Jewish leaders in Pittsburgh, including the former president of the Tree of Life synagogue that was targeted in Saturday’s deadly shooting, have said US President Donald Trump is not welcome in the city because of his rhetoric against minorities.
A letter published by Behind the Arc, which describes itself as a movement for progressive Jews, said Trump would not be welcome until he distanced himself from white supremacists.
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“For the past three years your words and your policies have emboldened a growing white nationalist movement,” the letter read, addressing the US leader directly.
“You yourself called the murderer evil, but yesterday’s [Saturday’s] violence is the direct culmination of your influence,” it continued.
The group said Trump had “undermined the safety” of Muslims, the LGBTQ community, people of colour, and those with disabilities.
“Yesterday’s massacre is not the first act of terror you incited against a minority group in our country.”
Robert Bowers, the man police say is responsible for the slaying of 11 Jewish worshippers, had blamed a Jewish organisation, the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS) for helping bring immigrants to the US.
He said HIAS was bringing “invaders” into the country, in posts he made on Gab, a social media network that serves as a sanctuary for far-right activists barred from other sites.
Trump has condemned the killings and Bowers criticised the US president for not hating Jews strongly enough.
Opponents accuse Trump of having contributed to the climate of hate that made the attack possible.
Speaking to CNN after the Behind the Arc letter was issued, Lynette Lederman, the former president of the Tree of Life synagogue said she agreed with the letter.
“I do not welcome this president to this city,” she said, describing the Republican leader as a “purveyor of hate speech”.
“The hypocritical words that come from him tell me nothing.
“We have a very strong leadership in this city, we have a very strong mayor with very strong values, a very strong county executive…we have people who stand by us, who believe in values, not just Jewish values…and those are not the values of this president.”
On Monday, the White House announced that the president and First Lady Melania Trump will visit Pennsylvania on Tuesday “to express the support of the American people and to grieve with the Pittsburgh community”.
Rabbi Jeffrey Myers, the Tree of Life’s spiritual leader who survived the attack, told NBC that he would welcome a visit from Trump, but that “we turn to leaders of our country, and we’ve gotta stop hate … we need to act to tone down the rehtoric”.
Trump slammed for suggesting armed groups would have helped
Trump also drew criticism for saying that the synagogue should have had an armed guard.
“If there was an armed guard inside the temple, they would have been able to stop him,” the president said just hours after the incident.
Trump also called for the death penalty, and he said the shooting looks “definitely like it’s an anti-Semitic crime, and that is something you wouldn’t believe could still be going on”.
According to a 2017 study by Brandeis University, 63 percent of the city’s Squirrel Hill community, where the shooting took place, were a little or somewhat concerned about anti-Semitism. About 18 percent were very much concerned, the study found.
The Anti-Defamation League found that the number of anti-Semitic incidents in the US rose 57 percent in 2017 when compared with the previous year.
Communities across the US held ad-hoc vigils over the weekend to mourn those who were killed by Bowers, and more are planned for the week.
US flags were flown at half-mast over public buildings in the capital Washington, DC, and elsewhere to remember the victims.
A multi-faith ceremony in Pittsburgh drew Christian choirs and Islamic groups, who announced they had raised more than $123,000 in a crowdfunding campaign for survivors and relatives of those who died.
A separate GoFundMe campaign has raised more than $609,000 for those affected.
Americans at a vigil tonight to honor the victims of the mass shooting inside a Pittsburgh synagogue chanted one simple word over and over again:
— Shannon Watts (@shannonrwatts) October 28, 2018