Biden’s Tree of Life anniversary comments use a term that worries both the left and the right

WASHINGTON (JTA) – As he did the previous two years, Joe Biden issued a grim statement about the 2018 Tree of Life synagogue shooting, the deadliest attack on Jews in American history.

“We must always stand up and speak out against anti-Semitism with clarity and conviction, and unite against the forces of hate in all its forms, because silence is complicity,” he wrote on Wednesday, on the third anniversary of the shooting of a gunman who killed 11 persons. worshipers.

But hidden in the statement was a reference to “internal terrorism,” a term that has caused unrest on the left and right.

“That remains the job of my administration: designing our country’s first comprehensive strategy to tackle domestic terrorism, signing laws aimed at strengthening our efforts to counter illicit hateful acts, taking executive action to protect places of worship, and lobbying go ahead with executive and legislative action to reduce all forms of gun violence, ”said Biden.

Vice President Kamala Harris also referred to “Biden’s comprehensive strategy to address domestic terrorism” in her message.

Biden launched a law enforcement strategy in June that aimed to “disrupt and deter domestic terrorist activity and confront long-term contributors to domestic terrorism.” He highlighted “violent white supremacy” and “violent anti-government ideologies.”

A Pittsburgh police officer walks past the Tree of Life synagogue and a monument of flowers and stars in Pittsburgh on Oct. 28, 2018 (AP / Gene J. Puskar).

There is no law against domestic terrorism per se, but the laws enacted after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 allow law enforcement agencies to cite the threat of domestic terrorism as a pretext to initiate investigations.

Civil liberties groups expressed alarm at Biden’s initiative, saying the term facilitates the violation of freedoms. The American Civil Liberties Union, in response to Biden’s initiative, said the strategy “relies too heavily on law enforcement suspicion, investigation, and policing of beliefs rather than actual conduct: violence or attempted violence “.

More recently, Republicans have alleged without evidence that the Biden administration is targeting parents as “domestic terrorists” because they are protesting school boards’ coronavirus prevention measures. They are especially alarmed that Merrick Garland, the attorney general, has said that the department is ready to investigate threats of violent attacks against school boards.

Garland’s Oct. 4 memo does not use the term “domestic terrorism,” but an umbrella group, the National Association of School Boards, used it in a letter to Biden. The NSBA later apologized for using the term. Conservative media have combined the memo with the letter from the NSBA.

A woman stands at a memorial to the victims of a deadly shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood of Pittsburgh on October 27, 2018 (SMIALOWSKI / AFP).

On the same day as Pittsburgh’s anniversary, Republican senators attacked Garland for the memo at a hearing, with some calling on him to resign. Senator Ted Cruz in particular in his challenge to Garland defended the First Amendment right to do a Nazi salute in protest of COVID-19 school policies.

Jewish groups have welcomed the initiative. “Violent domestic extremism is the nation’s top terror threat and the Biden Administration’s new strategy is an excellent step forward in addressing it, building on its significant progress to date,” said Jonathan Greenblatt, executive director of the Anti-League. Defamation, at the time of the deployment of the initiative.

Biden’s tree of life statement was replete with Jewish references, noting that the attack occurred on Shabbat and concluding: “This Shabbat, in synagogues across the country, worshipers will sing the timeless words from the Book of Proverbs: Eitz Chayim Hee La’machazikim Bah. “It is a tree of life for those who cling to it.” As we turned three years since this heinous attack, we decided to remember the lives lost and commit to protecting a future worthy of their memories. “

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