Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu thanked US President Donald Trump on Sunday for his”unequivocal” response to a deadly attack on a Pittsburgh synagogue a day earlier.
In a letter addressed to the Jewish Community of Pittsburgh, Netanyahu sent his condolences over the shooting during Saturday services that left 11 worshipers dead and thanked American political leaders for their firm condemnation of anti-Semitism.
“Over the centuries, Jews have been subjected to every kind of savage attack imaginable — from blood libels and massacres to pogroms and genocide — for nothing more than the ‘crime’ of being Jewish,” Netanyahu wrote in the open letter.
He thanked Trump “for unequivocally condemning this heinous crime and for pledging to fight those who seek to destroy the Jewish people,” and praised the “clear condemnations” from American leaders across the political spectrum that have poured in since Saturday’s massacre.
“These statements are important. So too are actions that governments take to protect their citizens, whether that means providing security for vulnerable Jewish communities to passing tough laws against hate crimes,” Netanyahu wrote.
Just before 10 a.m. on Saturday, Robert Gregory Bowers burst into the Tree of Life Synagogue and opened fire with an AR-15 rifle and two Glock handguns in a 20-minute rampage. US authorities said Bowers killed eight men and three women before a tactical police team tracked him down and shot him.
He has been charged with 29 counts of hate crimes for the killings. According to state and federal affidavits, Bowers expressed hatred of Jews during the rampage and later told police that “all these Jews need to die.”
Immediately following the attack on Saturday, Trump denounced the violence, saying “the scourge of anti-Semitism cannot be ignored, cannot be tolerated and cannot be allowed to continue.”
But a day later, he blamed the “fake news media” for stoking tensions, and he also suggested stationing armed guards at places of worship, not tightening gun laws, as a potential response to hate crimes.
“This is a case where if they had an armed guard inside, they might have been able to stop him immediately,” Trump told reporters just hours after the shooting. “If they had protection inside, the results would have been far better.” He added: “Maybe there would have been nobody killed, except for him, frankly.”
Some in the US have blamed Trump for stoking hatred by demonizing Jewish liberals like George Soros and groups often associated with Jews by anti-Semites, like “globalists.” He has also been accused of equivocating in criticism of right-nationalists and racists associated with the so-called alt-right movement.
Trump said he would travel to Pittsburgh to express his condolences. But some victims’ families reportedly have little desire to see a president blamed by many for fanning hatred, and group of Jewish leaders from Pittsburgh on Monday told Trump he was not welcome in the city until he “fully denounced” white nationalism.
Jonathan Greenblatt, director of the Anti-Defamation League, said he was encouraged by Trump’s words after Pittsburgh but also sounded a note of caution.
Anti-Semitic acts in the United States have risen sharply in recent years, ADL figures show.
“It isn’t what you say after the tragedy that only matters,” Greenblatt added. “It’s the environment that you create with your rhetoric.”
In the letter to the community, Netanyahu said anti-Semitism has re-emerged in recent years as a “potent and deadly force.”
“While these attacks are nothing new in the history of our people, what is new is our ability to fight back against the anti-Semites,” he said. “Israel does that every day.”
AFP contributed to this report.