Union leaders fault top political leaders for role in synagogue massacre
A Pittsburgh Steelers fan holds a sign honoring the victims of a deadly shooting at a synagogue on Saturday during the second half of an NFL football game between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Cleveland Browns, Oct. 28, in Pittsburgh. | Gene J. Puskar/AP

WASHINGTON—Two union leaders, D. Taylor of Unite Here and Mary Kay Henry of the Service Employees, plus the Jewish Labor Committee, faulted top U.S. political leaders, implicitly or explicitly, for fomenting the environment that led to the anti-Semitic synagogue massacre in Pittsburgh and other recent acts of hate.

Other union leaders, including Teachers President Randi Weingarten, the presidents of both her Pennsylvania state affiliate and her Pittsburgh local, the Pennsylvania state AFL-CIO, and Communications Workers President Chris Shelton – who grew up in the Bronx, which has a large Jewish population – also voiced outrage.

Other recent terrorist acts included a gunman, unable to enter an African-American church in Louisville, Kentucky, going to a nearby store and shooting down two African-American shoppers, and the 14 pipe bombs, sent by a devoted and demented follower of GOP President Donald Trump to prominent Democrats he has slammed, slandered and sneered at by name, plus the Cable News Network.

But it was Robert Bowers’ hatred of Jews and massacre of 11 worshipers at Tree of Life synagogue, after postings on social media that he was “going in” to act, that drew the most recent outrage. That included Taylor blaming Trump by name for fostering the hate that leads to such terrorism.

Trump said he will visit Pittsburgh Tuesday – even though leaders of the city’s Jewish community sent an open letter to the White House Monday asking him to stay away. They also posted it online, and 35,000+ other people have signed it.

“Anti-Semitism is not something new,” said Taylor. “Sadly, there has been an increase in incidents of anti-Semitism in this country recently. We all remember the images of neo-Nazis marching in Charlottesville, Va., and the president’s moral equivalency in the face of that. Unite Here members oppose anti-Semitism in every form.”

“The president said yesterday ‘the scourge of anti-Semitism cannot be tolerated.’ We agree and we re-commit ourselves as a union to eradicate wherever it shows its face. We also demand our political leaders, especially our president, cease and desist from fanning the flames of fear and hate in our country by their divisive rhetoric. Their words have consequences.”

That was also a theme of many of the nationwide rallies, including one that drew hundreds of people after sundown on the night of Oct. 27 to Lafayette Square, right in front of the White House. Called by Bend the Arc, a progressive Jewish organization, it drew an interfaith group of people and speakers. Many of them, too, laid the blame on Trump, and more than one said the response must come at the ballot box on Nov. 6. A second demonstration occurred the next day.

Similar themes echoed at a rally in downtown Chicago which drew thousands of people, correspondent John Bachtell reported, and at similar mass events from coast to coast.

Excerpts of comments from the other union leaders included:

  • Jewish Labor Committee: “This violent terrorist act in Pittsburgh was not the first, although it was the largest such attack against the American Jewish community. Deflecting people’s fears, frustrations and anxieties toward Jews, refugees or any minority in society is not new.

“This terrorist act was motivated not only by hatred of Jews but also by hatred of refugees and other migrants, and of those organizations, congregations, and communities aiding them,” JLC added, since the Pittsburgh gunman had explicitly ranted against HIAS, the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, which is now aiding refugees and asylum-seekers at the U.S.-Mexico border.

“Bigotry did not arise from nowhere. Anti-refugee sentiment, expressed in hate-filled rhetoric by the most senior members of the government, has been echoed and amplified in social media and given legitimacy by the mainstream press. The coded messages of anti-Semitism, racism, and xenophobia are given free rein not only in extreme alt-right shadows but increasingly in the conservative mainstream.

“The rapid rise of anti-Semitic acts in the United States, including this most recent case of domestic terrorism by a hate-filled home-grown extremist, must be condemned and rejected not only by those directly affected but by all Americans.”

  • Service Employees President Mary Kay Henry called the synagogue massacre “heinous and reprehensible. Hatred, anti-Semitism, and attacks on those who help refugees find a better life have no place anywhere in America. My heart is heavy with sorrow for the victims and their families.

“Unfortunately this kind of hateful and bigoted mindset is all too common in our nation. In the past week alone a Black church in Kentucky was targeted and… pipe bombs were mailed to public figures. Too many SEIU members live with the ongoing threat of gun violence in their communities. At the root of all of these is the effort by certain politicians to divide us by religion, ethnicity, gender, the color of our skin or where we were born by stoking anti-Semitism, racism and anti-immigrant fervor.

“SEIU’s two million members stand in love and solidarity with the Tree of Life’s members and the broader Jewish community. On Nov. 6 we will join millions more by standing up and making it crystal clear that there is no place in America for those who use hatred, racism, and anti-Semitism to divide us.”

  • Teachers President Randi Weingarten: “This time, we mourn a synagogue shooting, not a school shooting, but it is no less painful or tragic. Terrorism comes in many forms. The domestic extremism that has turned Americans against one another is a reflection of the undeniable hatred plaguing our communities. This time, it’s a murderer radicalized by a hatred of Jews. Earlier this week, it was a mail bomber. Our hearts break for the community of the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh and everyone affected by this anti-Semitic, anti-immigrant massacre.

“Most synagogues do have security, but, just like in our schools, pretending that a good guy with a gun can singularly stop people armed with assault rifles and weapons of war is magical thinking. Law enforcement, who acted heroically, could not stop this murderer. The fact that mass shootings persist in our democracy is a public health crisis that we must tackle immediately: With commonsense gun safety laws, with access to mental health services, and with a renewed commitment to teaching tolerance.

“Personally, as a Jew, when confronted by anti-Semitism, I lean into my practice of Judaism. As a teacher, I lean into our work to educate for a more tolerant and inclusive America. As an activist, I lean into the fight against hate and the fight for a better and safer nation. Let us all work for a fairer and more decent country in the memory of those who were lost today.”

  • RETAIL, WHOLESALE AND DEPARTMENT STORE UNION PRESIDENT STUART APPELBAUM: “The rapid rise of anti-Semitic acts in the United States, including this most recent case of domestic terrorism by a hate-filled home-grown extremist, must be condemned and rejected not only by those directly affected, but by all Americans.” Appelbaum is also president of the Jewish Labor Committee.
  • COMMUNICATIONS WORKERS PRESIDENT CHRIS SHELTON: “Events of the past week have shaken our nation. Violent extremists have targeted African-Americans, Jewish Americans, and political leaders, and the Trump administration has declared its intention to dehumanize transgender and gender non-conforming members of our communities.

“I call on all CWA members and retirees to honor those who lost their lives this week in Jeffersontown, Ky. and Pittsburgh, Pa. by re-dedicating themselves to the fight for justice. We must put our union values into action by building stronger connections within our communities and by confronting white supremacist and anti-Semitic ideologies at every opportunity.”

  • PENNSYLVANIA FEDERATION OF TEACHERS PRESIDENT TED KIRSCH: “Our synagogues, our schools, and the public spaces at the center of our neighborhoods should be safe havens, but today in America, people now feel in danger where they learn and where they worship. When an armed citizen seeks to murder Jews and others who support refugees, it represents a heinous assault on some of our most basic freedoms. Today, that evil made its way to Pennsylvania, and we condemn it at every turn.”
  • THE PENNSYLVANIA STATE AFL-CIO called the massacre an unspeakable tragedy” and lauded the police and EMTs for their quick response. “While union members had gathered today to participate in our democracy during the election process, this tragedy has given us pause to consider the direction our society is heading. It is impossible to understand the unthinkable, but we will not allow this hatred to prevail in Pennsylvania, state President Richard Bloomingdale and Secretary-Treasurer Frank Snyder, a Steelworker, added.
  • PITTSBURGH FEDERATION OF TEACHERS PRESIDENT NINA ESPOSITO-VISGITIS: “The educators and school support staff of the city of Pittsburgh are devastated that a shooter would target members of our community based on their religion and their progressive values. We are committed to teaching Pittsburgh’s students inclusivity and tolerance, and we will not let this act of terror cause us to abandon that commitment.”
  • THE ASSOCIATION OF FLIGHT ATTENDANTS-CWA, which has a major hub in Pittsburgh: “We have no room for hate. All leaders, public and private, must call for equality, mutual respect, and love. It is incumbent on all of us to hold our leaders responsible for this action and example. Our hearts are with our Jewish friends and all touched by the despicable act of hatred in Pittsburgh today. We rise up in love and unity.”


Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Award-winning journalist Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but tough when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.