Jewish leaders around the world have echoed shock and heartache following mass shootings that left 31 dead in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio last weekend.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu led condolences from his government and citizens of Israel following the “murderous attacks” while the Anti-Defamation League confirmed the tragedies were the third deadliest act of violence by a domestic extremist and second by a right-wing extremist in over 50 years of US history.
Only the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995 suffered more fatalities.
Mainstream Jewish groups across America have called for a review of gun safety laws.
President Donald Trump in a passionate address to the nation from The White House on Monday blamed “racism, bigotry and white supremacy” for the double atrocity.
“The shooter in El Paso posted a manifesto online, consumed by racist hate. In one voice, our nation must condemn racism, bigotry and white supremacy,” he exclaimed Trump.
“These sinister ideologies must be defeated. Hate has no place in America.”
He added, “Mental health and hate pull the trigger, not the gun.”
Trump accused violent video games for the atrocities but fell short of backing general gun control measures, however he called on the FBI to identify resources to “disrupt domestic terrorism”.
He also appealed for ‘mental health’ gun control reforms, bi-partisan co-operation over gun laws between Republicans and Democrats and the death penalty for those who commit such heinous acts.
And he said there would be for co-operation between agencies, social media companies and mental health laws to fight a culture of glorification of violence.
Trump added red flag laws would enable authorities to take weapons from individuals believed to be a threat, he also suggested involuntary confinement could stop potential attackers.
On Twitter the same day, he noted, “We cannot let those killed in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, die in vain. Likewise, for those so seriously wounded. We can never forget them, and those many who came before them. Republicans and Democrats must come together and get strong background checks, perhaps marrying this legislation with desperately needed immigration reform. We must have something good, if not GREAT, come out of these two tragic events!”
In El Paso on Saturday afternoon, a gunman, named as Patrick Crusius, opened fire with a semi-automatic rifle at families buying back-to-school supplies at a Walmart shopping centre.
Crusius, a resident Allen, Dallas, 650 miles from El Paso, surrendered to police. He is in custody charged with capital murder for domestic terrorism and a hate crime.
Crusius is believed to have written and posted a four-page document manifesto 20 minutes before police received a first emergency call about the attack.
The manifesto reportedly states it was “a response to the Hispanic invasion of Texas and offered support for the gunman who killed 51 people in Christchurch, New Zealand in March.
El Paso County District Attorney Jaime Esparza said under Texas law, he would call for the death penalty.
In Dayton early on Sunday morning, a gunman, identified as Connor Betts, killed his sister and eight others in a 30 second attack on the outskirts of downtown Dayton’s Oregon District.
A motive has yet to be established.
FBI agents are supporting police in investigations.
Rabbi Yisroel Greenberg of Chabad of El Paso rushed to a local hospital straight after Shabbat to offer support to those being treated and families of those lost.
“It’s a tough time,” he said. “The Jewish community, like everyone here, is very shaken by this massacre. In these dark times, it’s important to show people that we care, adding light to the darkness through compassion and acts of goodness and kindness.”
Rabbi Greenberg also visited the University Medical Center with Rabbi Levi Greenberg.
In the on-going gun debate in the US, the Democrat-led House of Representatives passed a bill for firearm background checks last February but the Republican-controlled Senate has yet to ratify it.
Trump was expected to visit El Paso and Drayton yesterday, but his appearance has been seen as controversial by US residents and politicians critical of divisive comments prior and since his inauguration.
During his presidential campaign, Trump was highly critical of Mexican immigrants and recently caused anger over suggestions that four US congresswomen of colour “go back and help fix the totally broken and crime-infested places from which they came”.
Trump has denied the comments were racist.
On hearing news of the visits, Democratic presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke O’Rourke tweeted, “This president, who helped create the hatred that made Saturday’s tragedy possible, should not come to El Paso. We do not need more division. We need to heal. He has no place here.”
“The El Paso killer was a white supremacist who wrote a ‘send them back’ manifesto, echoing the words of President Trump,” said Halie Soifer, Jewish Democratic Council of America in a statement. He added, “Trump is responsible for fuelling a fire of xenophobia and hatred in our country, and Republicans are responsible for allowing it to occur.
“Trump and Republicans are both responsible for failing to protect our communities from the scourge of gun violence. Republican inaction in the face of these growing threats is reprehensible and deplorable, and we condemn it in the strongest possible terms.”
Former US President Barack Obama, without naming anyone, joined the media debate in a statement this week when he called on Americans to reject language from leaders that feeds hatred or normalises racism.
Evaluating his tenure in office, Obama described his unsuccessful fight to restrict gun ownership as the “greatest frustration” of his presidency.
In a statement, Obama noted, “We should soundly reject language coming out of the mouths of any of our leaders that feeds a climate of fear and hatred or normalises racist sentiments; leaders who demonise those who don’t look like us, or suggest that other people, including immigrants, threaten our way of life, or refer to other people as sub-human, or imply that America belongs to just one certain type of people.
“It has no place in our politics and our public life. And it’s time for the overwhelming majority of Americans of goodwill, of every race and faith and political party, to say as much, clearly and unequivocally.”
Jewish support for the shootings has been widespread.
The Jewish Federation of Greater El Paso said in a statement they were devastated by the “irrational and devastating plague of violence sweeping” the US.
The Jewish Federation of Greater Dayton, also in a statement, said they would advise Jewish residents how the community could help those killed and injured and help the city heal.
“Yet again, we turn our thoughts and prayers to a community grieving after another mass shooting potentially motivated by hate and extremism,” commented Anti-Defamation League CEO Jonathan Greenblatt. “But thoughts and prayers are simply not enough. We have documented a rise in extremist activity, both online and in our communities as with too many of these incidents.”
“Carnage is validated and celebrated on social media platforms like 8chan,” commented the Simon Wiesenthal Center. “They demonize minorities, Jews and immigrants before deadly shootings from Pittsburgh to New Zealand to Poway. Those cheering hate, racism and antisemitism 24/7 must be stopped.”
Marshall Weiss, Dayton Jewish Observer editor said local police were “true heroes” in the face of this horrific shooting as they arrived on the scene in less than a minute.
“They undoubtedly saved dozens, maybe even hundreds of lives,” he said.
Netanyahu offered condolences to bereaved families and solidarity with American people.
He previously expressed condolences following the mass shooting in Las Vegas.
And earlier this year, Netanyahu and President Reuven Rivlin condemned shootings at a Chabad Synagogue in Poway, California and Pittsburgh Synagogue, which killed 11 people in what was the deadliest attack on Jews in US history.
By Leah Waxler