Eleven people have died and six others, including Daniel Leger, pictured, have been seriously injured when a man entered the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh in an unprovoked, antisemitic attack on Saturday morning.
The killer, Robert Bowers, entered the synagogue whilst its members were in the midst of a baby-naming service. He has since told police, who eventually overpowered him, that his sole motive was that he simply wanted all Jews dead. The Anti-Defamation League said it was the most horrific attack on the Jewish community in American history.
Baroness Jenny Tonge, was reproached for her reaction to the news.
On Facebook, she asked her fans if it has ever occurred to “Bibi and the present Israeli government that its actions against Palestinians may be reigniting antisemitism?”
She ended with a rhetorical question – “I suppose someone will say that it is antisemitic to say so?”
Michael Dickson, Executive Director of the prestigious Israeli educational establishment, Stand With Us, said: “The rock cold heart of Baroness Jenny Tonge was on display for all to see.”
He added: “Following the slaying of Jews in synagogue at prayer, she excuses the motivation of the murder, never missing an opportunity to defame the world’s only Jewish country. A heartless, obsessive, hate-filled person.”
Tonge was dismissed from her job as the health spokeswoman for the Liberal Democrats in 2010, after requiring that there be an investigation into concerns that IDF aid works in Haiti were involved in the harvesting of organs. In 2016, she was formally suspended from the party after she acted as hostess during an event held at the House of Lords where members of the audience proposed that Jews were the cause of the Holocaust and compared the Israeli authorities and its army to ISIS. Consequently, Tonge is now an Independent.
Labour MP Jess Philips announced that she was “appalled by the blatant propaganda and antisemitism” displayed by members within the House of Commons and the House of Lords.
In her view, their reaction showed “no heart at all for murdered innocent people”. She commented – “I’d say I was shocked but I’m not.”
Gideon Falter, Chairman of Campaign Against Antisemitism, said: “Today the peace of the Jewish Sabbath was shattered when a terrorist targeted Jewish innocents at a synagogue in Pittsburgh. As the Sabbath ends, families have been broken and lives have been taken. All over the world, far-right, far-left and Islamist extremists are stoking the flames of Jew-hatred, with too little done to stop them. Antisemitism is an age-old disease which begins with hatred and violence towards Jews and ends with the unravelling of society. We mourn with the Jewish community in Pittsburgh. May the memories of those who fell today be a blessing. Today we are reminded so brutally and heartbreakingly why we must stand together against antisemitism.”
Board of Deputies of British Jews, President Marie van der Zyl, has staunchly condemned the appalling attack on innocent worshippers.
She said: ‘Our thoughts and prayers go out to the victims and families of the innocent worshippers gunned down in cold blood at a Pittsburgh synagogue. It is particularly chilling to hear reports that the shooter said, “all these Jews need to die”. The UK Jewish community stands in solidarity with everyone affected in the US.’
However, the Labour MP Chris Williamson has been the subject of severe criticism after he tweeted a story reproaching the Board of Deputies, only hours after the massacre in the synagogue took place. Williamson shared a link from an extremist left blog which publicised an article headed “Board of Deputies president accused of antisemitic trope.”
The Jewish Labour Movement publicly declared Mr Williamson to be “an absolute disgrace to our party” whilst Wes Streeting, Labour MP for Ilford North, regarded Williamson’s actions as representing a “new low”. Williamson’s colleagues have been dispatching messages of condolence to members of the Jewish community in light of the terrible tragedy in Pittsburgh.
A selection of volunteers from the American organisation, “Misaskim”, travelled from Brooklyn to Pittsburgh, to offer their assistance to the local Chevra Kaddisha. On its website, Misaskim’s mission is declared to be to “provide support and assistance to individuals experiencing crisis or tragedy by providing them with vital bereavement services.” Together with a similar American organisation, “Chesed Shel Emes”, some members of which have also volunteered their services to the Pittsburgh community, Misaskim is prepared to offer the Pittsburgh Chevra Kaddisha any moral and technical support it may require. Even before the FBI had released the bodies for burial, volunteers from Misaskim were allowed entry into the Tree of Life Synagogue in order to view the crime scene and prepare themselves for the emotionally and physically gruelling nature of the work ahead of them.
Michael Goldstein, President of the United Synagogue has declared, “As Jews, we are not just bound by a common religion. Our heritage dictates that we are one family. Antisemites will never understand this….They may try to destroy us but the Almighty is there to support us and we will get stronger.” He has urged all British Jews to attend Shul this Shabbat in a show of solidarity with the Pittsburgh community.
Meanwhile, police investigators are piecing together a profile of the forty-six-year-old murderer, Robert Bowers. He faces 29 charges comprising eleven counts of using a firearm to perform murderous acts and several charges of having committed hate crimes, including the deliberate attempt to stop people from practising their religious beliefs, and culminating in the death of numerous victims and also causing physical injury to policemen trying to protect them.