On Monday, October 28, eleven Jewish members of IfNotNow from New Orleans held a vigil outside Republican Congressman Steve Scalise’s office in Metairie to commemorate the Tree of Life Synagogue shooting. In addition, the group reiterated their demand that Rep. Scalise specifically condemn what they view as President Donald Trump’s incitement of white nationalism and antisemitic rhetoric, as well as the GOP’s complicity in their support.
In response, staffers at Scalise’s office reiterated common Republican talking points, touting the move of the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem, Rep. Scalise’s relationships with Israeli leaders, and even calling Democrats antisemitic. One staffer even remarked, “President Trump’s daughter married a Jew…how could he possibly be antisemitic?” However, in a conversation with IfNotNow members, Scalise’s Chief of Staff Charles Henry noted that this issue is “not the Congressman’s top priority.”
The group initially confronted Scalise at a town hall meeting on October 14. At that time, Rep. Scalise stated that “the facts disagree” that the anti-immigrant rhetoric often espoused by the Republican party and President Trump are connected. Rep. Scalise claimed that his condemnation of Minnesota Rep. Ilhan Omar for her series of tweets that Republicans claimed were antisemitic showed his own fight against antisemitism – in spite of the fact that he once compared himself to well-known white nationalist David Duke.
“The traditional Republican talking points we heard today from Scalise’s staff are not surprising,” said IfNotNow member Ezra Oliff-Lieberman, “but they are particularly painful to hear today, a year and a day after the Tree of Life massacre. In order to shield themselves from taking responsibility for the white nationalist and antisemitic rhetoric being amplified by Trump, Scalise, and their entire party, the staffers cited Israel and progressive Congresswomen of color without responding to our simple demand: name and condemn the GOP’s and President Donald Trump’s incitement of white nationalism and antisemitism.”
IfNotNow New Orleans has requested a public meeting with Congressman Scalise but has not yet received a response. During Monday’s vigil, members of the group laid stones, a traditional Jewish mourning practice, outside Rep. Scalise’s office and read the names of those murdered at the Tree of Life Synagogue. They also recited kaddish, the traditional Jewish mourning prayer.