Political Exploitation of the Pittsburgh Synagogue Massacre

By Matthew M. Hausman

On Shabbat Vayeira, an anti-Semitic madman attacked a synagogue in Pittsburgh, PA, killing eleven people and injuring several others.  Those who turned on their televisions and computers that Saturday night were greeted with shock and horror.  The killer had railed online about Jewish influence in the White House before stating he was “going in.”  President Trump swiftly condemned the shooting and denounced the scourge of anti-Semitism, and his remarks sounded cogent and sincere.  Nevertheless, Democratic politicians within hours began to heap blame on Trump, despite the killer’s posted statements of disdain for him because he “is surrounded by k*kes…”  In somewhat cryptic fashion, Joe Biden seemed to impute responsibility to Trump by stating that “words matter” and “silence is complicity,” while Barack Obama and others swiftly usurped the tragedy to blame “gun violence” and implicitly smear Republicans before the midterm elections.

The result since then has been a slanted discussion of anti-Semitism that ignores progressive complicity in the rising tide.

There is plenty of blame to go around for the recent upsurge in anti-Semitism, but singling out Trump, Republicans, and conservatives is revisionist and absurd.  Yes, there has been an increase in American anti-Semitism over the last ten years, but that surge began under former President Obama and has continued unabated.  As noted in these pages and elsewhere, Obama’s White House years were marked by more than seven-thousand anti-Semitic incidents and hate-crimes, including violent threats, vandalism, and physical assaults from 2009 to 2015.  Did Obama cause these incidents?  No, but he failed to forcefully condemn the anti-Semitism – often expressed as anti-Zionism or BDS activism – within his progressive base.  Moreover, he did nothing about the epidemic of leftist Jew-hatred on American college campuses, and was evasive about past relationships with Jeremiah Wright and Louis Farrakhan.  His failure to censure anti-Jewish bigotry on the left, and his propensity for disparaging Israel and minimizing the Jews’ ancestral connection to their ancient homeland, created an environment where political anti-Semitism flourished for eight years.  And though Obama is a skilled orator, his responses to violence against Jews were noteworthy for what they omitted, not what they stated.

When addressing the massacre of Jews by Islamic terrorists at a kosher market in Paris in January 2015, for example, Obama said: “It is entirely legitimate for the American people to be deeply concerned when you’ve got a bunch of violent, vicious zealots who behead people or randomly shoot a bunch of folks in a deli in Paris.”

But by characterizing as “random” an attack that specifically targeted Jews in a particularly Jewish establishment, Obama obfuscated the terrorists’ motivation – i.e., their doctrinal hatred of Jews.  Though he was roundly criticized for his comments at the time, they were consistent with a pattern of ignoring Islamist terror motives and employing subtle stereotypes when referring to Binyamin Netanyahu and treating Israel as a pariah state.

His comments regarding the massacre in Israel’s Har Nof Synagogue a couple months earlier were no better.  After perfunctorily noting the loss of Jewish life during religious services, he engaged in moral equivalence, stating: “Tragically, this is not the first loss of life that we have seen in recent months. Too many Israelis have died. Too many Palestinians have died.”  He then said, “both sides” needed to “lower tensions,” as if Israel had ever committed such atrocities.  Once again, he refused to acknowledge the anti-Semitic motivations of terrorists (though they had been explicitly stated), and in effect drew moral comparisons between the murder of unarmed Jewish worshippers by Palestinian militants and the deaths of terrorists killed while attacking Israelis.  Surely, his condemnation would have been stronger had a mosque been targeted.

Compared to these displays, President Trump’s remarks about Pittsburgh seemed genuinely heartfelt.  Within hours of the massacre, he addressed the nation by twitter stating the following:

“All of America is in mourning over the mass murder of Jewish Americans at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh. We pray for those who perished and their loved ones, and our hearts go out to the brave police officers who sustained serious injuries.”


“This evil Anti-Semitic attack is an assault on humanity. It will take all of us working together to extract the poison of Anti-Semitism from our world. We must unite to conquer hate.”

The President further commented that “the hearts of all Americans are filled with grief, following the monstrous killing,” and that “the evil anti-Semitic attack is an assault on all of us.”  Leaving no doubt about motive, he said: “This was an anti-Semitic attack at its worst…”  He went on to say that anti-Semitism must be “confronted and condemned everywhere it rears it very ugly head,” and noted that “through the centuries the Jews have endured terrible persecution.”

In contrast, those who called the massacre “gun violence” misrepresented the killer’s twisted motivations.  He planned to murder people simply because they were Jews.  However, turning the atrocity into a platform for partisan shilling served only to cloud the intent of a loathsome hatemonger, and to divert attention from the real issue, which was anti-Semitism – not gun violence.  The Pittsburgh killer did not decide to murder Jews because he could obtain a gun; but rather planned the massacre in advance with malice aforethought.  Exploiting the victims for political gain was grossly inappropriate.

If Biden, Obama, and other Democrats are truly concerned about the horrors of anti-Semitism, they should look inward, acknowledge it is a progressive problem as well, and ask themselves why they have ignored, tolerated, or abetted it for years.  Why has their party not uniformly condemned Louis Farrakhan, who seems to revel in Jew-hatred?  Why do so many Democrats honor Farrakhan, or share the stage with him as Bill Clinton did a few months ago at Aretha Franklin’s funeral?  Why did they so readily accept Keith Ellison as deputy chair of their party, despite a history of troubling statements regarding Israel and past connection to Farrakhan?  Why do they give honor to anti-Semites in the feminist movement and tolerate the burning of Israeli flags at political conventions?  And why do so many of them deny the Jews’ historical connection to their homeland and support Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions hatred?

It stretches credulity when Democrats blame anti-Semitism solely on Republicans and conservatives, despite evidence showing it is common in the liberal mainstream.  A German study a few years ago, for example, gauged anti-Jewish sentiment by surveying thousands of correspondences to the Central Council of Jews in Germany and Israeli embassies in Berlin and elsewhere, and found that most derogatory mail came from the “social mainstream” while only three percent came from right-wing extremists.  The study was conducted by Monika Schwarz-Friesel, professor of linguistics at the Technical University of Berlin, and published in her book, “The Language of Hostility toward Jews in the 21st Century.

A review of liberal blogs and internet news sites shows a proliferation of anti-Semitic themes in articles and talkbacks.  Progressive blogs that register millions of hits daily often post anti-Semitic content ranging from crude to slick.  The progressive blogosphere is overflowing with stories of disproportionate Jewish wealth, power, and influence, surreptitious control of governments, global conspiracies, and dual loyalties.  Leftist writers compare Israel to Nazi Germany, falsely accuse her of genocide, apartheid and ethnic cleansing, and depict her as a global conspiracy centerpiece.

Though progressive anti-Zionists claim their contempt for Israel does not reflect hatred of Jews, it is a distinction without a difference.  One does not have to scratch too far below the surface to see that progressive anti-Zionists apply the same stereotypes, tropes, and conspiracy theories to Israel that have long been used to demonize Jews.  Consequently, anti-Zionism is no different from classical anti-Semitism and should be condemned accordingly.

Unfortunately, these attitudes have infected the mainstream without much protest from the Democratic Party establishment.  In John Kerry’s last television address as Secretary of State, for example, he vilified Israel using well-worn canards, claiming among other things that Israel cannot be both Jewish and democratic.  His tone was demeaning and condescending and showed disregard for Jewish history and ancestral rights.

And then there was the Obama Administration’s final act of UN duplicity, when it orchestrated a resolution claiming that Israeli settlements violated international law (despite established international norms and legal precedents holding otherwise), so that the US could then withhold its veto and effectively reverse long-standing American policy – all to Israel’s detriment.  This attack on Israeli sovereignty was “facilitated by President Obama,” according to the Simon Wiesenthal Center, which dubbed it the most anti-Semitic incident of 2016.

Anti-Semitism should be condemned wherever it is found – whether on the right or left.  But to assert that Trump created the environment that produces such hatred is hypocritical and revisionist.  Such claims ignore the malignant prejudice of the progressive left and of a predecessor administration that nurtured a climate in which contempt for Israel and Jewish assertiveness seems to have influenced policy.

If establishment politicians of any stripe want to make meaningful statements, they should acknowledge their own biases when condemning the evils of anti-Semitism, and they should do so without partisan posturing.  It’s what the country needs and what the martyrs deserve.

November 20, 2018 | Comments »

Leave a Reply