Synagogue slayings not a shot in the culture wars
The partisan advantage-taking began before the bodies had even been identified.
To opponents of the US President, the massacre of 11 Jews during a baby naming ceremony at a synagogue in Pittsburgh, was the logical endpoint of President Trump’s refusal to expressly reject an endorsement from former Grand Wizard of the KKK, David Duke; the President’s drawing of moral equivalence between clashing Antifa extremists and white nationalists in Charlottesville; and his incendiary talk on migration and refugees.
To those calling for tougher gun laws, Pittsburgh was another mass shooting event made possible by the easy availability of high-powered assault rifles.
And to those who never miss an opportunity to direct our attention to the supposedly boundless evil of that little Jewish state on the edge of the Mediterranean Sea, the massacre of Jewish civilians in the US was the result of rage against Benjamin Netanyahu’s policies in Gaza and the West Bank, or poetic justice for Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as the State’s capital.
The ideologues simply picked their cause of choice, selected their preferred villain and placed the 11 corpses at their feet.
Hardly mentioned are the facts.
This is not the first mass shooting targeting a Jewish community in the US. In 2014, three people were murdered at a Jewish community centre in Overland Park, Kansas. Barack Obama was president then.
Mass shootings of Jews are common throughout the western world, in countries without the Second Amendment and with low gun ownership. Jews were massacred in a kosher supermarket in Paris in 2015; in a Jewish museum in Brussels in 2014; in a Jewish school in Toulouse in 2012; and at a synagogue in Copenhagen in 2015.
Far from acting out of frustration at Middle East politics, the Pittsburgh killer didn’t care a jot for the Palestinians or Israel’s foreign policy. The existence of the State of Israel and its absorption of millions of Jewish refugees from throughout the world has saved countless Jewish lives, not imperiled them.
The common factor in every attack of this sort is not the weapon of choice, the religion of the perpetrator or the commander-in-chief at the time of the attack. It is antisemitism - the irrational, irrepressible, consumptive hatred of the Jewish people that pervades elements of every political ideology and every faith.
It is what shatters gravestones in Jewish cemeteries throughout the United States and Europe with appalling regularity. It is what led Louis Farrakhan, a US Muslim leader embraced by major figures in the Democratic Party, to liken Jews to termites, just weeks ago. It is what lodges knives in the backs of Jews standing at bus-stops in Jerusalem. It is what has prompted 40% of British Jews to consider leaving Britain, as Jeremy Corbyn - a man who hosts Holocaust deniers at Westminster and lays wreaths at the graves of terrorists who have spilled Jewish blood - nears the threshold of No.10 Downing Street.
Antisemitism is a remarkably robust and versatile form of hatred. It finds favour in the political left where the Jews are seen as too privileged, too comfortable, too establishment to be seen as a vulnerable minority or as allies in solidarity. To religious extremists, the Jews are too stiff-necked in their rejection of the later monotheistic teachings of Christianity and Islam, too content with their own beliefs and customs, and therefore deserving of scorn and hatred. While to the hard-right, the speed with which the Jews seem to bounce back from each calamity inflicted upon them, through a combination of resilience and bitter experience, only feeds the paranoid conspiracy theories about Jews secretly controlling everything and sowing our misfortune.
The appropriation of the Pittsburgh dead to fight the latest round of the cultural wars is an affront to the memories of the eleven people murdered as Jews in their place of worship.
Condemnations of Trump’s jingoism and dubious associations, right and necessary as they are, ring hollow unless one is equally reviled by the racism of Farrakhan and the associations of Jeremy Corbyn. The condemnation of antisemitism must be a matter of basic decency and not partisan politics. Otherwise, we will merely entrench the discord and polarization in which violent extremism lives and thrives and await the next bout of violence and the next mass burial of the Jewish dead.