US shooting renews debate on anti-Semitism and its political response

Coming exactly six months after Pittsburgh carnage, Poway synagogue attack raises questions about a nationwide rise in anti-Semitism and in hate crimes generally

Hand-written notes are displayed on a light post across the street from the Chabad of Poway Synagogue after a shooting on April 27, 2019 in Poway, California. (SANDY HUFFAKER / AFP)
Hand-written notes are displayed on a light post across the street from the Chabad of Poway Synagogue after a shooting on April 27, 2019 in Poway, California. (SANDY HUFFAKER / AFP)

WASHINGTON — The latest shooting at a US synagogue heightened the sense of alarm Sunday of a rise in anti-Semitism, despite President Donald Trump avowal to overcome the “evil” of hatred.

A 60-year-old woman, Lori Gilbert-Kaye, was killed and three people were wounded when a gunman burst into the synagogue in the southern Californian town of Poway on Saturday and opened fire on the final day of Passover.

Police identified the shooter as John Earnest, 19, who had posted angry anti-Jewish remarks online just before the shooting.

Coming exactly six months after a white supremacist shot dead 11 people at a Pittsburgh synagogue, Saturday’s shooting raised new questions about a nationwide rise in anti-Semitism and in hate crimes generally — and about the president’s often controversial response to them.

Lori Gilbert-Kaye. (Facebook)

Ahead of the funeral for Kaye, one of her oldest friends said her killing would not have been in vain if it served as a wake-up call.

“She didn’t die a senseless death,” Roneet Lev told CNN.

“She died advertising the problem we have with anti-Semitism and to bring good to this world.”

Trump on Saturday offered his sympathies to the victims, saying during a rally in Wisconsin: “Our entire nation mourns the loss of life, prays for the wounded, and stands in solidarity with the Jewish community. We forcefully condemn the evil of anti-Semitism and hate, which must be defeated.”

An ‘atrocious’ act

Other White House officials underlined those words on Sunday, with National Security Advisor John Bolton telling Fox News that the attack was “atrocious and utterly inexcusable.”

But the shooting came only days after former US vice president Joe Biden, in announcing his plan to seek the presidency in 2020, highlighted Trump’s 2017 remarks about the neo-Nazi march in Charlottesville, Virginia that left a counter-protester dead.

White supremacists exchange insults with counterprotesters as they attempt to guard the entrance to Emancipation Park in Charlottesville, Virginia., August 12, 2017. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images via JTA)

Videos showed some torch-bearing neo-Nazi protesters chanting “Jews will not replace us” as they marched in Charlottesville.

But Trump said then that “there were very fine people on both sides” of the protest which was against the removal of a Confederate-era statue.

And after Biden on Thursday brought up those words in announcing his candidacy, Trump doubled down, saying he had phrased his 2017 remarks “perfectly.”

Human rights groups say recent years have seen the biggest rise in anti-Semitic incidents in decades.

Some critics say Trump’s often sharp and racially divisive rhetoric has played a part.

The president has a complicated history. He has forged an exceptionally close relationship to Israel and its current prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu. And Trump’s daughter Ivanka and son-in-law Jared Kushner are Jewish.

But critics blame him for stoking racial hatreds and division while making remarks, including criticism of Muslims and Latin migrants, that some white nationalists have taken as comforting or confirming their position.

People attend a prayer and candlelight vigil at Rancho Bernardo Community Presbyterian Church on April 27, 2019 in Poway, California. (David McNew/Getty Images/AFP)

A day before the latest attack, a California man deliberately drove into a crowd of people in the town of Sunnyvale, injuring eight. He said he did so because he thought the pedestrians were Muslim, according to police.

The Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles said in a statement that the latest shooting was “a horrific reminder that the flames of hatred still burn strong among some.”

“An attack, on any house of worship, from churches in Sri Lanka and France to synagogues in Jerusalem or Pittsburgh to mosques in Christchurch, are an assault on human dignity and our rights as people of faith to pray to God,” it added.

Two Israelis were among the wounded in the latest attack, an official said Sunday. An Israeli foreign ministry spokesman said an eight-year-old girl and her 31-year-old uncle were originally from Sderot, a town bordering the Gaza Strip. Both were said to be in good condition.

Prime Minister Netanyahu condemned the shooting as “atrocious,” adding in a statement that “the international community must step up the struggle against anti-Semitism.”

US Vice President Mike Pence joined in the denunciations, tweeting Saturday that “anti-Semitism isn’t just wrong — it’s evil.”

But he went on to tweak a favorite Trump target, the New York Times, which printed a cartoon in its international edition Thursday showing a blind Trump wearing a Jewish skullcap and being led by a guide dog with Netanyahu’s face.

A caricature of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and US President Donald Trump published in the New York Times’ international edition on April 25, 2019, which the paper later acknowledged “included anti-Semitic tropes.” (Courtesy)

“We stand with Israel and we condemn anti-Semitism in ALL its forms,” Pence tweeted, “including @nytimes political cartoons.”

The Times issued an online apology for running the cartoon. A note to appear in Monday’s paper says, “The image was offensive, and it was an error of judgment to publish it.”

read more:
Never miss breaking news on Israel
Get notifications to stay updated
You're subscribed