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Shalom Lappin: On the Tree of Life Shooting

In a particularly poignant scene of Spike Lee’s superb new film BlacKkKlansman, Ron Stallworth, an African American police officer in Colorado Springs in the 1970s, who infiltrates the local Klan branch by telephone, asks his Jewish colleague, Flip Zimmerman, how he can be so emotionally detached in discharging his role as the white avatar for Stallworth’s operation. “Don’t you realise that you are number two on their list? How can you pretend that you have no skin in this game?”, he wonders. He then points out that Jews have been “passing as white” in America for decades, refusing to acknowledge the reservoirs of anti-Jewish racism that exist in sections of American society. Lee reiterated this point in an interview on BBC Radio 2 in August in which he discussed the film. The scene, and Lee’s comments, are prophetic in light of the shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Squirrel Hill, Pittsburgh last week.

The connection between the shooting and the continuing stream of racist incitement which are a hallmark of Trump’s public pronouncements is clear to most observers. Trump’s use of the Soros conspiracy myth to portray the caravan of Central American refugees fleeing violence in their home countries as criminal invaders supported by a liberal Jewish financier intent on subverting America, appropriates the propaganda of neo-fascist governments in Hungary and Poland, and their counterpart movements throughout Europe. The shooter in Pittsburgh invoked this spectre as the motivation for his act of mass murder.

That the Netanyahu government, represented by Naftali Bennett, chose to respond to the pogrom in Pittsburgh by rushing to absolve Trump of any responsibility is a disgrace. It cannot be dismissed as a simple failure of judgment. Nor is it merely a venal act of self ingratiation in payment for political favours granted, although it is certainly that too. Netanyahu has systematically embraced neo-fascist leaders from Victor Orban in Hungary and Jaroslaw Kaczynski in Poland, to Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil. He has adopted a clear policy of supporting these regimes because he regards them as reliable allies. They also fit well with his coalition’s program of subordinating Israel’s democratic institutions to his extreme nationalist policies.

In adopting this position, Netanyahu and his coalition partners have aligned themselves with far right agents of anti-Semitism at the expense of the physical security and well being of Jewish Communities in the Diaspora. They have betrayed the original mission of Israel to provide a fully democratic homeland for the Jewish People and its non-Jewish residents, in order to promote a narrow ethno-nationalist agenda. They have also sold out Diaspora Jewry at a time of rising danger to its security. They should be held fully accountable for this assault on decency and the national interest.


Shalom Lappin is Emeritus Professor of Computational Linguistics at King’s College London, a Fellow of the British Academy, Member of the Academia Europaia, and Professor of Computational Linguistics at the University of Gothenburg. He is Canadian-Israeli.

Copyright 2018 Shalom Lappin


A woman stands at a memorial outside the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh.

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