The American Jewish Committee (AJC) and Los Angeles City Councilmember Bob Blumenfield held a press conference featuring various Jewish community leaders on Oct. 25 in front of Los Angeles City Hall, commemorating the Oct. 27, 2018, shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh.
The event also highlighted the rise of anti-Semitism in the country. Speakers included Jewish Federation Community Engagement Senior Vice President Alisa Finsten, Los Angeles Human Relations Commissioners Dr. Amna Qazi and Nirinjan Singh Khalsa, Word of Encouragement Church Pastor Rev. Najuma Smith-Pollard and Congregation Kol Ami Rabbi Denise Eger.
Blumenfield said the Pittsburgh shooting was “a gut punch to the Jewish community because Jews were systematically murdered.” He added the April shooting at the Chabad of Poway in San Diego County was “an attack on all of us.”
Blumenfeld then went on to say that anti-Semitism has increased during the past two years. He called out President Donald Trump’s remarks that Jews who vote for Democrats show “great disloyalty,” and Rep. Ilhan Omar’s (D-Minn.) “it’s all about the Benjamins” tweet, highlight how both sides of the political spectrum have a hand in spreading anti-Semitic tropes. “It is a scary time we live in. We need to figure out how to persevere and how to embrace each other,” he said.
Fifth District City Councilmember Paul Koretz recited the names of the 11 victims killed in the Pittsburgh shooting and said that the shooting serves as a reminder that bigotry in all forms needs to be denounced. He also blamed Trump’s rhetoric for inciting hatred throughout the country.
“President Trump’s words are frequently taken as a dog whistle of secret approval to the hate-motivated acts that happen,” Koretz said. “We condemn this. We can’t pretend that the world has moved past hatred, as we might have thought was the case just a few years ago.”
He added that more than 7,000 hate crimes occur on average annually in the U.S. and that a significant number involve gun violence. “One should not fear to go to a place of worship, school, in public or at home,” Koretz said. He also called for “stronger mental health guidelines” governing firearms sales, stating, “One year ago, 11 people were murdered. We can’t forget this. We can celebrate their lives and we can vow to stand together to eliminate hate and prevent future tragedies. As Americans, we profess with liberty and justice for all, and it’s time to follow through on that.”
“We can’t pretend that the world has moved past hatred, as we might have thought was the case just a few years ago.” L.A. City Councilmember Paul Koretz
City Controller Ron Galperin called the Pittsburgh shooting “an act of terror” and said that while he was angered and saddened by it, he wasn’t surprised that the shooting had occurred. “This terrible shooting was not an isolated incident of hate directed at the Jewish community, or similarly directed at others in our nation who may be targeted because of hate,” Galperin said. “What we see is a pattern, and a pattern that is raising its head.”
He added that anti-Semites generally also hate other minorities and that the Jewish community needs to be unified to speak out against bigotry in all forms, otherwise it will fester.
AJC Los Angeles Regional Director Richard S. Hirschhaut noted that in an AJC survey of American Jews released on Oct. 23, 84% think that anti-Semitism is getting worse in the country and nearly a third are afraid to wear religious garb in public.
“In America in 2019, who would have believed it?” Hirschhaut said. “Of course, the opinions of American Jews are not the only barometer of anti-Semitism but they are an important one. Government officials, opinion leaders and civil society must listen closely to these views.” He called for increased awareness of anti-Semitism as well as for security to be increased at Jewish institutions.
Anti-Defamation League Los Angeles Regional Director Amanda Susskind said there was a 14% increase in anti-Semitic hate crimes in Los Angeles County from 2017 to 2018, and a 21% increase in anti-Semitic hate crimes throughout California over the same period.
“Our fight back has to be more than just in our hearts and in our daily actions,” she said. “We have to lean into the work of fighting hate online through holding [social media] platforms accountable.”