Union leaders, Jewish Labor Committee call out political rhetoric for stoking flames that led to synagogue massacre, other recent attacks

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TRUMKA

By MARK GRUENBERG
Editor
Press Associates
Union News Service

Washington (PAI) — AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, D. Taylor of Unite Here and Mary Kay Henry of the Service Employees, the Jewish Labor Committee and other union leaders are speaking out against U.S. political leaders, implicitly or explicitly, for fomenting the environment that led to the anti-Semitic synagogue massacre in Pittsburgh, the shooting deaths of two African-American shoppers at a store in Louisville, Kentucky and the mailing of 14 pipe bombs to prominent Democrats and the Cable News Network (CNN) by a devoted and demented follower of Republican President Donald Trump.

But it was Robert Bowers’ hatred of Jews and his massacre of 11 worshipers at Tree of Life synagogue, following postings on social media that he was going to act, that drew the most recent outrage.

‘WE HAVE TO BE
BETTER THAN THIS’

“We have to be better than this,” Trumka said. “The hateful, murderous rhetoric spewed by politicians at all levels is poisoning and destroying the moral fabric of our beloved country. 

“For too many years, anti-Semitism and other forms of hate simmered below the surface and on the dark corners of the internet. But for personal gain, some politicians have chosen to create a political climate where the abhorrent has become almost mainstream,” Trumka said.

“Make no mistake, this appeal to our worst instincts has given way to horrific violence across the country. In the span of four days, two African-Americans were publicly gunned down at a grocery store solely based on the color of their skin, bombs were delivered to prominent politicians and journalists, and 11 Jewish people were massacred while praying. 

“We cannot allow ourselves to become numb or turn a blind eye. It is up to us to stand up and make clear what we will not accept. Change starts with us, working people. It is up to us to hold every politician and person in power accountable — not only for their actions, but for their words and for their silence.”

“As the Labor Movement, we understand better than anyone the urgency of this moment. When rhetoric spills over into violence, it’s our brothers and sisters’ blood shed and lives lost. We are part of every community around the country. And long after the last news crew is gone, we are there with our unions — helping to heal the wounds and pick up the pieces. Now, as we have throughout our country’s long history, working people will come together through our unions in solidarity to confront and overcome evil.”

TAYLOR

‘WORDS HAVE
CONSEQUENCES’

“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 ‘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.”

INCREASE IN ANTI-SEMITIC
AND RACIST VIOLENCE

National Nurses United Executive Director Bonnie Castillo compared the synagogue murders to anti-Jewish pogroms – killings and destruction of Jewish communities in then-Tsarist Russia.

CASTILLO

“The Pittsburgh murders, which have been characterized as the first anti-Jewish pogrom in U.S. history, must be viewed in tandem with the killing of two African-Americans in a Kentucky Kroger store and the mailing of pipe bombs to critics of President Trump, many of them Jewish and African-American,” Castillo explained.

Castillo criticized Trump’s “racist characterizations of Mexicans, immigrants, African-Americans and Muslims, (his) use of anti-Semitic and racist ‘code words,’ his encouragement of violence at campaign rallies and his labeling the media as “an enemy of the people.”

“At this time of crisis, our nation needs real leadership to unify all of us against these horrific attacks, not pandering to division and creating a toxic climate of fear,” Castillo said. “Our democracy must not be extinguished by these profound attacks on the principles of justice that we hold dear.”

‘MUST BE CONDEMNED
AND REJECTED’

This “bigotry did not arise from nowhere,” the Jewish Labor Committee (JLC) said in a statement. “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.”

The JLC is an independent secular non-profit organization serving as the voice of the Jewish community in the Labor Movement and the voice of the Labor Movement in the Jewish community. Whether through its national office in New York, local offices and lay-led groups across the United States, the JLC enables the Jewish community and the trade union movement to work together on important  issues of shared interest and concern, in pursuit of our shared commitment to economic and social justice.

HENRY

‘NO PLACE IN AMERICA
FOR THOSE WHO USE
HATRED TO DIVIDE US’

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…. 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. There is no place in America for those who use hatred, racism and anti-Semitism to divide us.”

GERARD

‘WE MUST
STAND TOGETHER’

Steelworkers President Leo Gerard, whose union’s headquarters is only a few miles from the synagogue, said, “The massacre at Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh has stunned our home city. We are all brokenhearted at the loss of life, at the targeting of Pittsburgh’s Jewish community, and at the depths of violence and division to which our society has fallen.

“Our leadership joins all of those mourning this senseless act. We also recognize that we must redouble our efforts to combat the prejudice that motivated this heinous act of violence. We must reach out to our members and our communities and talk about how we can overcome the divisions that plague our society. This is a conversation we cannot delay or dilute. We must stand together, in unwavering solidarity, with communities everywhere in the struggle to bring safety, freedom and equality to all.”

WEINGARTEN

A PUBLIC HEALTH CRISIS

American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten said “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 (last 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.”

SAUNDERS

‘ENOUGH IS ENOUGH’

“We are broken-hearted… and horrified,” AFSCME President Lee Saunders said.

“From a hate-filled gunman murdering worshippers in a Pittsburgh synagogue to another angry soul targeting critics of the president with pipe bombs through the mail, from conspiracy theories about Jewish funding of a ‘caravan’ of immigrants headed toward the United States to attacks on all immigrants coming via our southern border that stoke racist fears, from a candidate for governor urging Florida voters not to ‘monkey this up’ by supporting his black opponent to a recent Trump administration proposal to deny the existence of transgender people, public service workers say enough is enough.”

UNION VALUES

SHELTON

“Events of the past week have shaken our nation,” Communications Workers President Chris Shelton said. “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 in Jeffersontown, Kentucky, 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.”

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