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Defense in Pittsburgh synagogue shooting trial: ‘There is no culture’ that would support killing of Jews

PITTSBURGH (JTA) — In a bid to keep his client off of death row, a lawyer for the gunman who murdered 11 Jewish worshipers in a Pittsburgh synagogue claimed there was “no culture” that endorses killing Jews.

That assertion came during closing arguments in the latest phase of the trial of Robert Bowers, who committed the worst antisemitic attack in U.S. history on Oct. 27, 2018. Last month, the gunman was found guilty on all 63 counts he faced. The segment of the trial that ended Wednesday concerned whether his crimes and intent merit the death penalty. 

The defense has argued that the gunman was schizophrenic, and therefore that his intent does not meet the threshold for a death sentence. On Wednesday, defense attorney Michael Burt devoted a large portion of his 90-minute argument to rebutting the claim that the shooter’s antisemitism was not delusional but rather was a product of his white supremacist subculture. That idea was laid out over three days of testimony by the prosecution’s star witness, Park Dietz, a storied forensic psychiatrist.

In an incredulous tone, Burt questioned the idea “that when someone expresses antisemitism, that is normal ideology.” 

“It’s certainly not part of a culture,” he went on.  “There is no culture that sanctions that you need to kill people to save humanity from an invasion from Jewish groups — that is delusional thinking, it’s not political discourse, in our view.”

Openly calling for the murder of Jews is considered unacceptable in mainstream political discourse, though the idea that Jews posed a lethal threat to the white race undergirded Nazi German state policy from 1933-1945, culminating in the murder of six million Jews in the Holocaust. 

The gunman has professed belief in what is known as “replacement theory,” a white supremacist idea that says Jews are orchestrating an invasion of immigrants of color in order to supplant white Americans. He cited that idea on social media shortly before the attack, and it also animated chants at the 2017 neo-Nazi rally in Charlottesville. Watchdogs say it has become increasingly popular on the far right. and has been echoed by a number of public figures, including former Fox News host Tucker Carlson

The gunman’s persistence in his belief in a Jewish threat, Burt said, is evidence of his mental illness. In recent months, the defendant has told psychiatrists, including those called by the defense, that he continues to ascribe to his antisemitic views, and has expressed pride in the attack he carried out. 

“Even in capital custody he can’t keep himself from vocalizing these delusions he has, of the country invaded, that he is a soldier at war, that he has a moral imperative to kill Jews — all these crazy delusions,” he said.

In his cross examination of Dietz on Tuesday, Burt tried to get the expert to acknowledge that antisemitism could be a manifestation of insanity. Dietz, a forensic psychiatrist at UCLA’s medical school, has evaluated defendants including John Hinckley, who attempted to kill President Ronald Reagan; mass murderer Jeffrey Dahmer; and Unabomber Ted Kaczynski, among many others. 

Dietz said the defendant’s antisemitism was commonplace, rooted in theories articulated by previous violent antisemites. The prosecution, in turn, has contended that there is no evidence the defendant is schizophrenic, and says that his antisemitism is of a piece with white supremacist movements.

In his own argument on Wednesday, U.S. Attorney Eric Olshan argued, as Dietz had, that the shooter drew his thoughts not from his troubled psyche but from external sources. Olshan started with a reference to Gab, a social media site that welcomes the far right, and where the defendant maintained an active account.

“Gab.com told the defendant he had to act and act now,” he said. “He wasn’t even creative. He didn’t come up with any of this on his own, he went to the menu of available white supremacist ideologies and he picked the one he most agreed with.”

The beliefs that he ascribed to “are well known antisemitic tropes that have been around for centuries,”  Olshan said. “The defendant’s beliefs are widely held and shared among his subculture. Not one of his extreme beliefs originated from his own mind.”

The jury retired for the day at 4:30 pm, about an hour after arguments had concluded, and will reconvene on Thursday. 

If the jury decides the defendant’s crimes and intent meet the threshold for the death penalty, they will reconvene for the next phase of the trial, in which the defense will raise factors that would mitigate against the death penalty, including the shooter’s life hardships. That phase, which could take weeks, would also include testimony from those affected by the shooting, including relatives of the deceased and members of the tight-knit Pittsburgh Jewish community. 

If the jury decides the crimes and intent do not meet the death penalty threshold, the trial will end and Judge Robert Colville will hand down a mandatory life sentence without possibility of release.

Behind the scenes, defense and government lawyers have argued about how much the judge should emphasize that the gunman will receive, at minimum, a mandatory life sentence without parole. Defense lawyers want jurors to understand that their client will never see freedom even if the jury decides to keep him off death row.

Colville twice mentioned that outcome, as did Burt, who also reminded the jury, multiple times, that each juror had to make up his or her own mind. A single juror deciding that the defendant does not meet the death penalty threshold would end the trial with a mandatory life sentence.

Soo Song, an assistant U.S.attorney, opened the proceedings on Wednesday by reviewing the crimes the shooter had committed: The six people whom he shot in the head, the elderly woman he shot in the face, the six elderly victims and two brothers who had a mental disability.

Then she read out the names of the victims. “In the interests of justice, find this defendant eligible for the most severe penalty under the law, a sentence of death,” she said. 

“For killing Joyce Fienberg, for killing Richard Gottfried, for killing Rose Mallinger, for killing Jerry Rabinowitz, for killing Cecil Rosenthal, for killing David Rosenthal, for killing Bernice Simon, for killing Sylvan Simon, for killing Daniel Stein, for killing Melvin Wax and for killing Irving Younger,” Song said. “And for killing each of them intentionally.”


The post Defense in Pittsburgh synagogue shooting trial: ‘There is no culture’ that would support killing of Jews appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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Jordan Reaffirms Commitment to Peace With Israel After Iran Attack, Says Ending Treaty Would Hurt Palestinians

Jordan’s Foreign Minister Ayman Al Safadi attends a press conference after a meeting on the Gaza situation in the government’s representation facility in Oslo, Norway, Dec. 15, 2023. Photo: NTB/Stian Lysberg Solum via REUTERS

Senior Jordanian officials recently reaffirmed the country’s commitment to maintaining peace with Israel, despite protests erupting across Jordan against their treaty amid the ongoing war in Gaza.

Pro-Hamas protesters have been actively campaigning to end the Israel-Jordan peace treaty, which the two countries signed in 1994 to end the state of war that had existed between them for decades and establish diplomatic relations. The treaty followed the signing of the Oslo Accords, a historic agreement between Israel and the Palestinians.

However, Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Al-Safadi said on Sunday that the peace deal was best for not only his country but also the Palestinians.

“The treaty actualized all our rights and served our interests. Revoking it would not be in Jordan’s or the Palestinians’ interest,” Al-Safadi told Jordan’s official news channel Al-Mamlaka in remarks flagged by the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI). “If we thought even for a moment that revoking it would be in the interest of Jordan or of the Palestinians, we would have done so without hesitation.”

Revoking the peace treaty, he continued, would “harm both Jordan and Palestine and greatly limit our ability to continue fulfilling our main and primary role in providing aid to the Palestinian people … The peace treaty is a source of strength for us and allows us to continue our role of aiding the Palestinian people while protecting our interests.”

Al-Safadi’s comments came one day after Jordan — along with the US, Britain, and France — helped Israel repel an unprecedented direct attack by Iran against the Israeli homeland. Iran fired over 300 drones and missiles at the Jewish state, nearly all of which were shot out of the air. Only one injury was reported in Israel.

The chief diplomat’s defense of the peace treaty also came amid the ongoing Israel-Hamas war in Gaza, which has fueled anti-Israel animus across Jordan. Thousands of protesters have been routinely gathering for weeks to lambast Israel, express solidarity with Hamas, and call for an end to the peace treaty. Al-Safadi addressed such opposition in his comments.

“We respect Jordanian public opinion,” he said. “Back in 1994, when [the treaty] was signed, it protected our interests. We regained all our occupied lands, and the treaty enshrined Jordan’s special role in administrating the places holy to Islam and to Christianity in Jerusalem. Were it not for this role, there would have been a vacuum, and Israel would have exploited this to impose its own sovereignty and administration on the holy places rather than granting them to the Palestinians.”

Al-Safadi wasn’t the only official to recently articulate Jordan’s commitment to the peace treaty amid calls to revoke it and mass anti-Israel protests over the Gaza war.

Jordan’s government spokesman, Muhannad Mubaidin, told Sky News Arabia late last month that Hamas was inciting the Jordanian people against their leadership. The Palestinian terrorist group and its supporters in Jordan, he said, were trying “to force Jordan to choose different options,” but “peace is our strategic choice and the peace treaty [with Israel] is what allows us to fulfill our role of easing the pressures on the people in the West Bank.”

MEMRI was first to report Mubaidin’s comments in English.

The post Jordan Reaffirms Commitment to Peace With Israel After Iran Attack, Says Ending Treaty Would Hurt Palestinians first appeared on Algemeiner.com.

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US Stops UN From Recognizing a Palestinian State Through Membership

United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres speaks to members of the Security Council during a meeting to address the situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian question, at UN headquarters in New York City, New York, US, April 18, 2024. Photo: REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz

The United States on Thursday effectively stopped the United Nations from recognizing a Palestinian state by casting a veto in the Security Council to deny the Palestinian Authority full membership of the world body.

The United States says an independent Palestinian state should be established through direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority and not through UN action.

It vetoed a draft resolution that recommended to the 193-member UN General Assembly that “the State of Palestine be admitted to membership of the United Nations.” Britain and Switzerland abstained, while the remaining 12 council members voted yes.

The Palestinians are currently a non-member observer state, a recognition that was granted by the UN General Assembly in 2012. But an application to become a full UN member needs to be approved by the Security Council and then at least two-thirds of the General Assembly.

The Palestinian push for full UN membership comes six months into a war between Israel and Hamas in Gaza, and as Israel is expanding settlements in the West Bank.

“Recent escalations make it even more important to support good-faith efforts to find lasting peace between Israel and a fully independent, viable, and sovereign Palestinian state,” UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told the council earlier on Thursday.

“Failure to make progress towards a two-state solution will only increase volatility and risk for hundreds of millions of people across the region, who will continue to live under the constant threat of violence,” he said.

Israel‘s UN Ambassador Gilad Erdan said Palestinians failed to meet the criteria to become a full UN member, which he outlined as: a permanent population, defined territory, government, and capacity to enter relations with other states.

“Who is the council voting to ‘recognize’ and give full membership status to? Hamas in Gaza? The Palestinian Islamic Jihad in Nablus? Who?” Erdan asked the Security Council earlier on Thursday.

He said granting full UN membership to Palestinians “will have zero positive impact for any party, that will cause only destruction for years to come, and harm any chance for future dialogue.”

The Palestinian Authority, headed by President Mahmoud Abbas, exercises limited self-rule in the West Bank. Hamas ousted the Palestinian Authority from power in Gaza in 2007.

Ziad Abu Amr, special envoy of Abbas, earlier asked the US: “How could this damage the prospects of peace between Palestinians and Israelis? How could this recognition and this membership harm international peace and security?”

“Those who are trying to disrupt and hinder the adoption of such a resolution … are not helping the prospects of peace between Palestinians and Israelis and the prospects for peace in the Middle East in general,” he told the Security Council.

Abu Amr said full Palestinian UN membership was not an alternative for serious political negotiations to implement a two-state solution and resolve pending issues, adding: “However, this resolution will grant hope to the Palestinian people hope for a decent life within an independent state.”

The post US Stops UN From Recognizing a Palestinian State Through Membership first appeared on Algemeiner.com.

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The value of Jews to Canada today: What would the cost be if the community packed up and left?

Jonathan L. Milevsky is an author and educator. Raphi Zaionz is the founder of mygoals Inc. Both live in Toronto, for the moment. (The latter’s children either have left or are planning to leave Canada.) Towards the end of the film Schindler’s List, there’s a scene in which the famous non-Jewish philanthropist, who saved over […]

The post The value of Jews to Canada today: What would the cost be if the community packed up and left? appeared first on The Canadian Jewish News.

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