Pittsburgh: “For some, the only real culprit here is Donald Trump”

October 29, 2018

GQ writer Julia Ioffe was one of several prominent left-wing journalists to blame Donald Trump and/or Benjamin Netanyahu for the Pittsburgh synagogue massacre within minutes of it happening on Saturday.

In a tweet dismissed by others as “repulsive,” Ioffe appeared to claimed that the fault for the actions of the neo-Nazi in Pittsburgh lay with Jews (a majority) who supported the move of the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

 

BLAMING TRUMP

[Note by Tom Gross]

Predictably, many journalists rushed to blame Donald Trump for the massacre at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life synagogue.

“Trump didn’t pull the trigger on Jews in Pittsburgh, but he certainly prepped the shooter,” ran the Haaretz headline of a piece by the former editor of the American magazine Foreign Policy.

Similar accusations were made in publications including The Atlantic, The Forward, The New Republic and The Washington Post – and they were made before the bodies of the murdered Jews, which included a 97-year-old woman, had even been removed from the floor of the synagogue where they were executed.

I attach two pieces below from writers that beg to differ (both are subscribers to this list).

Brendan O’Neill, the editor in chief of Spiked, writes:

Bowers’ own social-media output suggests he was more influenced by the shared left / right / Islamist conspiracy theory about Jewish power than he was by Trump’s divisive commentary. He was critical of Trump, on the basis that the president was granting Jews too much influence and presence in the US. This, worryingly, is now a mainstream view. You see it in Guardian cartoons showing Israeli leaders puppeteering Western politicians. You hear it in leftish panic about an all-powerful Israel Lobby. You see it in Press TV headlines about the US being ‘completely under the thumb’ of Zionists. Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the UK Labour Party, worked for Press TV. For years.

Jonathan S. Tobin, the editor on chief of the Jewish News Syndicate writes:

For some, the only real culprit here is US President Donald Trump. … but Bowers was a critic of Trump, specifically because of his sympathy with Jews, the presence of many Jews in key administration posts and his support for Israel, which exceeds that of all of his recent predecessors. He viewed Trump as an ally of Jews – not someone who had encouraged him to attack them…

The attempt to shoehorn Pittsburgh into the “resistance” narrative, in which Trump is seen as unleashing a wave of persecution against Jews and other minorities in America, misunderstands the nature of the anti-Semitism that Bowers espoused…

A world in which we can’t neatly place the blame for Pittsburgh on a political foe who many Jews despise is less frightening than the complex reality…

If we acknowledge that despite his flaws, Trump is neither an anti-Semite nor the reason for anti-Semitic violence here – or anywhere else in a world in which a rising tide of Jew hatred continues to surge – then we are forced to confront the same frustrating truth about this virus that previous generations struggled with. It’s easy to see why putting this in a political context is of some comfort, but those who do so in the course of a futile search for meaning in anti-Semitic hate crimes do neither the Jews nor the cause of civilization any service.

 

MISLEADING PRESENTATION OF STATISTICS

Tom Gross adds:

When providing statistics for a rise in anti-Semitism in their reports of Pittsburgh, many media fail to mention that most of the bomb threats against Jewish Community Centers in America since Trump became president, threats that form the bulk of these statistics, were not made by Trump supporters. The vast majority were made by two people: a deranged young Jew in one case, and in another case by far-left journalist Juan Thompson who worked for the online publication The Intercept, a publication set up in 2014 by a journalist for the British paper, The Guardian.

ATTACKS DURING THE TERMS OF CLINTON, BUSH AND OBAMA TOO

And in dozens of articles I have read about Pittsburgh and Donald Trump over the last two days I haven't seen any mention that there were also anti-Semitic shootings when President Obama was president. For example, three persons (including a 14-year-old boy and an elderly woman) were shot dead at two Jewish-related locations in Kansas City, on April 13, 2014.

There were also attacks on Jews during the terms of President Bush (for example, the 2006 murder at the Seattle Jewish Federation) and President Clinton (for example, the 1999 fire bombings on synagogues in Sacramento, California). And many people may have died during the gun attack on the US Holocaust museum in Washington DC during Obama’s first year in office in 2009, had the brave actions of security guard Stephen Tyrone Johns not thwarted the gunman. Tragically, Johns was shot dead in preventing a massacre.

None of this is to say that Donald Trump shouldn’t severely tone done his populist rhetoric (he should) but it is misleading to suggest that anti-Semitism wasn’t there before he assumed office. We need to look dispassionately at the facts and at the incidents of anti-Semitism, in order to combat it.

 

GUN CONTROL NEEDED

Anti-Semitism was to blame for Saturday’s murders, but a significant contributing factor is the ease with which Americans can buy guns, which is quite unlike any other developed country.

Australia, for example, instituted strict gun control after a mass murder -- and hasn’t had one since. But despite repeated large-scale massacres, America has not done so, and whereas Trump may be right that synagogues should have some (hopefully discreet) security presence in America, as they do throughout much of the world, Trump is surely wrong to oppose far greater gun control.

At the foot of this dispatch I attach a piece titled “Why school shootings don’t happen in Israel”. I first posted it in 2015, and ran it again in February 2018 after a 19-year-old shot dead many children at a school in Florida.


ARTICLES

THE MILITARISATION OF ANTI-SEMITISM

The militarisation of anti-Semitism
Blaming Trump for the Pittsburgh massacre downplays the scale of anti-Semitism today.
By Brendan O’Neill
Spiked (UK)
October 29, 2018

And still people are downplaying the seriousness of anti-Semitism. Even now. Even following the worst attack on Jews in American history. Even after the slaughter of 11 mostly elderly Jews at a bris, the celebration of the birth of a child, at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh.

This time they are diminishing the scale and depth of anti-Semitism by pointing the finger of blame for the Pittsburgh massacre at President Donald Trump. No sooner had Robert Bowers allegedly executed his act of racist mass murder than anti-Trump commentators were describing it as the bloody offspring of Trump’s supposedly white-nationalist worldview and his divisive rhetoric.

This slaughter was the ‘inevitable result’ of ‘Trump’s vile nationalism’, said the Nation. Inevitable. ‘Trump didn’t pull the trigger on Jews in Pittsburgh, but he certainly prepped the shooter’, says a writer for Haaretz. Hateful violence like this is a consequence of Trump’s rhetoric, says British columnist Mehdi Hasan: ‘He preaches hate. He incites violence. He inspires attacks.’

This rush to blame Trump for a massacre of Jews is not only profoundly cynical, where the militarisation of anti-Semitism is pounced upon to the cheap, low end of scoring points against a politician people don’t like.

It also has the effect of whitewashing the true horror of anti-Semitism in the 21st-century West. It is in itself a form of apologism for the new anti-Semitism to the extent that it dehistoricises and depoliticises it by presenting it as little more than a function of the new right-wing populism.

It presents violent anti-Semitism as yet another thing unleashed, or at least intensified, by Trump and by the political turn of the past two years. And this dangerously distracts public attention – purposefully, I suspect – from the fact that anti-Semitism has been growing and becoming increasingly militarised for more than a decade now, among the left as well as the right and within Muslim communities, too.

Post-Pittsburgh, it is hard to escape the conclusion that many observers are more interested in shaming and weakening Trump than they are in truly getting to grips with the new anti-Semitism. After all, where was their rage, their concern about rhetoric, their existential handwringing over hateful ideas and hateful language, back when anti-Semitism was deepening and militarising pre-2016, pre-Trump, most notably in Europe?

Back when four Jews were slaughtered at a deli in Paris in 2015. Or when a gunman attacked the Great Synagogue in Copenhagen in 2015, during a bat mitzvah, killing one. Or during the massacre at a Jewish school in Toulouse in 2012, in which a rabbi and three children were murdered. A fourth child, an eight-year-old girl, was almost murdered: the anti-Semitic perpetrator grabbed her by her hair and pushed his gun into her face but it jammed when he pulled the trigger. He wanted to shoot her in the face for the crime of being Jewish.

Or during the Molotov cocktail attack on a synagogue in Gothenburg last year, during which 30 people had to flee to a basement to escape the missiles. Or when a synagogue was firebombed in Düsseldorf in 2014 by Muslims seeking vengeance for Israel’s actions in Gaza. Or when a Holocaust survivor was stabbed to death by anti-Semites in France earlier this year. Or when there was an attempt to burn down the Exeter Synagogue, the third oldest in England, in July this year. Or during any of the other thousands of anti-Semitic attacks in Europe in the past decade, which all have spoken to a terrifying situation where anti-Semitism has now crossed the line from racist incidents into an increasingly militarised effort to demean and dehumanise the Jewish people and their institutions.

One problem, of course, is that many of these attacks – notably the deli massacre, the Toulouse massacre, and the attempted Copenhagen synagogue massacre – were executed by radicalised Muslims. And we don’t criticise them too harshly, right? That would be a form of Islamophobia. It has in recent years been treated virtually as ‘Islamophobic’ to focus too much on the growth of militarised anti-Semitism in 21st-century Europe.

At the same time, there has been a deepening of anti-Semitic feeling among both the new left and the hard right, in both Europe and the US. Indeed, one thing the supposedly PC left shares in common with the alt-right that they claim to despise is a suspicion of Jews and a strange, deep, often hysterical hostility towards Zionism. Both subscribe to a conspiratorial worldview that says an all-powerful Jewish Lobby (or Israel Lobby, if you’re more PC) exercises huge influence over the political life of the West.

This is the bottom line: if you did not respond to the slaughter of Jews by Islamists with expressions of profound concern about the nature of political life today, about the threat posed by hateful ideologies, about the safety of Jews in an era of nasty rhetoric, then there is no reason why anyone should pay attention to what you say about the slaughter of Jews by a white, hard-right individual. Because it looks very much as though your concern is less with the slaughter of Jews than with the question of who is slaughtering them, and whether or not the murderer’s identity lends itself to the propagation of your own narrow party-political worldview. In this case, that Trump is a bad person. The wickedness of an anti-Semitic act is judged according to the act’s political usefulness: how awful that is.

In fact, it’s even worse than that. It is even worse than a situation where people check the identity of the anti-Semitic terrorist before deciding whether to make a big deal of his racist terror. Too often, as anti-Semitism has grown in Europe and the US in recent years, many so-called progressives have looked the other way. Don’t exaggerate the problem, Corbynistas have said. Perhaps some of those attacks on synagogues are political responses to Israel’s military behaviour, as a court in Düsseldorf actually ruled. Maybe the public murder of four Jews at the Paris deli was not really anti-Semitic but rather was driven by fury with Israel, as British observer Karen Armstrong argued. Perhaps if we speak too loudly about Islamist anti-Semitism we will contribute to anti-Muslim feeling. So perhaps we shouldn’t. Perhaps we should just keep quiet about the growing storm of anti-Semitism.

In this way, much of the left and some liberals have acquiesced to the rise of anti-Semitism. They have opted for maintaining the ‘multicultural’ peace over interrogating new cultural tensions and asking why Jews are being firebombed and murdered.

And this acquiescence, this failure to make a big, historic, political issue of the new militarisation of anti-Semitism, has acted as a green light to further expressions of this racist hatred. This is the most galling thing about the response to Pittsburgh: many in that section of society that is pinning the blame for the massacre on Trump actually have some serious questions of their own to answer about why they have not confronted the new anti-Semitism, and the role their moral failures may have played in allowing the new anti-Semitism to flourish. Trump ‘prepped the shooter’? It seems more likely to me that respectable society’s failure to confront anti-Semitism did that.

Indeed, Bowers’ own social-media output suggests he was more influenced by the shared left / right / Islamist conspiracy theory about Jewish power than he was by Trump’s divisive commentary. He was critical of Trump, on the basis that the president was granting Jews too much influence and presence in the US. This, worryingly, is now a mainstream view. You see it in Guardian cartoons showing Israeli leaders puppeteering Western politicians. You hear it in leftish panic about an all-powerful Israel Lobby. You see it in Press TV headlines about the US being ‘completely under the thumb’ of Zionists. Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the UK Labour Party, worked for Press TV. For years.

If you look at the fascistic slaughter in Pittsburgh and see only the problem of Trumpism, then you are being wilfully blind; politically and morally blind. For in this assault we see scarily mainstream views being given a violent expression and we see merely the latest step in a militarisation of anti-Semitism that has been growing for years. Ultimately, only one person bears responsibility for the massacre. The rest of us, however, have a moral responsibility to be honest about the rise of anti-Semitism and to treat it, finally, with the seriousness it deserves.

 

“FOR SOME, THE ONLY REAL CULPRIT HERE IS US PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP”

The Futile Search For Meaning In Antisemitic Crimes
By Jonathan S. Tobin
JNS (Jewish News Syndicate)
October 28, 2018

When something terrible happens, we demand explanations. Awful and irrational events spawn conspiracy theories because it’s part of the human condition to need to make sense of the world, even when the world makes no sense.

That is all the more true when an atrocity such as the shooting at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life Synagogue occurs. The wholesale slaughter at a house of worship on the Sabbath is the sort of act that, almost by definition, defies explanation. What sane person would seek to murder total strangers at prayer? What possible end could be served by the spilling of innocent blood in this manner?

Our sole concern should be to comfort the families of the slain, to honor their memories and to heal a community torn by sorrow. Yet it is almost instinctual to seek explanations that place the incomprehensible in a context we can accept more easily. Doing so enables us to avoid the truth that we live in a world in which irrational prejudice can strike anytime, anywhere, in ways that shake us to our very core. If the real villain is a familiar target of our anger, rather than age-old hatred of Jews or the deranged ravings of an extremist, it helps us channel our rage and sorrow in a direction that seems productive, even if it is nothing of the kind.

So it is hardly surprising that the slaughter at a synagogue in a quiet, leafy neighborhood would provoke reactions that tell us more about the sickening divisions within our society than anything else.

For some, the only real culprit here is US President Donald Trump. In particular, his demagoguery about illegal immigrants is seen as a green light for an attack on a synagogue and a community that is generally supportive of asylum-seekers, such as those in a caravan from Honduras that Trump has denounced as an oncoming threat.

That has led some, like former New Republic editor Franklin Foer, to assert in The Atlantic that the only way to assure Jewish security after Pittsburgh is to ostracize all Jews who support Trump, since in his words “they have placed their community in danger.”

Following the same theme, journalist Julia Ioffe also claimed that the fault for Pittsburgh belongs to those in the pro-Israel community who supported Trump’s move of the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. In a Twitter take of breathtaking obtuseness, Ioffe quipped that “I hope the embassy move over there, where you don’t live, was worth it.” She was soon appearing on CNN to double down on her spewing of such bile.

Over at the Forward, writer Peter Beinart had a more general condemnation for any Jew who agreed with Trump about illegal immigration. According to him, “Trumpism” – or at least that portion of the administration’s policies that concern enforcing existing immigration laws or expressing worry about the spread of Islamism – and those Jews who share such legitimate concerns are betraying “Jewish ethics and Jewish lives.”

But while Trump can be blamed for the coarsening of our political culture – and while his statements about immigration are often inaccurate and inflammatory – the blithe assertion that the president is an antisemite or the smear that his supporters are allies and enablers of accused Pittsburgh shooter Robert Bowers is wrong on two counts.

The first and most obvious is that Bowers was a critic of Trump, specifically because of his sympathy with Jews, the presence of many Jews in key administration posts and his support for Israel, which exceeds that of all of his recent predecessors. He viewed Trump as an ally of Jews – not someone who had encouraged him to attack them.

The second is that the attempt to shoehorn Pittsburgh into the “resistance” narrative, in which Trump is seen as unleashing a wave of persecution against Jews and other minorities in America, misunderstands the nature of the antisemitism that Bowers espoused.

While Bowers may have seen the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society and a synagogue whose members sought to aid immigrants and asylum-seekers as justifying his attack, this does no more to explain his rage than any of the other excuses that antisemites have deployed over the ages.

While some have always sought to blame Jews for the hate that was directed against them – a trend that continues today with those who believe support for Israel is a red flag that invites attacks – antisemitism is always about the antisemites, not the Jews. It is, as scholar Ruth Wisse wrote, the most successful ideology of the 20th century – a virus that morphed from fascism to Nazism to communism and then Islamism. The continuation of this trend in the 21st century has nothing to do with Trump, and everything to do with the fact that Jews remain a convenient scapegoat for extremists of all political and religious stripes.

There is much to lament in our current political culture, in which the tribes of true believers rule on both ends of the spectrum, and in which neither side is prepared to acknowledge the way they have sought to delegitimize their political opponents. But what happened in Pittsburgh is a product of a deeper malady – one that, at present, has no political cure.

A world in which we can’t neatly place the blame for Pittsburgh on a political foe who many Jews despise is less frightening than the complex reality. Trump is both a friend of the Jews and Israel, as well as a symptom of a destructive political trend that has helped loosen the bonds of community that is driving us further apart. Still, he is not responsible for the actions of an unhinged extremist.

If we acknowledge that despite his flaws, Trump is neither an antisemite nor the reason for antisemitic violence here – or anywhere else in a world in which a rising tide of Jew hatred continues to surge – then we are forced to confront the same frustrating truth about this virus that previous generations struggled with. It’s easy to see why putting this in a political context is of some comfort, but those who do so in the course of a futile search for meaning in antisemitic hate crimes do neither the Jews nor the cause of civilization any service.

 

WHY SCHOOL SHOOTINGS DON’T HAPPEN IN ISRAEL

Why School Shootings Don’t Happen in Israel
By Yael Shahar
Haaretz
October 7, 2015

Why is it that in Israel – a country surrounded by weapons of war – we don’t see the same gun violence as that which cost the lives of students in Oregon and little McKayla from Tennessee?

I spent most of last Wednesday renewing my gun license. Contrary to what many in the United States believe, owning a firearm in Israel is neither common nor easy. Applying for a license is a grueling process, often taking months of security checks and training courses. Keeping that license requires an investment of time, effort, and money.

In my case, the license was a legacy of many years as a volunteer in the Israel Police sniper unit and later in the Israel Defense Forces reserves. It had been years since I was actively involved in security work, aside from the occasional civil guard patrol. But, given the rather volatile security situation, its considered desirable that those who have the training keep up their proficiency and continue to carry.

And so, on Wednesday morning I drove into the nearest town to get the necessary forms signed by my family doctor, who certified that I’m not taking any medication that might impair my alertness, that I have no history of psychological disorders, and that I’m more or less in my right mind – at least most of the time.

And then it was off to the shooting range. Together with 15 others, I stood in line for half an hour to have my designated self-defense weapon examined, tested for any malfunctions that would endanger myself or passersby. The serial number was matched with the paperwork to make sure the weapon was legally mine and had not been put on any watch lists. Another 40-minute wait (part of it spent in the Sukkah outside the range chatting with an elderly veteran of four of Israel’s wars) and we were ushered into the range for our training session.

The session was conducted by someone whom I had known as an instructor back in my days in the police sniper unit. He went over changes to the laws of owning a firearm: If your weapon is stolen from your house and you cannot prove that a safe was broken open to get at the weapon, then you are a criminal and may do jail time.

And if we ever have to use a weapon in self-defense? You had better be certain that you had no other recourse, that you did what you could to warn the attacker, and that had you not taken action, at least one innocent life could have been lost. And you may still do jail time.

We spent about an hour at practice, refreshing our ability to deal with safety issues and malfunctions, honing our skills. One by one, we were certified as competent and sent out to collect our paperwork, duly stamped and fed into the computer, from which it would go into some government database. The process took up most of the day.

I thought of all this when I read of yet another (reportedly, the 294th this year) mass shooting in the United States – this time at a small community college in Oregon. Four firearms. An attention-seeking, imbalanced, suicidal young man walked into a classroom with four firearms. Police later found five pistols and one rifle at the college, and another three pistols, four rifles, and a shotgun at his home. All the weapons were purchased legally by the shooter or his family members.

And then Tuesday’s headlines tell us that an 11-year-old boy in Tennessee shot and killed an eight-year-old girl, his neighbor, when she refused to let him see her puppy. The boy retrieved his family’s 12-gauge shotgun from an unlocked closet, and fired at McKayla Dyer as she stood in her yard.

There is something seriously wrong about a system where a disturbed young man can acquire deadly weapons as easily as buying a new laptop. Where children can treat firearms as casually as toys.

I live in a country with wars raging on all sides, with failed states collapsing into a primordial stew of hatred and nihilism an hours drive north of me, with suicidal regimes seeking nuclear weapons in order to carry out their expressed goals of obliterating me, my family, and everyone with whom I interact on a daily basis. But for all this, I dont feel as if I’m living in a war zone. We know about death and we know about weapons of war, but we don’t fetishize them.

And the United States? A country bounded by friendly regimes and by neutral water. Apparently a nation lacking natural enemies may simply become its own enemy.

 

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