WASHINGTON – US Jewish groups called for national unity Sunday in the wake of an Islamic State-inspired shooting attack on a club popular among central Florida’s LGBTQ community, emphasizing that the incident which has left at least 50 dead can be seen both as a hate crime and a terror attack.
Prominent Jewish leaders also called on Americans to avoid blaming US Muslims for the attack carried out by US-born Muslim Omar Mateen, who opened fire early Sunday morning at Pulse, a nightclub in downtown Orlando.
Many Jewish organizations and institutions, especially religious ones, have not responded to the attack as the community is currently in the midst of the Jewish holiday of Shavuot, when Jewish tradition forbids use of electronic devices. In the US, Shavuot ends on Monday evening.
But key Jewish public advocacy groups, including the Anti-Defamation League, American Jewish Committee and Jewish Council for Public Affairs, responded forcefully on Sunday.
While Americans on social media debated whether to characterize the attack as a hate crime or an act of terror, Anti-Defamation League CEO Jonathan Greenblatt said that it had “all the markers of both an unconscionable hate crime and an act of terrorism on a scale we have not before witnessed in America.”
According to reports, Mateen has expressed homophobic views in the past, and also vowed allegiance to IS.
The ADL noted that the attack was “apparently inspired by an Islamic extremist ideology.”
In the group’s statement, issued Sunday, Greenblatt linked it to other IS-linked attacks in the United States and Europe, describing it as “yet another reminder of the serious threat posed by the Islamic State terrorist group, which has inspired attacks against Jews in Belgium, journalists in France, civilians in San Bernardino and now LGBTQ men and women in America.”
Greenblatt emphasized the common threads tying the Orlando shootings to the shooting attack last week in Tel Aviv that killed four and a series of recent bombings targeting civilians in Iraq. “It reminds us that terrorism is a danger to all,” he said. “We must continue to fight this threat against democracy and pluralism with all of the tools available and by exposing those who perpetrate hateful ideologies of violence and extremism.”
At the same time, Greenblatt called on the public to remember that “Americans should not blame all Muslims for the actions of one individual. Whether citizens like the individual suspected of committing this act or war-torn refugees seeking safety, we must remember that we do not define people by their faith.”
“We are deeply concerned that this attack could lead to a backlash against American Muslims. We urge all Americans to not fight hatred with hatred, but rather to come together around our common values of decency and respect.”
ADL, which has worked to promote acceptance of LGBTQ people, expressed its “full solidarity” with the community following the shooting.
“During this time of year when we celebrate Pride, they should know that they are not alone,” Greenblatt said. “As we mourn the victims and extend our deepest condolences to the families and friends of those lost, we will redouble our resolve to fight against the forces of hatred and extremism that led to this barbaric act of hatred.”
The American Jewish Committee also issued a statement saying that the organization was “shocked and appalled” by the attack.
“We are simply speechless in the face of such an act of pure evil and hatred,” said AJC head David Harris. “We mourn the loss of innocent lives, who appear to have been targeted by the killer solely because of their sexual preference. We pray for the full recovery of those rushed to area hospitals and in need of urgent medical attention. And we know the authorities will leave no stone unturned in investigating the motives of the gunman and whether he acted alone, as initial reports suggest he may have been influenced by homophobia and perhaps radical religious teachings.”
“This is a time for national solidarity and mourning,” Harris concluded. “Violence and hate crimes must be totally and categorically rejected.”
In another statement, Jewish Council for Public Affairs director David Bernstein also called the attack both “an act of terrorism and a mass hate crime.”
“We know that the authorities will do everything in their power to establish the motives behind these crimes and spare no effort in bringing to justice all the responsible parties,” Bernstein said. “We urge the citizens of the United States to stand together neighbor to neighbor against hate crimes, terrorism and intolerance.”