Robert Azzi: The fruit of the righteous is a Tree of Life

  • A person mourns at a makeshift memorial at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh on Oct. 28. AP

For the Monitor
Published: 11/4/2018 12:10:06 AM

On July 2, 2016, Donald Trump tweeted a picture of Hillary Clinton as the “Most Corrupt Candidate Ever!” superimposed on a pile of $100 bills and a six-pointed star.

On Nov. 5, three days before the 2016 election, Trump released a dog-whistling ad that featured Americans he suggested were responsible for whatever resentments and grievances afflicted his MAGA-hat wearing votaries: Hillary Clinton, Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen, Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein and, of course, philanthropist George Soros. Three Jews and Hillary Clinton.

Its dystopian soundtrack warned of “those who control the levers of power in Washington and for the global special interests . . . who don’t have your good in mind.”

We knew then what would follow.

The week of violence just past became the week we’ve known was inevitable since we first heard Trump’s incitements against “rapists” and “breeders,” against globalists, Muslims, immigrants, refugees and people of color; since he challenged President Obama’s legitimacy as an American; since he warned against “infestations” and “invasions.”

Inevitable because Trump’s votaries believe him when he, anti-Semitically, claims that George Soros is probably funding the unwashed hordes of brown people who are challenging our sovereignty, threatening to infect us with HIV, TB, smallpox (eradicated since 1980!), and the biblical scourge of leprosy.

Inevitable since he challenged the First Amendment and called the press “the enemy of the people,” since he challenged the 14th Amendment’s constitutional guarantee to birthright citizenship.

We knew it was coming when neo-Nazis, chanting “Jews will not replace us” marched in Charlottesville and were praised by President Trump as “very fine people.”

We knew it was coming when Trump recognized Holocaust Remembrance Day without mentioning Jews.

We who were watching, we who are targets, knew it was inevitable because we witnessed many other Americans stand by, seemingly indifferent, blind to the impeding evil as they patronizingly told us that things would get better – that what came before Nov. 8, 2016, was merely campaign rhetoric, that “The Office” changes people.

They didn’t believe us, didn’t recognize our fear.

“There is an evil which most of us condone and are even guilty of: indifference to evil,” Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel wrote. “We remain neutral, impartial and not easily moved by the wrongs done unto other people. Indifference to evil is more insidious than evil itself; it is more universal, more contagious, more dangerous.”

Last week, African Americans Maurice Stallard and Vickie Lee Jones were lynched in Jeffersontown, Ky., shot in the back of the head by Gregory Bush, a 51-year-old white man.

Last week, Democratic leaders and activists, including Presidents Clinton and Obama, including George Soros, were targeted with 14 pipe-bombs built by super-Trumpian Cesar Sayoc, a 56-year-old white man.

Then, on Saturday, they came for the Jews.

“Open you Eyes,” Robert Bowers, a 46-year-old white man posted before he killed Jews at the Tree of Life Synagogue. “It’s the filthy EVIL jews Bringing the Filthy EVIL Muslims into the Country!!”

He slaughtered 11 people.

Such premeditated extrajudicial killings, such lynchings are no accident.

No accident because Trump and his nativist enablers and acolytes – including those Republican Party leaders too cowardly to repudiate his racism – have with complicity consciously mobilized anti-Semites and others who seek, as British historian Norman Cohn wrote, “to purify the world through the annihilation of some category of human beings imagined as agents of corruption and incarnations of evil.”

Saturday, as I watched the Tree of Life Synagogue tragedy unfold on TV, it never occurred to me I was witnessing – in real time – a pogrom-like slaughter sanctioned by white nationalists who believe that even Trump doesn’t go far enough to purify “their” America.

Today, trying to mollify his votaries, neo-Nazis and anti-Semites, Trump is hysterically drumming up fears that migrants hundreds of miles away are a grave threat to American lives and that only he can protect them from “globalist” George Soros, the Hungarian-American Jewish investor and philanthropist. Soros survived Nazi Germany-occupied Hungary only to be today, poignantly, accused by white nationalists as a nefarious “globalist” funding anti-American movements.

I know all that now.

Today, I know. I know that white nationalists and haters like Bush, Sayoc and Bowers don’t differentiate between those whom they hate – they hate the Other; hate all not like them.

I know that such hate is blasphemous and repudiates Abraham – a prophet beloved by Jews, Christians and Muslims – who welcomed the sojourner with hospitality and protection.

I know that such hate contradicts our foundational belief that we’re endowed by our “Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.”

I know that such hate contradicts President George Washington’s 1790 entreaty to the Jews of Truro:

“May the children of the stock of Abraham who dwell in this land continue to merit and enjoy the good will of the other inhabitants – while every one shall sit in safety under his own vine and fig tree and there shall be none to make him afraid.”

Today, too many in America stand afraid because too many have stood indifferent. Too many have profited, have averted their eyes from the contagion of fear-mongering ignorance that afflicts this blessed land.

Today, stand with the righteous and reject the hate and bigotry of those who burn incense to Baal.

Today, and on Tuesday, stand with the righteous.

(Robert Azzi is a photographer and writer who lives in Exeter. He can be reached at His columns are archived at

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