Thursday 14 November 2019

Trump faces uneasy welcome in Pittsburgh following synagogue massacre

Eleven people were killed by a gunman at the city’s Tree of Life synagogue at the weekend.

Donald Trump is set to visit Pittsburgh in the wake of the massacre (AP)
Donald Trump is set to visit Pittsburgh in the wake of the massacre (AP)

By Zeke Miller and Allen G Breed

Donald Trump has once again been called upon to console his country after the worst instance of anti-Semitic violence in American history.

The US president faces an uneasy welcome in the Pittsburgh community of Squirrel Hill, home to the Tree of Life synagogue where 11 people were gunned down during Sabbath services at the weekend.

The president’s visit to the Pittsburgh area comes as he struggles to balance appeals for national unity with partisan campaign rhetoric just a week before US mid-term elections.

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A courtroom sketch depicts Robert Gregory Bowers (Dave Klug/AP)

Mr Trump said: “Well, I’m just going to pay my respects.

“I’m also going to the hospital to see the officers and some of the people that were so badly hurt.”

Mr Trump is travelling to the historic hub of the city’s Jewish community as the first funerals are scheduled to be held for the victims, who ranged in age from 54 to 97.

Robert Gregory Bowers appeared in a Pittsburgh court on Monday, where he faced a number of charges over the killing of 11 people at the synagogue.

Mr Trump is expected to meet first responders and community leaders.

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Tributes have been held across the US for the victims, who ranged in age from 54 to 97 (AP)

The death toll includes a set of brothers, a husband and wife, professors, dentists and a physician.

It is not immediately clear whether Mr Trump, who will be joined by first lady Melania Trump, his daughter Ivanka Trump and son-in-law Jared Kushner, would meet with any family members.

The White House said the purpose of Mr Trump’s visit was to “express the support of the American people and to grieve with the Pittsburgh community”.

His trip is set against the backdrop of national unease over incidents of political violence and hate, and questions about his credibility as a unifying force.

Since his 2016 campaign for the White House, Mr Trump has at times been slow to denounce white nationalists, neo-Nazis and other individuals and groups which found common cause with his nationalistic political rhetoric.

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Eleven people died in the shooting (AP)

In Squirrel Hill, Barry Werber, 76, who said he survived the massacre by hiding in a dark storage cupboard as the gunman rampaged through the building, said he hoped Mr Trump would not visit, noting that the president has embraced the politically fraught label of “nationalist”.

Mr Werber pointed out that the Nazis were nationalists.

“It’s part of his (Mr Trump’s) programme to instigate his base,” Mr Werber said, adding that “bigots are coming out of the woodwork”.

However, Rabbi Jeffrey Myers, who was conducting Sabbath services at the Tree of Life synagogue when the shooter opened fire, made clear the president would be welcome, telling CNN: “The president of the United States is always welcome. I am a citizen. He is my president. He is certainly welcome.”

Shulamit Bastacky, 77, a Holocaust survivor and neighbour of 88-year-old victim Melvin Wax, expressed hope that fraught political issues and protests would not overshadow the remembrances.

“This is not the place to do it,” she said.

“You can do the political part everywhere else. Not at this time. This would be like desecrating those people who were killed. They were murdered because they were Jews.

“You can protest later on,” she added. “To me it’s sacred what happened here.”

PA Media

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