As the oldest and largest scholarly association devoted to the interdisciplinary study of U.S. cultures and histories and as an organization committed to critical thinking and public discussion, the American Studies Association mourns the loss of Jewish life at the Tree of Life synagogue in Squirrel Hill, Pittsburgh, on Saturday, October 27. With Jews around the United States and the world, we insist on the urgency of assuring the safety of Jewish lives.
We observe the state-sanctioned uses of antisemitism through rhetoric that encourages White Christian nationalists to assert aggressive control out of a specious sense of aggrievement at the hands of immigrants, indigenous people, Muslims, people of color, women, and queer and trans folks. Barely coded words like “globalist” evoke a long history of antisemitism positing Jews as demonic outsiders with a will to undermine white national power. Recent, false accusations that George Soros orchestrated the Kavanaugh protesters are designed to portray Jews as a dangerous fifth column stirring up anti-whiteness. They are also meant to discredit the leadership of female, queer, and trans PoC organizers on the ground.
Incidents of terror like the massacre at Squirrel Hill are part of a political formation promoting intensified class exploitation and the evacuation of civil and human rights. Such assaults are part of a cycle in which terrorist incidents are used to rationalize coercive, anti-democratic policing.
Robert Bowers’s use of an AR-15 that morning was enabled by policies favoring militarism and the profits of weapons manufacturers and prisons over community welfare. These policies invade and shatter collective peace around the world, from the United States to Central America to Yemen and to Palestine.
This assault took place during the Jewish Sabbath. Like White supremacist assaults on the Sikh Gurdwara in Milwaukee in 2013 and the Emmanuel African Methodist Baptist Church in Charleston in 2015, it violated the sanctuary granted by religious spaces.
Bower’s stated hatred for the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS) reveals the power of extremist political rhetoric and testifies to its tacit endorsement of vigilante terrorism. His xenophobia was stoked by political rhetoric that characterizes the flight of desperate people from Central America as threats to the nation, and which undermines longstanding legal principles that would allow those fleeing peril to attain asylum.
The American Studies Association salutes the tradition of mutual aid and collective solidarity represented by HIAS. Initially organized by American Jews to support Jews around the world seeking refuge from persecution, HIAS evolved over the course of the twentiethh century to represent people of diverse faiths and national origins in their search for refuge.
In the tradition of HIAS, the American Studies Association responds to the depredations of white nationalist terror by standing with all aggrieved communities against fascism and hate. Recognizing that militarized borders only result in further repression and terror, we categorically reject nationalist responses to such events. The potency of ignorance, in part produced through and sustained by the educational institutions of which so many of our members are a part, is everywhere evident in the violence against Jewish peoples we witnessed at Squirrel Hill. We remain committed to advancing the efforts of our membership to contest the injury to our collective well-being that the ignorance that gives rise to militarism and other forms of violence catalyzes.
Our collective fates are tied together. The American Studies Association recognizes that true collective well-being is secured not by incarceration, national borders or other militarist mobilization, but only through justice and democratic solidarity. We stand with communities from Squirrel Hill to Louisville, Gaza to Tegucigalpa, Ferguson to Standing Rock against threats of militarism and terror.
The Executive Committee
November 4, 2018