Anti-Semitism is on trial as much as the perpetrator of the Pittsburgh synagogue shooter…
PSYCHIATRIC VIEWS ON THE DAILY NEWS
The timing could not be more unsettling, even serendipitous.
It was last Thursday, right before the Memorial Day weekend, with all of its travel and related events, that the Biden administration rolled out their 60-page plan to address anti-Semitism, the first of its kind in the United States.1 Anti-Semitism is considered the longest running hate in history, culminating so far in the Holocaust and countless other deaths and traumas to the Jewish people over time.
Memorial Day itself is dedicated to the soldiers who died defending our country. They include those who died fighting the Nazis in Europe.
Then, on Tuesday, the Pittsburg synagogue mass shooting trial, of now almost 5 years ago, began. On hand was the 10/27 Healing Partnership, who recognize that posttraumatic retraumatization of the loved ones and surrounding community needs attention and support.
The Biden administration plan is certainly comprehensive. I have read it all, as well as the one on gender-based violence that was also released last Thursday. The anti-Semitism one provides a set of specific goals and mission statements. However, as good as it is, and although there were reported discussions and consultations with more than a thousand experts and stakeholders, nowhere in the report could I find psychiatry and mental health professionals mentioned. Moreover, though school education is stressed, nothing much is mentioned on how to reach the parents at home who influence the developmental cross-cultural beliefs of their children. In the studies of those who helped the Jewish people during the Holocaust, the one variable that seemed to stand out was parents who taught their children tolerance of others.
The same sort of emphasis holds true for all the recent annual counting of anti-Semitic incidents, rising as they are. Trying to analyze the motivation of any of the perpetrators is not the goal, and is often discouraged.
It is in the Pittsburgh synagogue trial that the psychiatric, as my colleagues and I describe in our edited book on anti-Semitism2, may receive its due. The perpetrator’s lead attorney, Judy Clarke, emphasized this3:
“We can at least do our best to uphold the rule of law by figuring out, to the best of our ability, what were Mr. Bowers’ motives and intents.”
Not only would that goal fulfill the rule of law, but also fulfill the depth of psychiatry. Surely, anti-Semites often differ some in their motivation, but without understanding the psychological causes, our solutions to this social psychopathology are liable to continue to be inadequate. That is why I think that anti-Semitism is as much on trial in Pittsburgh as the individual perpetrator.
Dr Moffic is an award-winning psychiatrist who has specialized in the cultural and ethical aspects of psychiatry. A prolific writer and speaker, he received the one-time designation of Hero of Public Psychiatry from the Assembly of the American Psychiatric Association in 2002. He is an advocate for mental health issues related to climate instability, burnout, Islamophobia, and anti-Semitism for a better world. He serves on the Editorial Board of Psychiatric Times.
1. Biden-Harris administration releases first-ever U.S. national strategy to counter antisemitism. The White House. May 25, 2023. Accessed June 1, 2023. https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/statements-releases/2023/05/25/fact-sheet-biden-harris-administration-releases-first-ever-u-s-national-strategy-to-counter-antisemitism/
2. Moffic HS, et al, eds. Anti-Semitism and Psychiatry. Springer International; 2019.
3. Levenson E, Souza S. Pittsburgh synagogue mass shooting trial opens with harrowing 911 call of victim’s last words. CNN. May 30, 2023. Accessed June 1, 2023. https://www.cnn.com/2023/05/30/us/pittsburgh-tree-of-life-shooting-trial/index.html