The massacre Saturday at the Conservative Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, in which at least 11 people were killed by a right-wing extremist, has been described as the most deadly attack on the Jewish community in U.S. history. Rabbi Aaron Bisno, the rabbi of the nearby Reform congregation, said the attack was the inevitable result of the current hate-filled public discourse in the United States today. “We all knew that the rhetoric of hate could lead to this kind of situation,” he said. “There is a numb sense of shock, yes, but there is also a sense that when you have so much hate, this is what happens.”
If we are to judge by the comments made by the gunman, Robert Bowers, on social media, the organization in his sights is HIAS – an American Jewish organization that has been helping refugees since 1881. “HIAS likes to bring invaders in that kill our people. I can’t sit by and watch my people get slaughtered. Screw your optics, I’m going in,” he tweeted before the attack. HIAS is identified in the United States with the call to take in Syrian refugees, whom Bowers believes will attack white people in the United States. HIAS has been active in Israel as well; in recent years it has conducted a determined battle against Israeli government policy on African asylum seekers.
The various interpretations given to the attack do not contradict each other; anti-Semitism, hate speech, and xenophobia are phenomena that go hand in hand and feed into each other. In a world where the discourse of hatred is widespread, and the stranger is perceived as an invader, anti-Semitism will also raise its head.
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For this reason, many both in Israel and around the world are uncomfortable with the way Israel’s right-wing government, headed by Benjamin Netanyahu, has been embracing non-liberal European leaders, and with his almost symbiotic relationship with U.S. President Donald Trump, who is championing the struggle against immigrants. The State of Israel was established on the basis of humanistic and pluralistic values, and its strength and existence depend on adhering to these values and on a world that conducts itself in accordance with similar values. Israel should not be deluded; in a world where foreigners and minorities are disparaged and people dream of ethnic and national purity, Jews will always be the victims of hatred and violence.
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Diaspora Affairs Minister Naftali Bennett rushed to Pittsburgh, but his trip is tainted with hypocrisy. He is a minister in a government that abuses refugees and denies the legitimacy of Reform and Conservative Jews, who are the majority of affiliated Jews in the United States. The Pittsburgh massacre is also a reminder that those who hate Jews are indifferent to distinctions between Orthodox, Reform, Conservative and secular Jews. Jews are Jews. The State of Israel was established as a refuge for the Jewish people, and it’s a shame that only when people are murdered in a synagogue does the Israeli government officially recognize their Judaism.
The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.