Biden says Hamas attack ‘deepening the wound’ of 2018 Pittsburgh synagogue massacre

Marking five years since 11 killed in shooting at Tree of Life, US president notes commemoration comes weeks after ‘the deadliest day for the Jewish people since the Holocaust’

People walk outside the dormant landmark Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh's Squirrel Hill neighborhood on Thursday, July 13, 2023. (AP/Gene J. Puskar)
People walk outside the dormant landmark Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh's Squirrel Hill neighborhood on Thursday, July 13, 2023. (AP/Gene J. Puskar)

WASHINGTON (JTA) — On the fifth anniversary of the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting, US President Joe Biden drew a straight line between the worst antisemitic attack in American history and Hamas’s deadly October 7 invasion of Israel.

“A gunman opened fire on Sabbath worshippers as they prayed, murdering 11 precious souls, wounding many more – including first responders,” Biden said Friday in his statement marking October 27.

“Deepening the wound, today’s remembrance comes on the heels of the deadliest day for the Jewish people since the Holocaust,” Biden said. “On October 7th, a sacred Jewish holiday, the terrorist group Hamas unleashed pure evil against the people of Israel, slaughtering 1,400 Jews and taking hostage hundreds more.” October 7 was the Jewish festival of Shemini Atzeret-Simchat Torah in Israel.

Biden’s weaving the two attacks, one committed by white nationalists, the other by radical Islamist terrorists, into the same cloth, marks a sharp shift from the launch of his campaign and the beginning of his presidency, when he identified the threat of antisemitism as coming principally from the far right. The gunman in Pittsburgh, who was sentenced to death this summer, was influenced by a proliferation of far-right content on social media.

Biden rolled out a strategy to counter antisemitism last May, the first by any presidential administration in US history. A number of US Jewish groups who advised on the strategy urged Biden to take into account the threat of anti-Jewish hatred from the left and other sources as well as the far-right, particularly on campuses, where some Jewish students say they face intimidation from the pro-Palestinian left.

“Under my presidency, we will continue to condemn antisemitism at every turn,” Biden said in his statement. “We are implementing the first-ever national strategy to counter antisemitism. Because hate never goes away, it only hides until it is given just a little oxygen. And as a nation, we must ensure hate is never given any oxygen.”

A White House spokesman on Thursday specifically called out some campus pro-Palestinian protests as veering into antisemitism.

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