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The Right Is Blaming Jews For The Pittsburgh Shooting — And So Is The Left

In a stunningly apt display of victim-blaming, Donald Trump said on Saturday that the outcome of the anti-Semitic attack on Tree of Life synagogue that left 11 Jews dead would have been different if the Pittsburgh congregants had been armed.

Before boarding a flight to several events — one of which being one of his racist, anti-immigrant rallies — Trump callously told reporters that, “If there was an armed guard inside the temple, they would have been able to stop him.”

Not only this statement disgusting, but it ignores reality.

Firstly, many American synagogues and Jewish schools are already armed, especially during the High Holidays, possessing a level of security that white Christian churches couldn’t fathom.

Furthermore, heavy synagogue security can have a negative impact on a community. The Chanukah after Donald Trump was elected, I remember walking past Sixth and I, a Reform synagogue where many of us college students attended events and lectures. There were many layers of security. Guards were armed to the teeth, and they were searching bags, checking IDs, and checking people’s bodies for weapons.

It was incredibly scary. In Hillel and at home, we had numerous conversations about how the increased security increased our sense of vulnerability.

Then there’s the fact that arming individual congregants without training them about how to respond to an active shooter situation is chaos waiting to happen, and could possibly result in more harm.

And People of Color may be the most harmed by this, or by a more heavy police presence in synagogues. We know that for black and Hispanic people, police and gun owner bias during high-stress situations too often leads to death.

Unfortunately, Trump’s victim-blaming rhetoric regarding the victims of this shooting isn’t isolated. It’s a depressingly common view on both the right and the left of the political spectrum that violent anti-Semitism would go away if only Jews would stop oppressing Palestinians.

Even Julia Ioffe, a Jewish correspondent for The Atlantic and GQ Magazine, tweeted after the shooting, “I hope the embassy move… was worth it.”

Ioffe’s tweet was most likely good-intentioned, and the suffering of Palestinians at the hands of Israelis shouldn’t be ignored. And yet, this statement was incredibly tone-deaf at such a time. It sends an implicit message that Jews are making a large contribution to their own massacre, by supporting Trump’s disastrous foreign policy. Meanwhile, more than 70% of Jews actually voted against Trump.

The idea that violent anti-Semitism is the result of bad Jewish behavior is a dangerous one — and one that has allowed Jewish pain to go ignored for centuries.

Jews are not to blame for anti-Semitism. Full stop.

It wasn’t just Ioffe, though. Many on the left have called for Trump’s Jewish supporters to acknowledge the way their support of Trump has enabled him — and thus enabled the rhetoric that incited the Pittsburgh synagogue murderer. Others have called for them to be shunned — another implicit argument that they are to blame.

They aren’t.

And Jews aren’t the only ones being unfairly blamed, either.

For me, it’s also been utterly devastating to see the ways that black people and Muslims are also unfairly being maligned in this. On social media, I’ve seen a renewed focus on confronting people like Shaun King, Louis Farrakhan, Tamika Mallory, and Linda Sarsour over their supposed anti-Semitism. While I’m no fan of any of these people — especially Farrakhan — it’s erroneous to say that they have blood on their hands.

Saturday’s shooter, Robert Bowers, was an avowed white supremacist who hated Jews, immigrants, and black people. I doubt that he was consulting the views of Nation of Islam members before deciding to commit this crime.

We can call out anti-Semitism from marginalized people without suggesting that they are colluding with white supremacists. Farrakhan’s rhetoric is pure, unadulterated evil, but his followers are more concerned with surviving this country as black people than they are with wiping Jews off this planet. White supremacists are the ones putting words into action.

Consider what it does to Black Jews who protest against a hyper-focus on the black response to the Tree of Life massacre and are attacked for it. We, too, are being victim-blamed, when it is suggested that our protest of anti-blackness means we don’t care about anti-Semitism.

I personally know Black Jews who have lost members of their community in Saturday’s attack. They’re survivors, and they deserve to be seen as such, even if they say things that some people in the community don’t want to hear.

This is a depressing time to be on social media, not only because of the triggering descriptions of the attack, but also because of the incessant victim-blaming coming from our government, liberal activists, and each other.

Instead of victim-blaming, it would be great if the world could turn their energy towards avenging the blood of the victims. We need a revolution against the wheels of white supremacy that this nation runs on, not a game of pointing fingers at the victims of that white supremacy.

Nylah Burton is a sexual assault survivor advocate and a student from Howard University. Follow her on Twitter, @yumcoconutmilk.

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