Criticism of Trump After Synagogue Massacre at Odds With the Opinions Jewish Israelis Have of Him

By Patrick Goodenough | October 29, 2018 | 4:33 AM EDT

The deadliest attack on American Jews in U.S. history has prompted critics to charge that President Trump’s rhetoric has created a climate ripe for anti-Semitic violence, yet a recent survey found that citizens of the world’s only Jewish state have higher regard for Trump than those of two dozen other countries polled.

(CNSNews.com) – The deadliest attack on American Jews in U.S. history has prompted critics to charge that President Trump’s rhetoric has created a climate ripe for anti-Semitic violence, yet a recent survey found that citizens of the world’s only Jewish state have higher regard for Trump than those of two dozen other countries polled.

The Pew survey published early this month found that 86 percent of Israeli respondents said Trump takes Israel’s interests into account when making decisions – significantly higher than those in the 24 other countries polled, including key U.S. allies. (e.g.: France 18 percent; Britain 27 percent.)

The survey also found that 82 percent of Israeli Jews have confidence in Trump’s handling of global affairs, compared to a median of just 18 percent across the 25 countries polled.

Israeli politicians and commentators have called Trump the most pro-Israel U.S. president in history, citing his recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, relocation of the U.S. Embassy to the city, and strong backing for the Jewish state at the United Nations.

(There are deep divisions between Israeli and U.S. Jewry on these issues. A recent AJC poll found that while 85 percent of Israeli Jews supported the embassy move and seven percent opposed it, only 46 percent of U.S. Jews supported it and 47 percent were opposed.)

Ironically, the opinion that Trump is too concerned with Israel’s interests when making foreign policy decisions is shared by critics on various extremes of the political spectrum – including the far right, the pro-Palestinian left, and radical Muslims.

Robert Bowers, the man accused of killing 11 worshipers in Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life Synagogue on Saturday, was critical of Trump in social media posts, where his activity included reposting material depicting the president as a dupe of conspiring Jews.

“There is no #MAGA as long as there is a [offensive slur for Jews] infestation,” Bowers posted on his feed on Gab, an alternative network to Twitter, two days before the shooting.

Hours after the attack Trump called the shooter’s actions “pure evil.”

“Anti-Semitism and the widespread persecution of Jews represents one of the ugliest and darkest features of human history,” he told the Future Farmers of America convention in Indianapolis. “The vile, hate-filled poison of anti-Semitism must be condemned and confronted everywhere and anywhere it appears.”

Trump invited a rabbi and a pastor to the platform to pray, and the three embraced afterwards.

Trump also issued a proclamation ordering U.S. flags to be flown at half-staff at the White House, government facilities, military posts and diplomatic missions abroad until sunset on Wednesday, “[a]s a mark of solemn respect for the victims of the terrible act of violence perpetrated at The Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.”

President Trump embraces Rabbi Benjamin Sendrow and Pastor Thom O’Leary after their prayers at the Future Farmers of America convention in Indianapolis on Saturday, October 28, 2018. (Screen capture: YouTube)

Yet the attack saw Democratic lawmakers, human rights activists and others direct strong criticism at the president.

“No one sets the tone more than the president of the United States, and the tone that he sets is one of division, often one of hatred,” Rep. Adam Schiff (Calif.) told CNN’s “State of the Union.”

“He gets up in the morning with new and inventive ways to divide us. And it’s not enough that, on the day of a tragedy, he says the right words, if every other day of the year he’s saying things to bring us into conflict with each other.”

Human Rights Watch executive director for the Middle East and North Africa, Sarah Leah Whitson, invited Trump on her Twitter feed to “screw your phony thoughts and prayers,” adding a dig at his “enablers,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and White House senior advisor Jared Kushner (both of whom are Jewish).

In a Washington Post column, GQ Magazine correspondent Julia Ioffe insinuated that Trump’s rhetoric set the tone that made the synagogue shooting possible, akin to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s tone enabling assassins who killed opposition politician Boris Nemtsov near the Kremlin in 2015.

Demagogic politicians, she wrote, know very well that they need only set the tone, for others to do “the dirty work.”

And in The Atlantic, staff writer Franklin Foer peculiarly argued that “[a]ny strategy for enhancing the security of American Jewry should involve shunning Trump’s Jewish enablers. Their money should be refused, their presence in synagogues not welcome. They have placed their community in danger.”

The only appropriate ‘political’ statement right now is to condemn anti-Semitism’

It was left to other voices to appeal for Americans not to use the killing of 11 middle-aged and elderly worshipers during a Shabbat baby circumcision service for political point-scoring during a heated election campaign.

“No one should be politicizing what happened this week,” Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee chairman Rep. Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.) said on “Fox News Sunday,” citing both the synagogue attack and the pipe bombs sent to prominent Democrats.

“We should come together as a country,” he said. “This should not be a political response, but rather a response at how we can further bring us together.”

“If you are about to make a politicized statement about the synagogue shooting, stop,” tweeted David Bernstein, law professor at the Scalia Law School at George Mason University.

He recalled that Jews had been targeted in shootings at the Brooklyn Bridge in 1994, a Jewish community center in Los Angeles in 1999, the El Al counter at LAX in 2002, the Seattle Jewish Federation in 2006, the Holocaust Museum in Washington in 2009, and a Kansas City Jewish community center in 2014.

“Unfortunately, there is nothing special about a shooting at a Jewish institution in 2018,” Bernstein said. “The only appropriate ‘political’ statement right now is to condemn anti-Semitism, whether it emanates from the left or the right.”

“Americans would do well to ignore this toxic habit of political blame for murderous acts by the racist, anti-Semitic or mentally disturbed,” the Wall Street Journal editorial board said Sunday.

“We are all responsible for our rhetoric, and that includes Mr. Trump, as well as Hillary Clinton and Eric Holder. But the blame artists are distracting attention from the real sickness, which in this case is anti-Semitism, a hatred that goes back millennia.”

According to FBI hate crime statistics, Jews account for a sizeable majority of offenses targeting all religious minorities every year. Going back two decades – from the second Clinton administration to the end of the Obama administration, the percentage of all FBI-recorded religious hate crimes targeting Jews figure ranged from 79.1 percent (1996) to 54.4 percent (2016).

The most recent available FBI figures are for 2016, although the Anti-Defamation League reported a big increase in antisemitic incidents from 2016 to 2017.


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Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow