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Rabbi: Trump & GOP Have Blood on Their Hands for Pittsburgh Synagogue Shooting & Hateful Violence

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Cecil Rosenthal, David Rosenthal, Melvin Wax, Irving Younger, Daniel Stein, Joyce Fienberg, Richard Gottfried, Rose Mallinger, Jerry Rabinowitz, Bernice Simon and Sylvan Simon. Those are the names of the 11 worshipers who were gunned down Saturday in Pittsburgh, when a 46-year-old white man named Robert Bowers entered the Tree of Life synagogue and opened fire, yelling “All Jews must die.” It is believed to be the worst anti-Semitic attack in U.S. history. We speak with Ari Lev Fornari, a rabbi at Kol Tzedek Synagogue in West Philadelphia who has worked with HIAS, a Jewish agency that aids refugees that the gunman targeted online. We also speak with Dr. David Glosser, a retired neuropsychologist who has volunteered with HIAS in Philadelphia. Glosser is the uncle of Stephen Miller, a key political adviser to President Trump who has pushed for a crackdown on immigrants. Glosser speaks directly to his Stephen Miller, saying, “It’s absolutely unacceptable to utilize hatred and bigotry to advance your political ends. This is a shallow, shabby expression of ambition. It’s poisonous to the country, destructive to society, and a complete repudiation of your own background and your own past.”

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, as we talk about the horrific shooting rampage on Saturday in Pittsburgh. Just before the massacre, the gunman, Robert Bowers, wrote a message online, saying, ”HIAS likes to bring invaders in that kill our people. I can’t sit by and watch my people get slaughtered. Screw your optics, I’m going in.”

In addition to David Glosser, we are joined by Ari Lev Fornari, rabbi at Kol Tzedek Synagogue in West Philadelphia.

Rabbi Fornari, start by responding to what took place on Saturday. You’re a rabbi for a Philadelphia congregation, in another part of Pennsylvania, but you also work with HIAS, the organization that the shooter was directly attacking.

RABBI ARI LEV FORNARI: Thank you, Amy. It’s an honor to be back on your show. And I also just want to begin by just naming this has been a devastating week and a devastating weekend, and for Jews probably around the world and certainly Jews in my congregation and around Pittsburgh and Philadelphia. We are reeling. We’re in this state of what’s referred to as aninut, this kind of suspended state of grief before there is really—there really are words or actions to figure out how to respond. And I just want to extend my love and condolences to all who are experiencing direct loss in Pittsburgh and at the Tree of Life congregation.

Your opening segment, hearing the Jews gathered in prayer on that Saturday night, singing the words to end Shabbat, really brought back the gathering that we had at the Calvary Center for Culture and Community. Kol Tzedek and our community of neighbors and allies gathered in the same way. There were about a hundred of us in West Philadelphia singing those same words and offering words of inspiration and grief together, kind of finding solidarity in our gathering.

And what really strikes me is that this political violence is not happening in isolation. The murder of these 11 Jews in Pittsburgh is inextricably linked to the murder of the two black shoppers in Kentucky, to the slaughter of black worshipers in Charleston in 2015, to the burning of mosques and masjids around the country, to the attack on the Sikh temple in Wisconsin. There is a long history of political violence, and we are seeing a surge in it. And I hold Trump and the Republican Party and his supporters and his enablers directly responsible for this.

We need to be making the connections that Bowers himself is making, which is we need to be seeing the interconnection of Trump’s language targeting all of us, targeting immigrants and Muslims and people of color, black and brown bodies, queer and trans bodies, and seeing ourselves as all targets of white nationalism, and to understand that anti-Semitism and racism are at the core of white nationalism. And this administration is targeting all of us, and we will not be divided, which is why I’m so inspired by the leaders of Pittsburgh, who are saying, “Trump, you are not welcome in Pittsburgh until you denounce white nationalism,” because that is what is responsible for all of this.

And my own synagogue, Kol Tzedek, is—like the Tree of Life in Pittsburgh, works directly with HIAS. And we’ve been sponsoring and supporting three refugees in our neighborhood for the past two years, supporting them to find housing and work and necessary medical appointments, sharing groceries and meals, and being a source of community and connection to help them get resettled.

We’ve also been participating in solidarity rallies at a local masjid, Masjid Al-Jamia, where there was a group of white nationalists that showed up about six months ago to terrorize and provoke violence during one of their Friday Jumu’ah prayers. And for about six months, a group of community neighbors, and led by Kol Tzedek Synagogue, showed up every single Friday and had signs that said, you know, “West Philly Jews support our Muslim neighbors, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

And so, what we need to be doing is actually showing up and being a voice of solidarity and making the same connections that these white nationalists are making, which is that we actually are all vulnerable to the violence of white supremacy and white nationalism that Trump and his supporters are provoking and enabling. And I really see this as a pivotal moment, as we’re one week away from the midterm elections, that we need to get out the vote and unseat and hold accountable everyone running for office who has direct ties to white nationalism, thinking specifically, for starters, of Steven King in the 4th District in Iowa. And I’m really drawing great comfort from these fierce, brave people of color, women, who are running against longtime incumbents and trying to unseat these racist leaders in our country. What we know is—

AMY GOODMAN: You know, it’s interesting you mention voting, Rabbi, because on Saturday, not long after the shooting, I believe it was high school kids in Pittsburgh, right in that area, in Squirrel Hill, organized just a vigil—they were so horrified—so people could come together. And spontaneously, the chant that broke out in that vigil was “Vote. Vote.” And your reference to the 11 members of the Pittsburgh affiliate of Bend the Arc: A Jewish Partnership for Justice writing that letter to President Trump. Trump said he will be going to Pittsburgh, I think, sometime this week. And they wrote, “Our Jewish community is not the only group you have targeted. … You have also deliberately undermined the safety of people of color, Muslims, LGBTQ people, and people with disabilities. Yesterday’s massacre is not the first act of terror you incited against a minority group in our country,” they wrote, saying that unless he renounces white nationalism, that he can’t come to Pittsburgh.

RABBI ARI LEV FORNARI: Yeah. You know, these are the kinds of connections we need to be making, because we actually have power in numbers. We not only need to get out the vote, but we need to be showing up for each other. At the gathering we had on Saturday night at the Calvary Center, our dear friends and allies, our Muslim and Christian clergy and neighbors came, and they spoke, and they sang to us, and they shared words. There were about a hundred of us present. And in the moment where our words failed us, they said, “We stand by you. We will be your standing stone,” and really offered, you know, the words of Jewish liberation from a hundred years ago, which is that we will outlive them, we will do this in the streets together, that we are not alone in this. Jews are not alone in this. People of color are not alone in this. Immigrants are not alone in this.

I was thinking about this in connection to my own work related to immigrant justice. I spent some time earlier in August at the U.S.-Mexico border as part of a clergy action to be providing—to be resisting this administration’s criminalization of humanitarian aid on the U.S. border. And what we know is that the criminalization of immigration is directly connected to the violence that’s being perpetrated against trans bodies, against people of color, against black bodies out in public space, which has been going on, you know, for as long as basically the U.S. has been in existence. There has been—the violence against black and brown bodies has been condoned by the state. And this is a time where we need to rise up and resist that and reclaim—reclaim a sense of connected safety, that is not built in state power, but that’s built in our relationships of solidarity and interdependence. And we—

AMY GOODMAN: I want to ask—


AMY GOODMAN: —also about what happened, this remarkable moment on Friday afternoon. Most aren’t paying attention, because the accused bomber, Cesar Sayoc, had been arrested, and so there was a lot of attention on this van that he was living in, that had all these targets on it and pro-Trump signs. He was at a Melbourne, Florida, Trump rally recently. But soon after that, President Trump was in the East Room with young black leaders, and he basically led a mini rally as he attacked globalists, and the young people, wearing MAGA hats—”Make America Great Again—chanted “Soros” and “Lock him up.” This was in the White House on Friday. I think it was Wednesday that Trump, in the middle of the night, tweeted, putting the word “bombs” in quotes and saying this is taking attention away from what we want to focus on—right?—the caravan, the threats, as he perceived them, of persecuted people coming up into this country.

RABBI ARI LEV FORNARI: Yeah. What we’re seeing is Trump coming further and further out and saying his true colors. We saw last week that he came out as a nationalist. And we know the word that comes before “nationalist.” It’s “white nationalist.” And we know the use of the term “globalist” is directly a long-standing attack on Jews. It’s an anti-Semitic slur that’s been used. And we’ve seen these same strategies in the strategies of media and manipulation that Hitler used in the Nazi Party to rise in Germany.

And so, I really hold Trump and the entire Republican Party, in their silence, complicit for these acts of violence and this murder. The blood is on their hands. It’s not just about getting guns out of dissemination. It’s actually about changing the discourse of who’s in power. This is not a side project. This actually is the project of this administration. And we need to be speaking out and saying, “Trump, you need to denounce white nationalism.” And we need to hold accountable all of our elected officials, and, frankly, we need to unseat them and change the face of who is in power in this country, because this violence is not happening in isolation. And as we are seeing, it’s escalating terribly. This past week has been devastating. And it’s an assault not just on our bodies, but on our souls. And one of the teachings that we have in our ethical tradition is that in a place where people are not acting human, we need to strive to be human. We need to stay connected to our humanity. We need to build this world from love.

AMY GOODMAN: We just have one minute, but, Dr. David Glosser, do you want to publicly address your nephew, Trump senior adviser Stephen Miller, here?

DR. DAVID GLOSSER: I’ll continue with the same message I’ve been trying to get across for the last many months: It’s absolutely unacceptable to utilize hatred and bigotry to advance your political ends. This is a shallow, shabby expression of ambition. It’s poisonous to the country, destructive to society, and a complete repudiation of your own background and your own past.

AMY GOODMAN: Dr. David Glosser, I want to thank you for being with us, uncle of Trump senior adviser Stephen Miller. Dr. Glosser, a volunteer with HIAS. Rabbi Ari Lev Fornari, rabbi at Kol Tzedek Synagogue in West Philadelphia, also works with HIAS. He was on the border. Also, the HIAS Shabbats, the refugee Shabbats, that were held all over the country last week, I know that Rabbi Fornari is planning one in November in Philadelphia. And the significance of this, the Pittsburgh [Tree] of Life synagogue participated in this, as well. We will continue to follow this story.

When we come back, we’ll be joined by Glenn Greenwald in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. President Trump just tweeted his congratulations to Jair Bolsonaro, the far-right now-president-elect of Brazil. Stay with us.

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