Following the massacre of 11 Jews, and only Jews, at a synagogue in Pittsburgh, the local chapter of Bend the Arc, “the only national Jewish organization focused exclusively on progressive social change in the US,” published an open letter telling President Trump that he is not welcome in the city. The reason, said the letter, is because “for the past three years your [Trump] words and your policies have emboldened a growing white nationalist movement. “
According to this faction of the Jewish community, the synagogue killer wasn’t an antisemite, but rather a white racist who was supposedly empowered by Trump’s supposed politics of hate against “people of color, Muslims, LGBTQ people, and people with disabilities.” Robert Bowers himself tweeted that the reason he hates Jews so much is because of their support for, most likely, Muslim immigration. “HIAS likes to bring invaders in that kill our people,” he tweeted hours before his heinous attack. “I can’t sit by and watch my people get slaughtered. Screw your optics, I’m going in,” and in he went. HIAS (Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society) was founded in 1881 to assist Jews fleeing pogroms in Russia and Eastern Europe. Today, it helps refugees in the US, as well as in many other countries. Since Trump’s election, HIAS has shown itself to be vehemently anti-Trump.
After he was wounded by police responding to the scene of the massacre, Bowers was treated at Allegheny General Hospital by at least three Jewish doctors and nurses. This despite the fact that, according to hospital director Jeffrey K. Cohen, Bowers was still shouting, “I want to kill all the Jews.” Accepting that Dr. Cohen’s testimony is trustworthy, Bowers is without a doubt an antisemite.
But that matters little now that his unprecedented attack on Jews on American soil, which initially unified the Jewish people the world over, has been snatched up for petty political gain. Jews on the left blame Trump for the deaths of those 11 Jews, and those on the right slam the left for exploiting such a horrific event to further push the progressive agenda. That Bowers was both an antisemite and a white racist makes no difference. For the left, he is the product of Trump’s policies. For the right, he is an example of the classic antisemite abusing American freedoms to promote and act on an extremist view.
Bend the Arc, which seized the opportunity to attack the president, ended up dividing the Pittsburgh Jewish community, for who is to tell whether or not among the victims at Tree of Life synagogue were a few Trump-supporters? The anti-Trump sentiment shared by most American Jews is apparently more powerful than the need for unity. When the same dividing line manifest itself in Israeli reactions to the massacre, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tried to put a stop to it, tweeting:
“Jews were killed in a synagogue. They were killed because they are Jews. The location was chosen because it is a synagogue. We must never forget that. We are one.”
Similarly, at a memorial vigil for the victims of the Pittsburgh synagogue massacre, Education Minister Naftali Bennett, head of the Jewish Home party, said that “today, we stand in the shadow of death. In the shadow of evil. In the shadow of a cowardly, terror attack on Jews who were in a synagogue to pray. The deadliest antisemitic attack in the history of the United States.”
Both Netanyahu and Bennett, right-wingers though they be, were clearly trying to mend what may turn out to be an unrepairable split in the Jewish world.
But, as in America, Israeli politicians and journalists from the left followed the example of Bend the Arc. The head of the far-left Meretz party, Tamar Zandberg, tweeted: “Horrifying massacre in Pittsburgh. Strength to the Jewish community. A terrible result of violent hate toward minorities, immigrants and Jews.” Bowers, according to Zandberg, hated Jews just as he hated blacks, Hispanics and Muslims.
Chemi Shalev, an extreme-left Ha’aretz journalist, went so far as to say that “unfortunately, their [Israeli government representatives] message of sympathy is being undermined by the shameful effort by Israel’s top diplomats in the US to absolve Donald Trump of any responsibility for fomenting an atmosphere of right-wing hate and, even more outrageously, to implicate antisemitism on the left instead.”
This kind of argument prompted political commentator Gadi Taub to tweet what many Israelis think about this attack on Trump and Netanyahu in the name of 11 dead Jews: “I had to rub my eyes to believe that people are actually arguing that the most friendly administration to Israel since Truman, headed by a president whose daughter converted to Judaism and her husband is his [Trump’s] close advisor, that this administration proliferates antisemitism. Wow. Wake me up when the discussion shifts back from the parallel universe.”
The Israeli and the American flags are screened on the walls of Jerusalem’s Old City in solidarity with the victims of the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)