Trump visit to Pittsburgh after deadly synagogue shooting met with anger, protests

Appropriate reaction – can’t stoke the fires of hate and then deny moral responsibility:

President Donald Trump visited a grief-stricken Pittsburgh on Tuesday in a trip meant to unify after tragedy, but his arrival provoked protests from residents and consternation from local officials in the aftermath of the synagogue shooting that left 11 people dead.

The hastily planned day trip – which the city’s mayor urged Trump not to make – was executed with no advance public itinerary and without congressional and local politicians. Some had declined to accompany the president, and others were not invited.

Trump did not speak publicly during his brief trip, instead quietly paying tribute at Tree of Life synagogue by laying flowers for the 11 victims and visiting a hospital to see officers who were wounded in Saturday’s shooting. But Trump’s trip to the area so soon after the attack tore open political tensions in the largely Democratic city, as residents angered by Trump’s arrival protested even as the first couple tried to keep a low profile during the solemn, afternoon visit.

“The sense in the community is that they didn’t think this was a time for a political photo shoot,” said Rep. Mike Doyle, D, whose congressional district covers the Squirrel Hill neighborhood where the synagogue is located. “There are strong feelings in the community about him and the divisive nature of his rhetoric.”

Trump has faced charges in recent days that his harsh political tone and effort to stoke public fears about immigrants has fomented a rising right-wing extremism embraced by the man charged in the synagogue shooting and by the suspect arrested last week after a series of bombs were mailed to prominent critics of the president. Trump has pushed back, saying the media is responsible for the growing tensions across the country.

As the president touched down in southwestern Pennsylvania on Tuesday, almost 2,000 demonstrators assembled not far from where some of the shooting’s victims had been buried that day. The relatives of at least one victim declined to meet with Trump, pointing to his “inappropriate” remarks immediately after the shooting, when the president suggested the shooting could have been avoided if the synagogue had had an armed guard.

City officials said they were concerned about protests, which occurred on the same day as funerals for some of the victims, and were not involved in planning the visit – learning about it only when White House press secretary Sarah Sanders announced it Monday.

The White House also declined to invite two Democratic officials who represent the area – Doyle and Sen. Robert Casey Jr.

“We received no call or any kind of correspondence,” Doyle said.

A spokesman for the city’s Democratic mayor, Bill Peduto, said he was invited to appear with the president but declined. Peduto had urged Trump not to visit Pittsburgh until after the funerals for the victims, saying, “all attention should be on the victims.”

The family of one of those victims – Daniel Stein, 71 – declined a visit with Trump in part because of Trump’s comments about having armed guards.

“Everybody feels that they were inappropriate,” said Stephen Halle, Stein’s nephew. “He was blaming the community.”

The White House said Trump spent about an hour Tuesday with the widow of Richard Gottfried, one of the 11 victims.

“She said that she wanted to meet the president to let him know that people wanted him there,” Sanders told reporters aboard Air Force One. Gottfried, 65, and his wife, Peg Durachko, had just celebrated their 38th wedding anniversary and were planning to retire soon.

Some residents said they welcomed the president even if it did anger some of their neighbors.


The White House had asked the top four congressional leaders – House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., – to accompany Trump to Pittsburgh, but all declined, according to three officials familiar with the invitations.

Trump’s remarks and incendiary rhetoric in office contributed to the pushback his visit received before Air Force One touched down. Tens of thousands of people signed an open letter from a progressive Jewish group based in Pittsburgh saying he would not be welcome “until you fully denounce white nationalism” and “cease your assault on immigrants and refugees.”

About an hour before Trump arrived, more than 100 protesters jammed onto a street corner in Squirrel Hill, the predominantly Jewish neighborhood where the synagogue is located and many victims lived.

“This didn’t happen in a vacuum,” Ardon Shorr said. “There is a growing trend of white nationalism. And that has been enabled by Trump, who traffics in the kind of conspiracy theories that we know were foremost in the mind of the shooter last Saturday.”

“He refused to cancel his rally when it would have been the decent thing to cancel the rally,” said Jonathan Sarney, 72, referring to Trump’s campaign stop in Murphysboro, Illinois, held the same day the shooting occurred. “And now he’s coming to intrude on the funerals when it’s an indecent thing to do.”

Meanwhile, Barbara Kay remains largely in denial about the impact of Trump’s words and rhetoric in providing social license for others to express hate and the moral responsibility, if not direct responsibility, for such hate crimes: Barbara Kay: Trump’s rhetoric didn’t cause this massacre

How Bigots Easily Exploit the Bible for Anti-Semitism

All religious texts, if taken out of historical and social context, have parts that can be used to justify violence:

In the wake of the massacre at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, many people are struggling to understand the roots of Robert Bowers’s hatred.

Bowers, who allegedly shouted “All Jews must die” as he opened fire, has an established record of anti-Semitic rants on social media. There is some debate about whether Bowers’ alleged violence was inspired by statements by the current president or actually provoked by a sense that President Trump had “betrayed” right-wing radicals. Bowers himself, however, squarely grounds his perspective in a different source: the Bible.

On his Gab page, Bowers has written, “jews are the children of satan. (john 8:44)… the lord Jesus Christ is come in the flesh.” On this single point Bowers is not wrong: The Gospel of John does in fact identify “the Jews” (hoi Ioudaioi, in Greek) as being “of [their] father the Devil.” Throughout the Gospel of John, in fact, “the Jews” are repeatedly identified as the opponents of Jesus. Not some group of Jews, not some fringe group, but “the Jews.” While some New Testament scholars might protest that “Ioudaioi” should actually be translated as “people from Judea” and, thus, not taken as a reference to an entire religio-ethnic group at all, that’s simply not how it is translated in English New Testaments.

While the association of Jews with Satan is most explicit in the Gospel of John, in all four of the canonical gospels a (presumably) Jewish crowd calls for the death of Jesus, and Jewish authorities spearhead efforts to arrest and convict him. In Matthew, the Roman governor Pilate asks the people whom they want to see released: Jesus or a common criminal. When they call for the criminal, Pilate washes his hands of responsibility for the death of Jesus. The crowd responds in unison, “His blood be on our hands and on the hands of our children” (Matthew 25:27). The Jews, the writings of the New Testament tell us, shoulder responsibility for the death of Jesus. This is despite the fact that, in first-century Roman Judea, only the Romans had the power to condemn a man to death.

The legacy of these stories is devastatingly clear. They laid the groundwork for and nurtured nearly two thousand years of anti-Semitism. There is no doubt that stories about the death of Jesus can provoke violence. In the medieval period, when the death of Jesus was publicly performed in passion plays at Easter time, riled-up audience members would spill out onto the streets and attack Jewish members of their communities. To be sure, as Paul B. Sturtevant has written in a brilliant piece forThe Public Medievalist, the situation was complicated. Some Christians, for example, were paid by Jews to protect them. But the legacy of this period is felt even today in unsympathetic portraits of Jesus’s Jewish contemporaries in TV adaptations of the Easter story.

Historically speaking, the demonization of Jews was a rhetorical strategy for the first followers of Jesus. Annette Yoshiko Reed, a professor in the department of Hebrew and Judaic studies at New York University, told The Daily Beast that this was “just one of a broad continuum of different strategies by which followers of Jesus made sense of their relation to Judaism.” John 8:44 was part of “an inner-Christian debate in which there were also others who were stressing instead the Jewishness of both Jesus and authentic forms of Christianity.

All of that is lost when the Gospels are read in a world in the modern world. “The shooter’s quotation of this passage,” said Reed, “is an example of what happens when that one strategy is taken out of its original context and re-read in terms of distinctly modern notions of identity as predicated on biologically essentialized ideas of ‘race.’”

Mark Leuchter, a professor of religion and Judaism at Temple University agrees. “Once the New Testament became holy specifically to Christians, the original context for [the] debate was lost.” Statements from the New Testament “became [for some] the justification for anti-Jewish violence and hatred… and are still used to facilitate anti-Jewish bigotry in ways that many Christians don’t even realize.” As evidence of this subtle bias Leuchter cited the use of the term “Pharisee” by “well-meaning Christians” as an insult against people obsessed with law, when the historical Pharisees were actually more like ancient liberal activists. Examples like this contribute to what Leuchter calls a “cartoon version of Judaism that is presented as devoid of morality, holiness or humane values.”

Of course, while many American Christians may hold outdated views about Judaism, it is only a tiny fraction of them that resort to outright violence. Meghan Henning, a professor of Christian origins at the University of Dayton, told me that “a segment of Christians in the United States, who have been shaped by the ideals of white nationalism, still use anti-Semitism as a lens for reading their Bibles.”

It is, as Reed says, the transplanting of texts from a period when “whiteness had no meaning” to the modern context of contemporary American white supremacy that gives this passage its horrifying power.

Source: How Bigots Easily Exploit the Bible for Anti-Semitism