We should have seen it coming. The massacre in Pittsburgh, the most deadly anti-Semitic attack in American history, had its roots in Charlottesville.
Most people recall the the chaos in Charlottesville's streets: the torches, the scuffles between opposing groups, and of course, the murder of counter-protester Heather Heyer in a vehicle attack.
But a quieter, yet very menacing event occurred that same day at the Beth Israel synagogue in Charlottesville. According to the account of the synagogue president, three armed men stalked the building throughout Shabbat morning services. Their behavior was so threatening that the congregants felt compelled to leave through the back door and remove the Torah scrolls for safekeeping. Fortunately, no violence came to pass.
But as that story made the rounds, accompanied by video of marchers chanting “Jews will not replace us!”, many American Jews felt something new: an actual physical insecurity.
While anti-Semitism has not been absent from the American scene, and vandalism with anti-Semitic messaging is unfortunately common, cases of physical violence against Jews in synagogues have been rare.
“Don't worry,” some said, “these losers just march and chant meaningless slogans. No one's going to actually attack a synagogue.” Now we know better.
Think of the validation that came from hearing President Trump talk about "good people on both sides." Think of how those words empower people, whether unstable or evil, inclined to move from hate speech to violent action.
I don’t mean that Trump is responsible for the shooting in Pittsburgh. The murderer bears that responsibility alone. And Trump is not an anti-Semite. But his words and signals contribute to an atmosphere in which hate against “others”—Muslims, Mexicans, gays, and yes, Jews—is normalized.
A president should try to calm those tensions, not stoke them. He is not doing that.
There is anti-Semitism on the left and on the right. We should be equally clear in opposing both. The dangers of left-wing anti-Semitism are clearest in Britain, where Jeremy Corbyn could bring such views to Downing Street. But such voices are also heard on in the United States, on college campuses and from Louis Farrakhan and others. We must oppose them all.
But no one has a bigger megaphone than the President of the United States. His condemnation after the attack is not enough. He needs to make racists and anti-Semites feel like their views are unacceptable. He does the opposite. And people who make excuses for him are not listening.
The idea that American Jews could be unsafe while praying in our synagogues was once unthinkable. Now, many Jewish institutions will need much tighter security. And we feel vulnerable in a way we have not before.
Israeli expressions of sympathy and support have been very moving. Israelis should understand that even with the new sense of vulnerability, most American Jews continue to feel very at home in America. They believe that anti-Semitism is not something to run from, but a problem that must be solved in America, together with non-Jewish partners, of which we have many.
Deputy Minister Michael Oren has suggested that the Israeli government should recognize the Reform and Conservative movements, the two streams that most American Jews belong to. I believe that should happen anyway. But it would indeed be a meaningful gesture after this attack.
The Jews killed in prayer in the Tree of Life synagogue were as Jewish as you can be—in life, and in their tragic deaths, which occurred only because they were Jews. What better way to honor them?
Daniel Shapiro is the former US ambassador to Israel and a fellow in the Institute for National Security Studies.