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I wish we could mourn Pittsburgh as one Jewish people — but we can't

I keep hoping that our Jewish leaders will take one moment to do what they say they are here to do: defend Jewish lives when we are under attack. But they haven’t.

By Simone Zimmerman

Mourners take part in a vigil for the victims of the shooting at Tree of Life Congregation, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, October 29. (Governor Tom Wolf/CC BY 2.0)

Mourners take part in a vigil for the victims of the shooting at Tree of Life Congregation, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, October 29. (Governor Tom Wolf/CC BY 2.0)

I want to mourn with my people.

I want to mourn with all of my beloved Jewish people in Pittsburgh and around the world who are reeling from the sight of 11 Jews gunned down during Shabbat morning services. Eleven Jews who were beloved grandparents, friends, siblings, community members. The ones who always showed up to synagogue on time, and who lost their lives for it.

I want to mourn with my beloved Jewish people who feel terror and are wondering if anyone else sees our pain. Who feel the echoes of the violence our people have faced for thousands of years in our bones.

I want to mourn with all of my beloved Jewish people, but as the Israeli Right exploits this tragedy for their political gain, aided by their apologists in the American Jewish establishment, it is clear that even in our mourning, we are divided.

Deflecting and scapegoating 

Following the massacre, Prime Minister Netanyahu tweeted, “They were killed because they are Jews… We must never forget that. We are one,” and thanked President Trump for his support of the victims.

In an interview with MSNBC, Israeli Ambassador to the United States Ron Dermer deflected a question about Trump’s anti-Semitic dog whistles by justifying criticism of George Soros before pivoting to criticizing campus pro-Palestine activists and Louis Farrakhan. He insisted that anti-Semitism, “has been going on for many many centuries,” and that Trump’s election had nothing to do with what happened in Pittsburgh.

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Others were even more explicit with their message. Naftali Bennett, Israel’s diaspora and education minister, who flew to Pittsburgh to participate in the memorial hosted by the local federations, said, “From Sderot to Pittsburgh, the hand that fires missiles is the same hand that shoots worshippers. We will fight against the hatred of Jews, and anti-Semitism wherever it raises its head. And we will prevail.”

Minister of Education Nafatli Bennett speaks at a rally to support the residents of the Netiv Ha'avot outpost in the West Bank, June 11, 2018. (Gershon Elinson/Flash90)

Minister of Education Nafatli Bennett speaks at a rally to support the residents of the Netiv Ha’avot outpost in the West Bank, June 11, 2018. (Gershon Elinson/Flash90)

The idea that this was an attack on Jews and nothing more was echoed by AIPAC, whose statement mentioned neither Trump nor white supremacy, while the idea that there are “two sides” at fault was echoed by ADL Executive Director Jonathan Greenblatt:

If your candidate is attacking George Soros or the ‘globalists,’… you must stand up and tell them to stop. If your allies in a range of social justice causes either explain away the anti-Semitism of the Nation of Islam… or justify demonizing the Jewish state of Israel and its existence, then they need to know that they can no longer be your ally.

Reading these statements, one might think that the only noteworthy piece of news this week was that 11 Jews were murdered while at synagogue. One might even wonder if the killer were Palestinian, Muslim, or a social justice activist. Amid the noise about Farrakhan, Hamas rockets, and the blame on both sides, it would be easy to miss — especially since most of the aforementioned statements conveniently omitted this detail — that the killer was a white supremacist who, hours before his attack posted that “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.”

They also failed to mention that this week, after railing against “corrupt, power hungry globalists,” Trump proudly declared himself a “nationalist,” and continued to stoke conspiracy theories about George Soros running a nefarious plot to infiltrate the U.S. with immigrants. They didn’t mention that bombs were mailed to Soros, the Clintons, the Obamas, and other prominent critics of the White House, or that earlier last week, a white supremacist murdered two black people in Kroger, Kentucky after an unsuccessful bid to try and enter a black church. After spreading all of this poison, Trump has repeatedly feigned shock when someone took his words literally and took action.

Distracting us from what is happening

This is not to say that there isn’t anti-Semitism on the Left. But the shooter was not a member of the Nation of Islam. He was a white supremacist who loathed Jews and immigrants.

Acknowledging these connections would force us to admit that the murderous hatred of Jews espoused by the shooter is intimately connected with the hatred of immigrants, minorities, and progressives also being fueled by the Trump administration. As Edo Konrad so astutely observes, “It is a particular kind of Jew — cosmopolitan, progressive, anti-racist — that Trump has adopted as a scapegoat for America’s problems… as the source of a global conspiracy working to undermine everything their nationalist worldview represents.”

Ironically, Netanyahu also scorns the very same type of Jews, from Soros himself to Israeli human rights defenders. The Israeli prime minister has made clear in the last two years that when faced with the choice, he will prioritize his alliances with far-right nationalists like Trump and Hungary’s Viktor Orban over the needs and safety of world Jewry.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban hold a Rubik's Cube at the Hungary-Israel Business Forum in Budapest, Hungary, July 19, 2017. (Haim Zach/GPO)

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban hold a Rubik’s Cube at the Hungary-Israel Business Forum in Budapest, Hungary, July 19, 2017. (Haim Zach/GPO)

This is dangerous precisely because the violent, xenophobic nationalism espoused by Trump is the same kind espoused by Netanyahu and Bennett, who repeatedly incite against Palestinians, African asylum seekers, and leftists. Groups like AIPAC and the ADL — in refusing to call out the GOP’s white nationalism, in conflating all Jews with Israel, and in unfairly scapegoating Muslims — are giving them cover and distracting us from what is actually happening.

It is utterly dizzying to watch all of this play out. I keep desperately hoping to be proven wrong, to see that in such an extreme moment like this, that our Jewish leaders will take one moment to do what they always said they are here to do — to defend Jewish lives when we are under attack. I keep hoping to hear them give American white supremacy the impassioned, unequivocal condemnation it so desperately deserves. I want to believe that there are still some things so clear cut that our whole community can stand together against them.

But they haven’t. Worse, they have covered and deflected and justified. And so, we can’t mourn together.

Our fear and pain cannot be treated as a-political, because this tragedy is political. Not reacting accordingly relinquishes power to those who have fanned the flames of hatred that have led us to this moment. In 2018, it is long past time to stop ceding politics to the far right because it is literally killing our people.

Simone Zimmerman is an organizer and activist from Los Angeles and a founding leader of IfNotNow, a movement to end the American Jewish community’s support for the occupation. Twitter: @simonerzim

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    COMMENTS

    1. Jonathan S. Mark

      The ADL hires private detectives to investigate neo-Nazis. The complaint that the ADL doesn’t oppose neo-Nazis is ludicrous. The ADL spends more specifically combating neo-Nazis than any other NGO in the world.

      Reply to Comment
      • Bruce Gould

        @Jonathan Mark: I’ve tried to read this piece line by line and I can’t find where it says the ADL doesn’t oppose neo-Nazis, can you point us to the place? The closest is this sentence –

        “Groups like AIPAC and the ADL — in refusing to call out the GOP’s white nationalism,…”

        which is not the same as not opposing neo-Nazis.

        Reply to Comment
      • Ben

        Jonathan, this is simple minded. I don’t mean to be rude, but I really don’t think you’ve grasped the rudiments of Ms. Zimmerman’s article.

        Reply to Comment
    2. Mark

      “Simone Zimmerman is an organizer and activist from Los Angeles and a founding leader of IfNotNow, a movement to end the American Jewish community’s support for the occupation.”

      Would that be the 1948 occupation or the 1967 occupation?

      Reply to Comment
      • Bruce Gould

        @Mark: you know, the 2018 occupation: “Israeli military violently harasses Palestinian family at home, in area of Hebron ostensibly under PA control”, “Military continues to harass children in the Gheith and a-Salaimeh neighborhoods of Hebron in order to leave area open to settlers”,etc. https://www.btselem.org/

        The Occupation that jails people without charges or trial, that one:

        https://www.btselem.org/topic/administrative_detention

        Reply to Comment
    3. Firentis

      We can mourn together and condemn and fight against anti-Semitism. We can’t all agree with your silly intersectional ideology. The two are different. If you need both to mourn together then it is you rather than us that refuses to mourn as one people and you rather than us that is more interested in petty politics than fighting anti-Semitism.

      Reply to Comment
      • Ben

        In other words…

        “They were killed because they are Jews… We must never forget that. We are one…and thank you, thank you President Trump! From Sderot to Pittsburgh, the hand that fires missiles is the same hand that shoots worshippers. We will fight against the hatred of Jews, and anti-Semitism wherever it raises its head. And we will prevail.” It’s just that simple.

        That finishes this bulletin from the office of Naftali B. Netanyahu. Oh and don’t forget George Soros, he’s everywhere, and I heard he’s paying really bad people from Mexico to caravan to the border! A lot of people say that! Did I say George Soros? I mean, I don’t want to be silly and intersectional…but did I mention George Soros? A lot of people are saying!

        Reply to Comment
        • Firentis

          They were killed because they were Jews.

          Let’s mourn them and fight anti-Semitism together.

          Everything else is petty intersectional politics.

          Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            Fighting Trump’s blatant demagoguery and dogwhistling, and right wing Israel’s and right wing Jewish Americans’ wink and nod at that demagoguery and dogwhistling, is not petty intersectional politics. Zimmerman does not intersect, she intelligently dissects.

            Reply to Comment
          • Firentis

            Making anti-Semitism about Trump is petty intersectional politics. It is taking a real issue of concern to the entire Jewish community and using it for liberal virtue signaling.

            Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            This reads like someone who hasn’t read and grasped anything Zimmerman writes or anything Edo Konrad writes (Trump’s veiled anti-Semitism comes home to roost) or anything Michael Omer-Man writes (Why I went to a neo-Nazi website to help me process the Pittsburgh massacre) but just wants to score points by trivializing the whole matter with Trump, using contemptuous comments about “virtue signaling.” I read it as contemptuous for those who lost their lives in that blood-drenched synagogue in Pittsburgh because I have to think you know full well Trump’s appalling demagoguery was substantially causal. Which demagoguery by anyone to the left of Trump you would pounce on.

            I should like to ask you why you are more upset with “virtue signaling” than with these catalogued offenses by Trump (and by extension all those on the Israeli Right who cynically fawn over him):

            Trump, the Jews and anti-Semitism: A Dangerous Double Game
            Alexander Griffing
            https://www.haaretz.com/jewish/trump-the-jews-and-anti-semitism-a-dangerous-double-game-1.6601063

            Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            It sure is a real issue of concern to the entire Jewish community. Zimmerman, Omer-Man and Konrad are not “making anti-Semitism about Trump.” Your premise is false. I had not known that resistance to an unprecedented narcissistic sociopath in the Oval Office, dim-witted and traitorous, with frankly fascist longings and a man-crush on Putin–held in check so far only by the safeguards put in place 250 years ago by the American Founding Fathers, who knew a thing or two–is to be derogated as “virtue signaling.” One has to ask, were you a Gentile back then, would you be at the head of the “America First” crowd in 1933 remonstrating that getting involved in Hitler’s business was virtue signaling? You know, we look back and condescend to those Germans who succumbed to Hitler’s siren song and disdain them but here we are in 2018, with all the wisdom that the bloody 20th Century supposedly taught everyone, with an American public under far less economic and social stress than were the Europeans back then, but the “Trump base” Americans look every bit as, or more, susceptible to that siren song, and right wing Israeli Jews, in one of history’s more bizarre ironies, are cheering them on. What a sick business. This is what Zimmerman, Omer-Man, and Konrad are talking about, hoping someone is listening. If you want to call that “virtue-signaling” then it is in the best tradition of the virtues.

            Reply to Comment
          • Firentis

            Blah blah blah. Trump Trump Trump. A guy that hated Trump because he was too philosemitic shoots up a synagogue. Somehow this is about Trump. And no, Trump’s demagoguery isn’t causal to attacks on Jews. That claim is stupid.

            Indeed, Trump is right-wing. He is not a nice person. He is a moron in how he expresses himself. He is a throwback to about 40 years ago. Some people that support him are racists and there are certainly Republican racists. He is however not an anti-Semite nor do I believe there are anti-Semites in his close circle.

            You want to attack some of Trump’s supporters or Trump himself as being nativists, social conservatives, and in some cases outright racists? Sure. Go ahead. That is what progressives and liberals are expected to do. Many people hate Trump because they are progressive leftists, that they might also be Jews is incidental. So don’t make this about Jews. Don’t use your politically useful ‘as a Jew’ identity to score political brownie points as if being a Jew is somehow the same as being a liberal and a leftist. It isn’t. And don’t use dead Pittsburgh Jews in your petty obsessive leftist/progressive holy war against Trump. It hurts Jews in the long-term and it undermines the struggle against anti-Semitism. And the Nazi comparisons are pretty obtuse as well and serve no purpose other than numbing people to such associations.

            And yes, I stand by my original point. Leftist Jews in the aftermath of the attack are using dead Pittsburgh Jews for petty politics as opposed to actually trying to fight anti-Semitism.

            Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            @Firentis: Neither I nor anyone else here, except you, “made it about Jews.” You are making it “about Jews,” misleadingly. A guy who shot eleven people dead in a Pittsburgh synagogue also made it about Jews and Trump egged him on whether you want to pretend otherwise. It is the right wing in Israel that is always making it about Jews by the way. Suddenly it’s not about Jews when everything else is about Jews? These same people who smell anti-Semitism with exquisite sensitivity everywhere when human rights of occupied Palestinians are involved don’t mind obvious anti-Semites and their handmaidens so much when they are suitably anti-immigration and anti-human rights and willing to look the other way at Israel’s treatment of Palestinian Semites.

            Why should I have to spell out the obvious to you?

            You trivialize the Trump matter but would not dream of trivializing somebody like him on the left and it has absolutely everything to do for you with left versus right wing politics. Because, unlike +972 Magazine, you are untethered from any core valuation of human rights and justice it’s simply all about nationalistic side-taking to you. So it is you who are “making it about Jews,” as in ethnic nationalism. +972 Magazine makes it about Jews when Jews’ rights are violated and it makes it about Arabs when Arabs’ rights are violated, and it makes it about the Rohingya of Myanmar when their rights are violated and Israel sells the violators arms–even against their “no daylight” “best bosom buddy” Americans’ policy. And +972 knows a thing or two about power imbalances and is not willing to ignore them.

            Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            “Many people hate Trump because they are progressive leftists”

            This is a Trump-like statement.

            Most people who detest Trump are normal and mainstream people who are appalled by Trump’s unprecedented attempts to coarsen American social and political culture, corrupt absolutely everything he can get his hands on, and transmogrify the American government in a blatantly un-American, authoritarian direction. Bret Stephens detests Trump and Stephens is no liberal.

            “It hurts Jews in the long-term and it undermines the struggle against anti-Semitism.”

            A bizarre statement, completely unsubstantiated, out of left field, excuse me, out of Israeli far right field.

            Reply to Comment