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THE TREE OF LIFE TRAGEDY AND ITS CONTOURS

BY MICHAEL DROHAN

On Saturday October 27 a great tragedy took place in Pittsburgh when a gunman entered the Tree of Life Synagogue and massacred 11 religious worshippers with an AR-15 rifle. It was the greatest act of anti-Semitism to occur in all US history. A great shroud of sadness envelops our entire community, as our hearts go out to the families of those slain, to all the members of the Tree of Life synagogue, and to all the Jewish community in Pittsburgh and all over the country. At the Merton Center we join the throngs of mourners and grievers, especially given the long history of connection between the Center and the Jewish community.

The man who committed this heinous crime, Robert Bowers from Brentwood, gave us some insight into what motivated him to commit this crime. Just before entering the Synagogue he put a message up on the internet platform called “Gab,” a site visited by white nationalists and neo-Nazis. On this site he wrote “HIAS likes to bring invaders in who kill our people. I can’t sit by and let my people be slaughtered. Screw your optics; I’m going in”. As he opened fire in the Synagogue, Bowers is reported to have said “All Jews must die.”

HIAS is an acronym for Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, an organization which has worked with poor immigrants to the US from all backgrounds. It was formed in the early 1880s when Jews were under attack in Czarist Russia, and it helped to resettle many Jewish refugees in the United States.

The massacre in Squirrel Hill did not take place in a vacuum, so to speak. It capped a week in which many hate-filled acts of violence and threats of violence took place. On Wednesday of the same week as the Tree of Life shooting a white man in Kentucky shot two AfricanAmericans in a grocery store after he had attempted to enter and shoot up an African-American Church. On Friday, the day prior to the Pittsburgh attack, a man named Cesar Sayoc, an apparently hate-filled Trump supporter; was arrested in Florida and accused of mailing bombs to George Soros, a Jewish philanthropist and entrepreneur, former President Obama, the Clintons, CNN, Senators Kamala Harris and Corey Booker (both African-Americans) and Tom Steyer, who has been trying to organize the impeachment of President Trump.

The bigger context of the Tree of Life massacre is the hysteria built around the caravan of several thousands of poor, oppressed and impoverished Central Americans who are marching towards the US. President Trump has labeled these unfortunate human beings as invaders, criminals and rapists. He claims that they are infiltrated with dangerous Muslims from the Middle East.

One of the ironies of this situation is that the people who are attempting to emigrate are all from countries where the US has intervened for several decades, upending attempts at democracy, civil rights and a more equitable distribution of wealth and income. Most of them are coming from Honduras, where the US helped to overthrow a progressive democratic President, Manuel Zelaya, in 2009, replacing him with a conservative neoliberal who has further advanced inequality, violence and repression. Guatemalan and Salvadoran refugees constitute the other participants in the caravan, both countries having suffered from decades of US intervention on behalf of United Fruit Company and other US interests. The message is: we destroy your country, but it is up to you to pick up the pieces as we declare innocence of any crime.

It would appear that Robert Bowers drank the Kool-Aid of President Trump’s xenophobia and took action. Trump’s rhetoric of disparagement and belittlement of the poor of the earth struggling to survive has consequences and the fruit of this is the tragedy of The Tree of Life Synagogue.

There is an interesting connection between the Merton Center and the tragedy of The Tree of Life. A man named Nathaniel Glosser, a member of the Center, recently and tragically deceased, was a cousin of Stephen Miller, who is the advisor of President Trump on many of his hateful policies in regard to immigrants. Nathaniel’s uncle is Dr. David Glosser, a retired neuropsychologist who now lives in Philadelphia.

Dr Glosser has gone on record on the Tree of Life killings, stating, “Mr. Trump has made it his policy to vilify and dehumanize Hispanics, Muslims, and nonwhites, calling them subhuman animals that are infesting our country like so many insects or rats. Make no mistake about it: This is the same kind of propaganda that is identical to the racist rants at Nazi Party rallies in Germany in the 1930s. Now Trump spews the same poisonous messages to his supporters and claims innocence when this inflammatory vitriol is sprayed over society. He claims innocence now that this political gasoline catches fire and people get hurt and killed.” Dr. Glosser decries the complicity of his nephew Stephen Miller, the architect of many of the hateful policies of Mr. Trump. The irony here is that the Glossers, Stephen Miller’s family, escaped as refugees from Antopol, Belarus in the early 1900s, as refugees from Czarist anti-Semitism and cruelty.

Michael Drohan is a member of the Editorial Collective and the Board of the Merton Center.

 

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