President Trump’s visit Oct. 30 to the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh – where an anti-Semitic gunman murdered 11 Jews gathered in prayer Oct. 27 – was an important gesture that symbolized national mourning and unity in the face of a horrific tragedy.
The visit showed President Trump’s deep concern for the welfare of America’s Jewish community and followed a long tradition of presidential visits to the scenes of mass murders and natural disasters. On occasions like this, presidents of both parties have led the nation in mourning terrible losses of American lives.
In another gesture, President Trump ordered that flags at federal buildings around the nation to fly at half-staff in respect for the dead at the synagogue. In addition to the 11 Jews who were murdered, six people – including four courageous police officers – were wounded in the attack.
The president’s visit to the Pittsburgh synagogue – accompanied by first lady Melania Trump, his daughter Ivanka Trump and her husband, Jared Kushner – drew criticism by some and brought out about 1,000 protesters.
Yet I’m sure that many Americans Jews felt, as I felt, that the visit by President Trump and members of his family was deeply heartening and an acknowledgment that the deadliest anti-Semitic attack in U.S. history cried out for the presence of our nation’s leader to show that hatred of Jews has no place in our country and is un-American.
President Trump’s visit was not a surprise at this painful time. He – and the Republican Party as a whole – have always condemned anti-Semitism, supported the Jewish community, and been dependable friends and allies of Israel.
The attack on the Tree of Life synagogue has called forth two very different responses. One is an outpouring of comfort, solidarity, and compassion from Americans of every religion and background. That is the best possible response in the face of the anguish we feel at this sad time.
As an American Jew, who feels pain whenever Jews anywhere are hurt, I am grateful for the sympathy and friendship I have received from non-Jewish friends, neighbors and even strangers on the street in the wake of the mass murder at the synagogue.
President Trump should be acknowledged for the leadership he has shown in his responses to the synagogue attack. His strong statements condemning anti-Semitism demonstrated a true understanding of the nature of the evil that took those precious lives in Pittsburgh.
The president called out anti-Semitism as a poison that “must be condemned and confronted everywhere and anywhere it appears.”
President Trump sent two senior members of his administration, Jason Greenblatt and Avi Berkowitz, to Pittsburgh. In addition, the president and his family members were accompanied on their visit to the synagogue by Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. Ron Dermer.
Anti-Semitism is an ancient evil that sadly rears its ugly head in many parts of the world. In America, we’ve seen President Trump and the Republican Party loudly and consistently reject anti-Semitism and those who espouse it, including white supremacist fringe candidates who have tried to run for office as Republicans. Such people have no place in the Republican Party.
We’ve seen President Trump implement a pro-Israel agenda that goes beyond the historic diplomatic, intelligence and defense cooperation of our strong and very important strategic alliance with Israel.
President Trump recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and moved the U.S. embassy there. That’s something that previous American presidents had promised – but never done.
In ways large and small, too many to list, President Trump has deepened and strengthened the U.S.-Israel relationship that is so beneficial to both countries.
This makes it all the more painful and disturbing to see the second response to the Pittsburgh shooting that has filled the mainstream media and social media – a flood of bitter, hateful, politically motivated rhetoric trying to assign the blame for the murder of 11 American Jews to our president.
Assigning blame to President Trump for the scourge of anti-Semitism that has infected society for millennia – and scoring political points on the graves of 11 murdered Jews – is reprehensible.
Anti-Semitism is not new. It is one of the oldest hatreds in the world and has caused the deaths of millions of people. And it still kills today.
While the attack in Pittsburgh is the largest loss of life in an anti-Semitic attack on American soil, it is not the first such deadly incident. Between 1990 and 2015, a dozen people were killed in six anti-Semitic shooting attacks. And there have been many more anti-Semitic attacks that left American Jews injured, but thankfully still alive.
These terrible attacks did not start when Donald Trump became president. Pretending that he is somehow responsible for anti-Semitism in America makes it much harder to confront hatred of Jews and stop it.
Anti-Semitism is not a feature of the Republican Party or the mainstream right. Nor is it usually found among mainstream Democrats and independents.
Anti-Semitism is incubated at the extremes, where neo-Nazis and leftwing progressive radicals live, and where religious, racial and ethnic prejudice sow hatred against the “other.” Ever since our forefather Abraham proclaimed the One God in biblical times, Jews have been the chief “other” of history. When extremism is on the rise, our community suffers.
When leftwing organizations like Bend the Arc and J Street attempt to blame President Trump for the deaths in Pittsburgh, they contribute to hatred and division precisely when compassion and unity are needed. They should appeal to the best in our community and our country to stand together against hate, not to seek political gain from the murders of Jews.
Sadly, we can’t go back and erase the terrible events that turned the Tree of Life synagogue into a crime scene of death. But we can come together as Americans – Jews and non-Jews alike – to speak with one voice and to act with one purpose: to condemn anti-Semitism in unison and stop it from destroying any more lives.
Republican Norm Coleman represented Minnesota in the U.S. Senate from 2003-2009. He is chairman of the Republican Jewish Coalition.