Rabbi Jeffrey Myers of the Tree of Life synagogue walks after speaking to reporters on October 29, 2018 .
(photo credit: BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI / AFP)
Since the murder on Saturday of 11 Jews at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, people have been searching for a reason. They wondered online – in Facebook and on Twitter – why this massacre of innocent people happened.
For some, the explanations were easy to find. One prominent American-Jewish journalist, herself a target of antisemitic trolls, placed the blame on President Donald Trump who, she said, incites violence and on American Jews who support him because he moved the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
“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,” GQ Magazine writer Julia Ioffe wrote on Twitter.
Others, like David Simon, creator of the acclaimed TV series The Wire, blamed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his support for the Trump administration.
“Netanyahu’s interventions in US politics aided in the election of Donald Trump and his raw and relentless validation of white nationalism and fascism,” Simon tweeted. “The American Jewish community is now bleeding at the hands of the Israeli prime minister.”
Some pundits claimed that Trump’s “Jewish enablers” like casino magnate Sheldon Adelson or Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law, share the blame for the attack.
Their rationale is that Trump incites violence against minorities, does not denounce antisemitism and is a self-proclaimed nationalist. Anyone who supports Trump, by extension, enabled the attack to take place.
In Israel, the discourse was slightly different. Some, like Deputy Minister Michael Oren, called on Netanyahu to finally give formal government recognition to progressive Jewish movements – Tree of Life is a Conservative Synagogue – in response to the attack. Others, like Labor Party chairman Avi Gabbay, called on Jews in the United States to make aliyah.
It is understandable why people would search for an explanation after such a tragedy: 11 people who had come to pray on Shabbat at their Squirrel Hill synagogue were gunned down in the worst antisemitic attack against Jews in American history. It is also understandable why people would look inward at their own community and search for ways to prevent similar attacks in the future.
The problem is that there is not always someone to blame. Hate is a terrible thing. It is vile, it can spread and it is dangerous. What happened in Pittsburgh, sadly, is no different than what has been happening to Jews for millennia.
Since ancient times, Jews were persecuted, hated and murdered. The antisemitism that spurred pogroms in the Soviet Union, that led to the forced conversions and expulsion of Jews from Spain and saw the rise of the Nazis is the same antisemitism that led Robert Bowers to storm Tree of Life on Saturday and shoot innocent worshipers.
This is the same antisemitism seen in Toulouse, Mumbai, Copenhagen, Brussels, Paris and Kansas City where attacks against Jews have been perpetrated in recent years. As we read every year at the Passover Seder: In every generation our enemies rise up to destroy us.
If Netanyahu and Trump were not close allies, would that mean that antisemitism would disappear? According to Ambassador to the US Ron Dermer, nearly 50% of all hate crimes in the US in 2014 and 2015 targeted Jews – and that was before Trump became president.
There is no question that angry and hateful rhetoric contributes and adds fuel to any existing antisemitic flame. Trump and all other politicians should learn from the Pittsburgh attack, moderate their speech and work to heal instead of divide. Social media giants like Facebook and Twitter must do everything possible to block egregious hate speech posts before they can poison minds.
After the Holocaust, many hoped the world had witnessed the end of antisemitism. As seen in Pittsburgh, it hasn’t.
The difference is that today there is a strong Israel, and Diaspora Jews are not alone in their battle against antisemitism. Hatred of Jews is not going to disappear, but the way to defeat hate is not to look for people to blame within Israel or the American Jewish community. It is to stand together.
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