Trump to Visit Pittsburgh in Wake of Shooting - and Members of the Jewish Community Say He’s Not Welcome

Ahead of the president’s arrival, local tell Haaretz: 'It’s not the right time, we are still mourning, there are funerals happening here'

People pray together in front of at a memorial for victims of the mass shooting that killed 11 people and wounded 6 at the Tree Of Life Synagogue on October 29, 2018
AFP

PITTSBURGH - U.S.President Donald Trump will arrive to Pittsburgh on Tuesday, to visit the grief-stricken city for the first time since the shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue, which took place on Saturday.

Ahead of his arrival, local officials and residents have urged him to either delay his visit or at the very least change his rhetoric of political division and anger.

Pittsburgh’s mayor, Bill Peduto, urged Trump to meet with the families of the 11 victims who were murdered at Tree of Life, before making plans to visit the city during their funerals.

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Peduto warned that the president’s visit could serve as a distraction from the funerals that are slated to take place starting from Tuesday.

“I would ask that White House staff contact the families and ask them if they want the president to be here. That’s not my call to make. That really comes from the victims’ families themselves,” Peduto said.

Josh Shapiro, the Attorney General of Pennsylvania, told Haaretz on Monday that political leaders, including Trump, need to “stand up to hate and condemn hateful speech.” He did not comment on Trump’s visit, but warned that “at this time, leaders need to speak with moral clarity. When leaders are encouraging violence or giving it tacit approval, it makes all of us less safe.”

Shapiro also said that he hopes Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will raise this issue in his own conversations with Trump. “I understand he is focused on the security relationship with the United States, which is crucial,” Shapiro said.

“But I hope he will also bring up these issues with the president and other elected officials. This rhetoric is making American Jews less safe.”

His office and law enforcement agencies, he added, are seeing a clear uptick in incidents of hate speech, including anti-semitic hate speech. “Unfortunately, this is a matter of fact,” he stated.

Ahead of Trump’s arrival, tens of thousands of people signed an online petition against the visit which was uploaded by the local chapter of Bend the Arc, a left-wing Jewish group.

“President Trump, you are not welcome in Pittsburgh until you fully denounce white nationalism,” the petition states. “For the past three years your words and your policies have emboldened a growing white nationalist movement. You yourself called the murderer evil, but yesterday’s violence is the direct culmination of your influence.”

Some members of the local Jewish community reacted negatively to the president’s upcoming visit.

“There are going to be people in the Pittsburgh Jewish community who are very angry Trump is visiting, and there are going to be people who are very happy Trump is visiting,” a statement by the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh said.

Lynnette Lederman, a former president of the Tree of Life congregation, said in an interview with CNN that she doesn’t want Trump to visit the city. She called the president “a purveyor of hate speech” and added that his statements are the opposite of Pittsburgh’s and its community’s values.

Barbara Burstin, a history professor who has written extensively on the history of Pittsburgh’s Jewish population, told Haaretz that Trump is coming at the wrong time.

“It’s not the right time, we are still mourning, there are funerals happening here,” she said, adding that perhaps Trump’s decision to come on Tuesday was influenced by his plans to hold more than ten political campaign rallies over the next week, ahead of the midterm elections.

“He’s just mean,” Burtsin said of Trump. “I don’t understand him. He does nothing but throw salt on people’s wounds. This incident reflects what’s happening right now in America. It’s not just an isolated incident.”

Speaking of Trumpt’s public rhetoric, Burstin stated that “President Lincoln, in his second inaugural address, said - ‘with malice toward none and with charity for all.’ With this president, it’s the opposite - charity for none and malice toward all.”

Writer David Harris-Gershon echoed the criticism, tweeting at the president that "we are burying Jewish bodies and comforting Jewish children in the wake of a massacre inspired by anti-Semitic rhetoric you have helped stir. Most of us don’t want you here profiting off our loss. Please go home. Sincerely, A Pittsburgh Jew."

Other local residents who spoke with Haaretz were also opposed to the visit. However, Rabbi Jeffrey Myers of the Tree of Life congregation said that if Trump arrives, he personally would welcome him. 

"The president of the United States is always welcome,” Myers told CNN. I’m a citizen, he’s my president.”

The White House did not disclose the full schedule of Trump’s visit, only that it would begin shortly before 4 P.M. local time, and that by 8 P.M. Trump would be back in Washington. First Lady Melania Trump is expected to join him for the visit.