PITTSBURGH — Tens of thousands of people coast to coast — and around the world — attended vigils and other gatherings to protest the Oct. 27 murder of 11 Jews by ultra-rightist Robert Bowers at the Tree of Life synagogue here, one of the worst acts of Jew-hatred in the U.S. in decades.
In the weeks before Bowers carried out his murderous rampage at the synagogue in the historically Jewish Squirrel Hill neighborhood, he posted a series of anti-Semitic slurs on the Gab internet site.
He had particular enmity for HIAS (originally the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society), which helped resettle Jews in the U.S. for over a century and recently started aiding refugees, including Muslims and Arabs, from a wide variety of countries. They work with one of the congregations that meet at Tree of Life.
The last anti-Semitic screed he posted before taking an automatic rifle and three handguns and heading to the synagogue said, “HIAS likes to bring invaders in that kill our people. I can’t stand by and watch my people get slaughtered. Screw your optics. I’m going in.” As he started shooting, he reportedly yelled, “All Jews must die.”
One of the first protest actions was a vigil organized by students from Taylor Allderdice, a public high school in Squirrel Hill, just hours after the shooting. Held at the Sixth Presbyterian Church, it drew over 3,000 people, filling the chapel to capacity. The police closed nearby streets for the overflow crowd.
School officials had pressured students to not call the action. Emily Pressman, an Allderdice student said they refused, and that students said they needed to “act now.”
“There is no excuse for what happened today,” another student, Dakota Castro, told the Militant. “It’s our job to fight it wherever it is.”
Wasi Mohamed, executive director of the Islamic Center of Pittsburgh, spoke at the vigil. He announced the creation of Muslims United for Pittsburgh Synagogue, which has already raised $210,000 to aid the Pittsburgh Jewish community in response to the tragedy.
The protests and commemorations around the world were marked by solidarity with victims of Jew-hatred and by a wide variety of explanations for the cause and solution for anti-Semitism.
Some 500 people attended a vigil at the JW3 Jewish community center in London Oct. 29 to protest the Pittsburgh attack. There has been an ongoing debate in the U.K. over Jew-hatred, especially by leaders of the Labour Party, under the guise of criticizing the state of Israel.
“What begins with Jews never ends with Jews,” Marie van der Zyl, president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, told the crowd.
Osborne Hart, Socialist Workers Party candidate for U.S. Senate from Pennsylvania, went to Pittsburgh after the massacre to express solidarity against Jew-hatred and explain the stakes involved for the working class.
“Working people and the entire labor movement should speak out against this attack, and offer solidarity with the Jewish community here,” he said in a statement released there Oct. 28 and printed in this issue of the Militant. “The scapegoating of Jews for economic and social problems is a deadly threat to the working class. It is used to turn working people away from challenging the roots of the carnage we face — the dog-eat-dog private-profit system that Democrats and Republicans work to uphold.”
This mass shooting came at a time when we see an increase worldwide in anti-Semitic attacks, a result of the sharpening class tensions under the crisis of capitalism.
Liberals say problem is Trump
Liberals blame President Donald Trump, saying his politics spawn racism and division. They also blame the workers who elected him, saying they are all racists and reactionaries.
Some members and leaders of the Pittsburgh chapter of Bend the Arc, a Jewish group organized to be part of the Democratic Party liberals’ “resistance” against Trump, issued an open letter claiming that the attack “is the direct culmination of your influence.”
“Anti-Semitism and the widespread persecution of Jews represents one of the ugliest and darkest features of human history,” President Trump told the convention of Future Farmers of America in Indianapolis Oct. 27. “The vile, hate-filled poison of anti-Semitism must be condemned and confronted everywhere and anywhere it appears.” Trump, first lady Melania Trump, his daughter Ivanka Trump and her husband Jared Kushner visited Pittsburgh Oct. 30.
In his Jew-hating internet posts before the assault, Bowers had made it clear that he wasn’t a supporter of Trump. “Trump is a globalist, not a nationalist,” he wrote two days before the assassinations. “There is no #MAGA [Make America Great Again] as long as there is a k–e infestation.” He posted an image that showed Trump taking orders from a Jewish man.
Trump called for stepped-up use of the death penalty. Bowers, who was wounded in a shootout with the police before his capture, faces the possibility of a death sentence.
Hart responded in his statement, speaking out against the death penalty, a tool the capitalist rulers use as part of their criminal “justice” system to intimidate and attack the working class.
Pittsburgh Tree of Life Rabbi Jeffrey Myers met Trump and the first lady, taking them to the synagogue and to the nearby markers commemorating each of the 11 victims of the killings.
Myers responded to Democrats and some Republicans who declined Trump’s invitation to join his trip to Pittsburgh. “The president of the United States is always welcome,” the Rabbi told CNN.
Where does Jew-hatred come from?
Some of the worst obfuscations in the much-needed debate about the roots of this murderous expression of Jew-hatred have come from anti-Trump liberals and middle-class “left” organizations.
“We have before us a fascist movement, an armed backlash aimed at black and brown people, Jews, Muslims, women, the LGTBQ community, the media, and also aimed at the left,” Dave Zirin wrote in an Oct. 29 article in the Nation. It was reproduced on the website and newspaper of the International Socialist Organization.
In fact, there is less racism, less sexism, and less anti-immigrant sentiment among working people in the U.S. today than ever before. This is a result of the mass working-class movement that overthrew Jim Crow segregation in the 1960s and ’70s, and workers’ class-struggle experiences with the capitalist rulers’ efforts to divide and attack them since.
The targeting of Jews is not the same as racist violence, or anti-gay, anti-Muslim or anti-women prejudice, the fight against which is also important for workers and the union movement. As Cuban revolutionary Fidel Castro explained in 2010, no one “has been slandered more than the Jews,” adding that Jews are blamed for every ill of class society. The capitalist rulers use Jew-hatred to take the eyes of workers off the real cause of their problems — the capitalist class and system.