Ye Shall Remember the Tree of Life Tragedy

October 26, 2022
Josh Lipowsky  —  CEP Senior Research Analyst

Thursday marks the fourth anniversary of the Tree of Life massacre, when alleged gunman Robert Bowers burst into the Pittsburgh synagogue during Shabbat morning services on October 27, 2018, killing 11 people and wounding six others.

As the Jewish community commemorated the High Holiday season earlier this month, rapper and entrepreneur Ye, formerly known as Kanye West, launched an antisemitic screed over social media. On October 9, Ye tweeted out his intentions to go “death con 3 on JEWISH PEOPLE” because Jews “toyed” with him and “tried to black ball anyone whoever opposes [their] agenda.”

The tweets were widely condemned and Ye found himself ostracized. His talent agency, CAA, dropped him. The production company MRC Entertainment shelved a documentary on the rapper, breaking down into musical allegory why his comments were so unacceptable:

“Kanye is a producer and sampler of music. Last week he sampled and remixed a classic tune that has charted for over 3000 years – the lie that Jews are evil and conspire to control the world for their own gain. This song was performed acapella in the time of the Pharaohs, Babylon and Rome, went acoustic with The Spanish Inquisition and Russia’s Pale of Settlement, and Hitler took the song electric. Kanye has now helped mainstream it in the modern era.”

This summation perfectly encapsulates the problem with insidious statements like Ye’s. No, he’s not directly carrying out massacres like Hitler did or Robert Bowers allegedly did. But he’s providing excuses for those kinds of acts. Ye’s comments, and others like it that accuse Jews of a shadowy agenda, are merely stepping stones. The Holocaust did not take place in a vacuum. Nor did the Tree of Life massacre.

Bowers allegedly chose to attack Tree of Life because he believed there was a cultural invasion happening that was destroying the America he knew. He blamed the Jewish refugee agency HIAS for bringing foreign enemies into America to subvert the dominant culture. Brenton Tarrant believed New Zealand faced similar threats from Muslims when he carried out the March 2019 massacre in Christchurch, attacking two mosques because he believed his country had been “corrupted by the influence of outsiders.” Both men expressed frustrations with watching so-called attacks on their culture and countries and decided to take action.

Despite being widely condemned, Ye’s hate also found welcome ears—evidenced by a banner displayed in Los Angeles this past weekend by the antisemitic group the Goyim Defense League, which declared “Kanye is right.” GDL members stood above the banner on a Los Angles freeway making Nazi salutes while another banner promoted the GDL’s website, which is full of antisemitic conspiracy videos.

In response, California Governor Gavin Newsom tweeted how “hate speech opens the door to hateful action.” This is what we saw in Pittsburgh. It’s what we saw in Christchurch. And it’s what we saw in Nazi Germany as Hitler’s fiery rhetoric repeatedly blamed Jews for all the country’s ills, paving the way for broad—but not total—acceptance by Germans of the Holocaust. When someone becomes conditioned to believe that an outside force—in this case, Jews—are ultimately responsible for all wrongs, both personal and societal, it is a short path from there to deciding to act against those villains.

Hitler, Bowers, and Tarrant all viewed themselves as saviors, taking what they considered necessary actions to correct the course of their societies. The GDL claims it is warning against the “Jewish agenda.” Ye is raving about a Jewish agenda that seeks to keep him down. How long will it be until the next self-appointed savior swallows enough of the rhetoric and decides to act decisively?

Bowers is set for trial next year, but the hate that inspired him rampantly swirls. The Tree of Life attack is a reminder of the dangers of the rhetoric continuing to be spread by people like Ye, the GDL, and others. It must forcefully, swiftly, and repeatedly be condemned in all its forms, or one day soon, we will wake up to the news that Tree of Life is no longer the worst attack on the American Jewish community.

Daily Dose

Extremists: Their Words. Their Actions.


On May 8, 2019, Taliban insurgents detonated an explosive-laden vehicle and then broke into American NGO Counterpart International’s offices in Kabul. At least seven people were killed and 24 were injured.

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