatred that can and has led to violence…
We cannot allow the president and his defenders to excuse the incitement and violence by blaming it on the media, or on “both sides.” It was appalling to see Israel’s Ambassador to the US, Ron Dermer, give a TV interview in which he lauded President Trump’s response to the Pittsburgh attack and, instead of talking about right-wing white supremacism, pivoted to blaming leftist college students for the rise of anti-Semitism.
Yes, there is anti-Semitism on the left, which must be denounced and fought. But the violence in Pittsburgh and the massive threat to our community clearly stems from an empowered, xenophobic far right. For any pundit, Jewish communal leader or Israeli official to pretend otherwise, in order to shield Trump and the Republican Party from taking appropriate responsibility, is dangerous and delusional.
We must speak out about the ways in which the Netanyahu government has frequently given praise and cover to Trump and those who spread the ideology and rhetoric of the far-right — and engaged in similar incitement against refugees, activists and political critics. It was jarring to see Minister for Diaspora Affairs Naftali Bennett fly into Pittsburgh to support the Jewish community, when Bennett himself has launched racist tirades against Arabs, refugee “infiltrators” and the liberal activists who support them.
Just as Israeli leaders often call on American Jews to listen closely to their concerns, they now should take care to listen closely to our concerns and needs. It was outrageous to see Israel’s Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi refuse to refer to the Conservative Tree of Life congregation as a synagogue — and profoundly disappointing to see Labor Party leader Avi Gabbay respond to the tragedy by calling on more Jews to immigrate to Israel.
This is a time for grief and for healing — and also for honesty, openness and action. The Tree of Life community was attacked in part because it represents so much of what is good and righteous about our tradition: compassion for others, welcoming the stranger.
Those who despise those principles, who hate and fear all those who are “different,” will always be a danger to the Jewish people — especially when they are emboldened by some of the most powerful people in our country. But the millions of Americans who share our values will stand alongside us, just as we stand alongside them.
“Together we heal, united we fight” is the title of the Jewish Voice for Peace statement, which cites the hate-crime murders of two black people in their 60s last Wednesday.
This week was devastating. In Kentucky, two Black people – Maurice Stallard and Vickie Jones – were killed by a white supremacist who first tried to enter a Black church. And in Pennsylvania, 11 Jewish people were killed in a synagogue by a man who believed Jews were behind a caravan of refugees and asylum seekers. The loss of elders in both cases is unbearable.
But now is not the time to surrender to despair.
Now is the time to grieve, to mourn, to heal. Now is the time to find strength in solidarity, between neighbors and across communities.
This week reminds us in the most painful way: We cannot fight antisemitism without fighting racism, without fighting anti-refugee vitriol, without fighting anti-Black acts of hate.
In the Torah portion that Jewish people all over the world read this last weekend, Abraham – a prophet in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam – displays deep hospitality, inviting strangers in and feeding them.
With that lesson in mind, we say: President Trump, we reject your implication that guns and increased policing would have saved lives, we reject your fear-mongering against those who seek safety, and we reject all the ways you and your supporters would create a U.S. that vilifies immigrants and refugees.
We say loud and clear: Our Judaism values protecting the strangers among us. Our safety is bound up in the safety of those around us…
Greater safety comes when those in power stop stoking the flames of hatred and emboldening white supremacy.
We are not fooled by the Israeli government’s sudden concern for a diaspora it regularly disdains, we remember and condemn its abuse of Palestinians, refugees and asylum-seekers, and we refute its false promise of safety through militarism. Our home is where our community is.
Now we push through our grief, and say: Never again, for anyone.
Here are excerpts of the statement from IfNotNow, titled, “Mourning and Defiant: Young Jews Know that Trump Is to Blame.”
As young American Jews taking responsibility for the future of our community, we refuse to mince words. The blood spilled yesterday is on Trump’s hands. The antisemitic rhetoric of Trump and other Republican leaders was a direct inspiration for this attack — we cannot ignore that fact.
The rise of antisemitism over the last year has been well documented. This increase in terror is not a coincidence — it is the Trump presidency. Conservative leaders like Kevin McCarthy, Steve King, and Trump are using George Soros and “globalism” as bogeymen to lead a violent resurgence of white nationalism and antisemitism.
11 American Jews were killed because their synagogue embodied the Jewish values of supporting refugees and immigrants. 11 American Jews were killed after a week of conservative leaders pushing the antisemitic lie that paints Jews like Soros as responsible for the Honduran migrant caravan — and paints immigrants and asylum seekers as a danger to the country. This is just one example how antisemitism sits at the root of white nationalism…
This weekend, we mourn and hold each other close, knowing that many members of our community have been targeted by more than one of the Trump Administration’s fascist attacks this week. Tomorrow, we will be fighting back against those who wish us all out of existence. This fight is not ours alone. Our safety depends on solidarity.
Also, not an official statement, but, the musician Pharrell Williams issued a legal warning to Donald Trump objecting to the use of Williams’s song, Happy, at a campaign rally on the same day as the massacre. Daily News:
A lawyer for the musician filed a cease and desist letter against the President Monday after Trump used his song, “Happy,” during a political rally in Indiana Saturday.
“On the day of the mass murder of 11 human beings at the hands of a deranged ‘nationalist,’ you played his song ‘Happy’ to a crowd at a political event in Indiana,” the letter, acquired by the Daily News, reads.
“There was nothing ‘happy’ about the tragedy inflicted upon our country on Saturday and no permission was granted for your use of this song for this purpose.”
And here is a response on twitter by Rafael Shimunov, a member of IfNotNow and Jews for Racial and Economic Justice, to the bizarre invocation last night by Loren Jacobs, a messianic Christian rabbi, at a speech by VP Mike Pence.
Normally, a Rabbi would open with Kaddish, a prayer for the dead – and list names of those taken. And blessings to the community at risk, Jews, immigrants, etc. Here, it is instead a prayer for Republican candidates to win on November 6 and a blessing for Mike Pence…. [T]hey need to placate Jews and allies who support them without alienating their white nationalist base.
When Trump first spoke about the synagogue attack, he opened with a joke about how he almost cancelled cause his hair got wet….
Now, even in inviting this speaker – they literally use it to coopt our holiest traditions – things Jews have been murdered for practicing – and using it to step on the dead. This is no mistake, it’s a message to their base. Their intention is a Christian nation by any means.