In the wake of the devastating mass shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, in the space of 24 hours on Saturday and Sunday, Jewish leaders slammed U.S. President Donald Trump’s anti-immigrant rhetoric and the government’s ongoing failure to tighten gun laws.
“When will this president stop demonizing asylum seekers and immigrants, which serves to embolden those like today’s shooter?” asked Union of Reform Judaism President Rabbi Rick Jacobs in a statement released after the El Paso attack, which left 20 people dead and dozens wounded.
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Jacobs offered words of comfort to the victims and families of those targeted by a gunman who. according to authorities, deliberately carried out the attack at a shopping center close to El Paso’s border with Juarez, Mexico, where many Mexicans and Mexican-Americans shop.
The URJ president said his sympathy was accompanied by “a righteous rage that wells up in the hearts of so many of us as we call on responsible leaders of our nation to act decisively to address the growing epidemic of hate that too often is manifested in America’s plague of mass shootings."
The El Paso and Dayton attacks — nine people were killed in Ohio after the shooting attack in a popular nighttime area — took place not a year after two synagogue shootings that left the American Jewish community reeling. The shooting at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life synagogue in October 2018 killed 11 people, making it the deadliest attack on Jews in American history, and the Poway, California shooting killed one female worshipper in April.
Now, as then, Jewish groups joined calls for stricter and more effective gun control legislation in order to prevent such tragedies. “It is not enough for elected officials to muster their ‘thoughts and prayers,’” said Jacobs on Sunday. “Like millions of Americans, I’m sick of the pathetic excuses offered by too many lawmakers for not passing strong and effective common sense gun laws.”
Jonathan Greenblatt, CEO of the Anti-Defamation League, echoed Jacobs with the sentiment that “thoughts and prayers are simply not enough.”
Greenblatt noted that his organization has analyzed the document authorities believe to be the white supremacist manifesto of the El Paso shooter, which was posted on the 8chan online forum just 20 minutes before the attack, “as well as other elements of his online footprint to evaluate potential extremist ties.” The ADL has also offered assistance to law enforcement.
The manifesto’s author does close with a familiar white supremacist talking point, alluding to a looming battle, presumably against immigrants: “This is just the beginning of the fight for America and Europe,” he writes. “I am honored to head the fight to reclaim my country from destruction.”
The 21-year-old alleged shooter, Patrick Crusius of Allen, Texas, was arrested following the deadly attack. He reportedly told police that he wanted to shoot as many Mexicans as possible. No racial motive has yet been attributed to the Dayton attack, although the shooter has been identified as a white man, and the majority of the victims are black.
If the El Paso shooting is ultimately determined to have been a hate crime, the ADL's Center on Extremism says it will be the “the third deadliest act of violence by a domestic extremist in over 50 years, and the second deadliest act of violence by a right-wing extremist in the same span — second only to the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing."
Rabbi Jill Jacobs, executive director of T'ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights, also explicitly pinned responsibility for the mass shootings on the president’s rhetoric. “President Trump and his supporters, who have incited and inflamed hatred toward minorities, bear direct responsibility for this wave of white nationalist violence, based in hatred of Jews, immigrants, and people of color,” she told Haaretz.
“The prophet Isaiah scolded, ‘Though you pray at length, I will not listen. Your hands are full of blood.’ Thoughts and prayers mean nothing from those who have helped sparked this bloodshed,” Jacobs added.
The Simon Wiesenthal Center tweeted that it “grieves victims of mass murder and mayhem by white supremacist in El Paso,” and that “carnage validated and celebrated on social media platforms … demonizes minorities, Jews and immigrants before deadly shootings from Pittsburgh to Christchurch to Poway.”
The center also called on Trump, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the 2020 presidential candidates to “lead the way in tamping down extreme language infecting America’s political and social discourse.”
In El Paso, the local Jewish Community Relations Council issued a statement saying it is “shocked and heartbroken that the irrational and devastating plague of violence sweeping this country has arrived at the door of our traditionally peaceful and congenial homes,” and that it is “alarmed by the increasing gun violence in the U.S. and around the world.”
The Rabbinical Assembly, the international association for Conservative rabbis, issued a statement on Sunday following the Dayton shooting in which it said “our hearts are once again shattered" by the shootings, and declared that “we must not wait another moment to take action to improve U.S. gun laws.”
The organization urged members and their congregations to lobby senators and congressmen to support legislation that would make background checks more extensive, make it easier for family members or authorities to take weapons from those who pose a threat to themselves or others, and increase funding for research on gun violence.
The American Jewish Committee also called for a crackdown on gun violence in a tweet, declaring that “We need common sense gun control NOW.”
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