Yesterday was a tragic day in U.S. history, the murders of 11 Jews at a Pittsburgh synagogue in what the evidence shows was a hate crime. The accused killer was enraged by Jewish community support for refugees. We join with so many others in lamenting the horror and in urging Americans to face down the demons that have been unleashed by the license that the Trump administration has given to bigotry.
Yesterday was also a big news story, and the responses to the killings are of great importance for all wrestling with issues of anti-Semitism, gun violence, white nationalist anger, and the place of Jews and other minorities in America. Below we convey many political responses to the killings.
Naftali Bennett, Israel’s minister of education in Israel, announced within minutes of the news that he was going to Pittsburgh.
I’m flying tonight, as Minister of the Diaspora, to Pittsburgh to be with our sisters and brothers on their darkest hour. When Jews are murdered in Pittsburgh, the people of Israel feel the pain. Our hearts are with our brothers and sisters and with the entire American people.
David Simon the television writer responded sharply to Bennett–the US Jewish community is bleeding at the hands of the Israeli prime minister:
Go home. Netanyahu’s interventions in US politics aided in the election of Donald Trump and his raw and relentless validation of white nationalism and fascism. The American Jewish community is now bleeding at the hands of the Israeli prime minister. And many of us know it.
Where have you been for the last two years while Trump and Bibi have courted anti-Semites around the world?
Ran Shauli points out that Naftali Bennett has urged the expulsion of refugees in Israel.
Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu says he is heartbroken and appalled. In his weekend cabinet meeting he blamed radical Islam but did not mention the evident source of the killings: white nationalism.
I call upon the whole world to unite in the fight against anti-Semitism everywhere. Today, regretfully, we refer to the United States, where the largest anti-Semitic crime in its history took place, but we also mean, of course, Western Europe, where there is a tough struggle against the manifestations of a new anti-Semitism. Of course there is also the old and familiar anti-Semitism, and that of radical Islam. On all these fronts we must stand up and fight back against this brutal fanaticism.
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach placed the blame for the killings on anti-Zionism, on the “delegitimization of Israel and the Jewish people.” He cites those who look away when Jews are “intimidated on campus by a growing anti-Israel movement,” and “those who excuse Islamic attacks on Jews as freedom-fighting.” Boteach praised Trump, saying that he has been a “huge supporter of Israel, and has a Jewish daughter and Jewish grand-children” and that he would have a positive role in addressing the killings.
Simone Zimmerman of IfNotNow was emphatic in rebuking Boteach:
Jewish fascists abusing white-supremacist terrorism to stoke Islamophobia and anti-Palestinian hate. Your collaboration with our Nazi-friendly administration is part of what allowed this to happen, and you are a disgrace to our people.
Julia Ioffe, a Zionist and an immigrant from the former Soviet Union, who was subject to anti-Semitic death threats over her profile of Melania Trump two years ago, blamed the murders on the move of the embassy to Jerusalem by Trump, pushed by rightwing Zionists in the U.S.– in a tweet that has drawn a lot of scorn:
And a word to my fellow American Jews: This president makes this possible. Here. Where you live. I hope the embassy move over there, where you don’t live was worth it.
The Forward has removed its paywall over the news. Peter Beinart notes that many rightwing Jewish supporters of Trump (including Mort Klein and Sheldon Adelson) have justifed bars on Muslim refugees but says the murders affirm a Jewish tradition of openness to immigrants and refugees.
For Jews, the lesson of yesterday’s massacre is very simple and very old: Protecting the strangers among us is not charity. It is self-defense. Every time Jews defend the right of American Muslims to follow sharia, we protect our right to follow halacha….
Robert Bowers accused Jews of “bringing” Muslims and refugees to the United States. To him and all the other white nationalists Trump has emboldened, our answer should be: Damn right. We will demand a humane policy for people seeking refuge in the United States and defend those immigrants — no matter their race or faith — who are already here.
Beinart does not address the obdurate stance of Israel toward refugees, which the accused killer evidently remarked upon himself with irony.
Jane Eisner at the Forward says it’s time for the Jewish community to take Trump on frontally:
It’s time for the Jewish community in all its many facets to confront the complicity of the man in the White House, and all who support him — with money, votes, political expertise and moral cover.
Because if you excuse the radical divisiveness spawned by this man, you are part of the problem. If you ignore his hateful tweets because you like his policies on Israel, you are part of the problem. If you silently cheer at the fascist-like rallies before only adoring audiences because you’ve got a few more dollars in your pocket, you are part of the problem.
Hamas condemned the killings in a statement:
It is with deep regret and profound sadness that we received the news about the terrorist attack on a Jewish synagogue in Pittsburgh, which resulted in killing 11 innocent Jews and injuring six others.
As Palestinians who have been enduring the terrorism of the Israeli occupation, we are the most to realise what terrorism means and its destructive consequences.
On this sorrowful occasion, we would like to extend our sincerest condolences to the families of the victims, wishing the wounded a speedy recovery.
This aggressive act against ‘worship places’, which is highly condemned, highlights that terrorism has no religion nor ideology.
A Muslim-led campaign to help the victims has raised nearly $50,000 overnight.
A British Zionist group also blames the left:
All over the world, far-right, far-left and Islamist extremists are stoking the flames of Jew-hatred, with too little done to stop them.
Josh Block, leader of the Israel Project, singles out anti-Zionists:
In light of today’s shooting in Pittsburgh… It is important to talk about how growing anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism are creating a toxic brew coming from both the fringe right & left.
Peter Feld responds:
Of course the lobby is already exploiting the horrific Pittsburgh shooting—directly caused by Trump stirring up racist mobs, with his Israeli allies fully complicit and making their own alliances with anti-Semites—to bully and silence pro-Palestinian voices.
The liberal Zionist group J Street focuses on Trump’s America:
This is a nightmare for Jewish people across the United States and around the world, and for our country…
This moment calls for responsible leadership. We must all join together in condemning the rising tide of white nationalism, racism and hatred directed at Jewish people and other vulnerable minorities in our country. And we must call for an end to the extreme rhetoric, laced with bigotry and racism, that is dominating our national discourse and breeding violence.
There are many vigils for the victims. Here is a site where you can find one near you. For instance, the description of the vigil tonight in Madison:
we come together to offer support to one another and to stand against hate, white supremacy, and religious bigotry.
Jewish Voice for Peace is organizing this online session of grief and strength in the face of anti-Semitism, at noon.
Michael Oren, the former Israeli ambassador, is politicizing the murders in a special way: calling on the Israeli right in the person of Naftali Bennett to recognize American strains of Judaism, Reform and conservative, that it has resisted– so as to fight Jewish assimilation in America.
“Liberal Jews were Jewish enough to be murdered, but their stream is not Jewish enough to be recognized by the Jewish State. The murder would weaken communities that are already fighting assimilation. Israel must strengthen the communities by tightening the connections with them,” he said. “I call on Minister Bennett not to suffice with condolences, but to recognize liberal Jewish streams and unite the people.”
Bari Weiss, a pro-Israel writer at the New York Times, retweeted the Oren comments as a form of needed “leadership.” Weiss is from the community of Squirrel Hill, PA, where the murders took place. She has called on Jews to give to HIAS, the refugee-supporting organization that the accused killer was fixated on, and to affirm Jewish culture. She echoes the message, “Do something Jewish this week.”
Batya Ungar-Sargon of the Forward says that the chief rabbi of Israel refused to describe the scene of the murder as a synagogue because Israel doesn’t recognize such Jewish belief.
JR’s mural in New York city on the “Gun Chronicles” was annotated with large red graffiti overnight: the number 11, a memorial to the Pittsburgh victims.
And from the Center for Jewish History in New York:
The evil of anti-Semitism that has persisted throughout history has struck yet again this weekend in Pittsburgh. The Center for Jewish History was created in part so that we may learn from past atrocities in order to combat the devastation that hatred can cause. We stand now with all Jewish communities in sadness and mourning at this shocking act of violence.
Thanks to Adam Horowitz, Allison Deger, James North and Scott Roth.