Critical questions centering synagogue shooting

David Israel

Robert Bowers, 46, faces 11 counts of using a firearm to commit murder, and multiple counts of two hate crimes added to each initial count: obstruction of exercise of religious beliefs resulting in death, and obstruction of exercise of religious beliefs resulting in bodily injury to a public safety officer, in his Saturday attack on the Etz Chayim synagogue in Pittsburgh.

“American Jewry should cut away for a while from debates about sanctioning the Reform and Conservative presence Western Wall, their attitude toward Israel and their massive assimilation,” Tzvika Klein wrote in Makor Rishon on Sunday morning, less than a day after the Shabbat synagogue massacre in Pittsburgh.

“American Jewry should instead think about how they can prevent such tragedies from repeating themselves, Klein suggested. “They must further protect Jewish institutions.”

Indeed, according to the NY Times, the Etz Chayim building was secure during the week – you had to ring a bell to be admitted. But on Shabbat the doors were open to all.

Although many Jewish institutions in the US maintain some kind of security systems, not all of them do. Mostly because it’s an expensive proposition – securing every last Jewish house of worship, school, old age home, business, newspaper. Such an effort would require the kind of community unity that may no longer be there.

Those most critical issues aside, the Shabbat murders clearly illustrated an escalation of political and social violence in America, a process that did not begin with the current administration. According to the ADL, the deadliest previous attack specifically targeting Jews happened in 1985, when Charles Goldmark, an attorney from Seattle, was murdered along with his wife, Annie, and their two sons. An unemployed steelworker named David Morse Rice was convicted of the murders.

All the other specific attacks on Jewish targets did not end up in murder, to the best of our knowledge. Still, according to the FBI, in 2016, Jews were the victims of more hate crimes than any other religious minority – 684 reports, more than all the other hate incidents against religious minorities put together.

President Donald J. Trump, who has been accused by the left of stirring up the political and social environment that made the massacre possible, condemned the shooting as an “evil anti-Semitic attack.” Trump ordered flags at federal buildings throughout the country to be flown at half-staff until Oct. 31 in “solemn respect” for the victims.

“This is a case where, if they had an armed guard inside, they might have been able to stop him immediately,” Trump said. “Maybe there would have been nobody killed, except for him, frankly. So it’s a very, very – a very difficult situation.”

“The world is a violent world,” he said before his speech. “And you think when you’re over it, it just sort of goes away, but then it comes back in the form of a madman, a wacko. … They had a maniac walk in and they didn’t have any protection and that is just so sad to see, so sad to see.”

Trump said US lawmakers “should very much bring the death penalty into vogue” so that people who attack synagogues and churches “really should suffer the ultimate price.”

The Economist did not spare the rod, declaring: “A massacre in Pittsburgh illustrates America’s disunity,” with the sub headline: “A leader without morals cannot provide moral leadership.” This attack, typical of leftwing attacks on President Trump on previous occasions of violent eruptions and mass murders, appeared unfair on its face, for reasons the newspaper itself mentioned:

“Robert Bowers, the 46-year-old anti-Semite who is alleged to have shot up the Tree of Life synagogue, was not a Trump supporter,” the Economist admitted, noting that “Jews, unlike immigrants and women, have not been subject to attack by Mr Trump. He bears no responsibility for this attack.”

Nevertheless, the newspaper insisted, “his response to it reveals the toll he is taking on American national life. The occupant of the presidency is supposed to provide moral as well as political leadership. His job is to provide reassurance in terms of crisis—as George W. Bush did after the 9/11 attacks, and Ronald Reagan during the cold war. Mr. Trump’s response to one of the worst anti-Semitic attacks in America’s modern history shows how incapable he is of this.”

Regardless of his previous responses, this time President Trump did not drop the ball in his comments on the Pittsburgh massacre:

Speaking to a convention of the Future Farmers of America in Indianapolis, Trump called on the country to come together, and invited a pastor and rabbi to pray on stage. He blamed the Pittsburgh attack on anti-Semitism, unlike his remarks following clashes between left and right demonstrators in Charlottesville, VA, in 2017.

More than 3,000 people turned out in Squirrel Hill, Pittsburgh, for a Saturday night for an interfaith candlelight vigil with Hebrew and English songs and hymns to honor the Etz Chayim 11 victims, the Pittsburgh Post Gazette reported. The vigil began at Sixth Presbyterian Church, located across the street from the Jewish Community Center.

The Rev. Vincent Kolb drew a standing ovation when he declared: “We gather because we are heartbroken but also to show zero tolerance for anti-Semitic speech, anti-Semitic behavior and anti-Semitic violence.”

Wasi Mohamed, executive director of the Islamic Center of Pittsburgh, said Muslims had already raised $15,000 to aid the Pittsburgh Jewish community. “Obviously we’re all heartbroken, but how many of you are angry?” he asked, and answered, as many hands had been raised in response, “And how could we not be? People were stolen from us.”

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