By Anna Dubey ‘21
At 10:00 a.m. on Saturday, October 27th, a shooter entered the Pittsburgh Tree of Life synagogue armed with various weapons and began to shoot.
At 12:40 p.m., President Trump told reporters, “This is a case where if they had an armed guard inside, they might have been able to stop him immediately… If they had protection inside, the results would have been far better.”
By Sunday, October 28th, countless articles had been published with diverse political takes on the Pittsburgh shooting: people should be inspired by the shooting to vote in the midterm elections; Trump should have given an entirely different perspective on the matter than he did; Trump was right, and the synagogue should have had its own armed guards. Over the span of hours, the Tree of Life tragedy was twisted, retold, and politicized in innumerable ways. Writers, journalists, and tweeters published their take on the matter, arguing the various political implications of the Pittsburgh massacre. Most of these authors, though well-intentioned, committed a grave mistake in their endeavors. They failed to recognize and thus properly portray the central motivation and subject of the shooting: anti-Semitism. The tragedy that occurred in Pittsburgh was primarily an act of anti-Semitism and should be regarded as such, rather than being politicized and tied to other issues.
Other political factors were certainly involved in the shooting. The issue of gun control may be considered a critical aspect of the tragedy, as well as topics of immigration. The shooter explicitly blamed Jews for the work of HIAS to bring refugees into the United States, writing, “HIAS likes to bring invaders in that kill our people. I can’t sit by and watch my people get slaughtered.” However, this massacre was wholly an act of anti-Semitism. The shooter observed what he found to be various wrongs in America’s conduct, and, out of innate anti-Semitism, chose Jews as the scapegoat for his anger. Centering the discussion about this event on contemporary politics is a cover to distract from the primary issue of anti-Semitism. It is akin to describing the 1894 conviction and imprisonment of French army official Alfred Dreyfus as a standard trial for treason. The primary motivation behind Dreyfus’s sentence, and equally behind the Tree of Life tragedy, was pure anti-Semitism. Asserting otherwise demonstrates great ignorance of the prejudice against Jews in American society and disrespect to the plight of the Jewish people – a plight that extends, as this tragedy has most unfortunately proven, to the present.
According to the Anti-Defamation League, attacks of anti-Semitism have doubled since 2016. Now more than ever, in light of the Tree of Life shooting, is the time for journalists, authors, and public figures to acknowledge the extent to which anti-Semitism is present in American society. Though such persons can easily use tragedies like the Pittsburgh shooting to advocate for their political beliefs, it is infinitely more important to recognize that the Tree of Life shooting and similar acts of anti-Semitism are born of irrational hatred of the Jewish people in a nation that, 250 years ago, included toleration of religion as the first in its list of freedoms.