Jews all over the world are in shock: eleven worshippers in a Pittsburgh Conservative synagogue praising, thanking and petitioning God at a Shabbat morning service, were gunned down by an intruder with an anti-Semitic record who stated loudly that all Jews must die. Horrible and shocking though it was, the event shouldn’t have come as a surprise to American Jews. Pittsburgh alone recorded some 50 anti-Semitic incidents this year. There have been at least 2000 all over the United States.
Commentators hostile to Trump have taken the opportunity to blame him, explicitly or by inference. The gunman who hates outsiders wanted to kill all Jews because of HIAS, the venerable Jewish agency with an enviable record of helping immigrants. Hasn’t the president, in his stated endeavour to “make America great again,” come out again and again against immigrants?
Peter Beinart said it by mounting the pulpit and linking Pittsburgh to Sodom. Like the Biblical Sodomites who attacked Lot because he appeared to harbour strangers – the two angels disguised as men – the gunman in Pittsburgh murdered Jews because HIAS is a Jewish organization.
And though Trump reacted appropriately to the massacre, he also stated that, had there been armed people in the synagogue, the carnage would have been avoided. In other words, not less guns to keep them away from maniacs, but more guns for everybody.
Education Minister Naftali Bennett, who also holds the portfolio for Diaspora affairs in the Netanyahu government, flew to Pittsburgh as soon as Shabbat was over ostensibly to attend funerals, to comfort mourners and to speak to local officials. Commentators were quick to point out that his professed love for all Jews doesn’t seem to include non-Orthodox Jews in Israel.
His coalition partner Knesset Member Michael Oren, who holds a portfolio in the prime minister’s office, may have had something similar in mind when he proclaimed: “I call Minister Bennett not to suffice with condolences, but to recognize liberal Jewish streams and unite the people.”
It seems that anything a member of the Israeli government is saying or doing nowadays is with an eye on the next national elections. Perhaps this includes Bennett’s visit. Prime Minister Netanyahu claims to be the natural leader of world Jewry. Does Bennett try to compete for the title?
The real expressions of grief and solidarity with the Jews of Pittsburgh, indeed the United States Jewry as a whole, are coming from ordinary Jews and non-Jews from around the world who have no ulterior motives or political agendas. They come together only to show that they care.
Modern Israel came also into being in response to anti-Semitism. Theodor Herzl, the founder of modern Zionism, attended the Dreyfus trial when he was a journalist in Paris. It persuaded him that no amount of Jewish emancipation and integration will eliminate anti-Semitism. The emancipated Jew Alfred Dreyfus would be shunned by his peers. The State of Israel was proclaimed three years after the end of the Holocaust to become a safe haven and protector of all Jews everywhere.
However, though Jews are the victims of anti-Semitism, the hatred of Jews is the problem of all non-Jews. Without their determination at least to contain the evil, Jewish endeavours, however noble and imaginative, won’t be enough. All good people in the world must become our partners.
Jerusalem 29.10.18 Dow Marmur