Vengeance will not bring justice: IJV statement on death sentence for Tree of Life shooter

A U.S. jury has sentenced to death the gunman who killed eleven worshippers at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life synagogue in 2018. When Robert Bowers entered the synagogue, he yelled, “All Jews must die!” as he opened fire.

Despite the heinousness of Bowers’ crime, the death penalty perpetuates a cycle of murder and falsely teaches us that lethal violence is a solution to society’s problems. In Judaism we are taught that murdering an individual is equal to destroying a world. Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel famously said: “With every cell of my being and with every fibre of my memory I oppose the death penalty in all forms…I don’t think it’s human to become an agent of the angel of death…Death should never be the answer in a civilised society.

Sages Rabbi Akiva and Rabbi Tarfon said, “If we had been members of the Sanhedrin (the ancient Jewish court), we would have conducted trials in a manner whereby no person would have even been executed.”

In light of the Pittsburgh mass murder and the verdict condemning Bowers to death, Independent Jewish Voices calls for government leaders to meaningfully address the rise of white supremacy. State-sponsored murder is not a fruitful nor ethical pathway to justice and peace.

Racism and inequality unfortunately extend far beyond this lethal antisemitic attack. The antisemitic hatred that motivated Bowers to attack a synagogue and murder Jewish people is not an isolated issue. His actions were in line with the rise in white supremacy that targets Jews, Muslims, Black people, Indigenous people, and so many others across the world. 

To achieve justice, government leaders should acknowledge that this incident is not an isolated one, examine systemic prejudice, and commit to eliminating white supremacy. 

Shortly following the Tree of Life shooting in 2018, IJV organized vigils in several Canadian cities, including Montreal and Ottawa, bringing together hundreds of people from diverse backgrounds to take a stand against antisemitism and white supremacy. We continue to stand in solidarity with all who face the violence of racism, misogyny, xenophobia, trans and queer phobia, colonialism, and all forms of hate whether state sanctioned or otherwise. 

Let us honour the murder victims of the Tree of Life shooting by upholding the sanctity of life and committing to end white supremacy. Justice demands nothing less.