PITTSBURGH—Hours ahead of President Donald Trump’s arrival to Pittsburgh on Tuesday to pay his respects for victims of a massacre at a synagogue, congregants said it won’t be enough unless he condemns the far-right that inspired the bloodshed.
Trump will visit the city with First Lady Melania Trump, his daughter Ivanka, who is Jewish, and son-in-law Jared Kushner, whose grandparents survived the Holocaust. Local government officials and congressional leaders declined a White House invitation to join Trump.
“For me, he needs to denounce white nationalism and nationalism in general,” said Eve Wider, a member of congregation Dor Hadash, one of three that met at Tree of Life synagogue where 11 people were murdered Saturday morning by alleged gunman Robert Bowers.
Trump on Monday again called himself a nationalist in an interview with Fox News’s Laura Ingraham.
Chuck Diamond was Tree of Life’s rabbi for seven years until 2017 and said while he doesn’t blame the president for the mass murder, “I am extremely disappointed by Trump’s refusal to denounce white supremacy and his rhetoric is causing people’s hate to rise to the surface. That’s a problem.”
“I don’t know exactly what Trump’s perfect response would be but I do know he has spoken out against anti-Semitism but he needs to do more,” Diamond said. “He needs to encourage our community and say this could be the beginning of a new period. The start of a new day that is moving into a brighter future.”
Diamond previously said he wished Trump would wait to visit until the funerals were complete.
Wider, a librarian at the University of Pittsburgh, attended the funeral of Dr. Jerry Rabinowitz earlier Tuesday. Wider said the presence of members of local Muslim groups reminded her of the value of multicultural unity that she said Trump doesn’t share.
“He’s dog-whistling all the time,” said Wider. “He needs to stop doing that.”
She pointed out Trump’s description of a migrant caravan bound for the U.S. from Central America as an “invasion.” Bowers posted online before the attack the false claim that the caravan is part of a Jewish conspiracy to destroy white people — and that he was going to attack Jews to stop it.
Wider said she plans on protesting Trump’s visit at a rally tonight in Squirrel Hill, the city’s Jewish neighborhood where the attack took place. She hopes Trump denounces and promises to cease racially charged language but does not expect that.
“If he stops his hate speech,” she said, “that would be enough for me to listen.”
“Hate in general needs to stop,” said Katy Levon, whose family owns the Squirrel Hill Flower Shop and who is a member of Tree of Life, the congregation that gives the building its name. Levon was completing a flurry of orders from people across the country to send to friends and family in the neighborhood.
“Spreading hate speech needs to stop, and the true person at the top needs to set an example.”
Levon said Trump is responsible for spreading anti-Semitism in his embrace of “nationalism” and what she labels “bigotry.” She thinks he should stay out of Pittsburgh at this time, unless he unequivocally disavows white supremacy. “Then, I think he would be welcome here.”
Diamond said he is open to at least hearing Trump.
“I don’t agree with the president on a lot of things, but at least for today, I am willing to listen if it helps the community,” he said.