Israel’s envoy to the memorial ceremonies for the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting victims says it is “unfair and wrong” to link the tragedy to US President Donald Trump.
Naftali Bennett, the Israeli minister for diaspora affairs, lauded Mr Trump’s support for Israel and his denunciation of anti-Semitism, saying: “With President Trump, we never have to worry if he has our backs.”
His comments late on Tuesday came as Mr Trump paid a visit to Pittsburgh amid accusations that the president’s fiery rhetoric had contributed to the climate of violence.
Top elected officials avoided him and one of the families of the 11 victims asked not to meet him.
Israel’s envoys to the United States and the United Nations have also tried to distance Mr Trump from the attack.
Mr Trump was greeted by hundreds of chanting protesters on Tuesday.
Adding to the anger was the shooting suspect’s apparent targeting of a synagogue because of his outrage over a Jewish refugee agency that has become a target of conspiracy theories among Mr Trump’s nationalist base.
But Mr Bennett took issue with those he said were “using this horrific anti-Semitic act to attack President Trump”.
He said: “This is unfair and wrong. President Trump is a true friend of the State of Israel and to the Jewish people.
Their defence of the president has added another element to the growing divide between Israel’s leadership, which hails Mr Trump for his staunch political backing and tough stance against nemesis Iran, and the more liberal American Jewish community, whose members are among Mr Trump’s toughest domestic critics.
He has a history of inciting against refugees in Israel, and this was the very reason that 11 people were murdered in our synagogue here
Nancy Bernstein, co-chair of liberal American Jewish group J Street Pittsburgh
Mr Trump visited the Tree of Life synagogue and lit candles for the victims before visiting survivors in the hospital on Tuesday. He was accompanied by his daughter Ivanka, a convert to Judaism, and her Jewish husband, Jared Kushner, as well as Israeli ambassador Ron Dermer.
Mr Dermer also backed Mr Trump, saying he was “not aware of a single non-Israeli leader that has made such a strong statement in condemning anti-Semitism”.
Nancy Bernstein, co-chair of J Street Pittsburgh, a liberal American Jewish group, said that many American Jews accuse Mr Trump of contributing to the polarised atmosphere that led to the shooting and were unhappy about Israeli leaders being so close with the president. She took particular aim at Mr Bennett, who has been a visible presence in Pittsburgh after the shooting attack.
“He has a history of inciting against refugees in Israel, and this was the very reason that 11 people were murdered in our synagogue here,” she said, referring to the alleged shooter’s anger towards a Jewish group that assists immigrants in the US.
“As Jews, we were once refugees and immigrants,” she added. “We understand what it’s like to be turned away and not taken care of. Most of us get it.”
The Israeli government’s consistent support for Mr Trump has far less to do with his controversial domestic policies and more with the blanket international support he has granted Israel.
Fulfilling a campaign promise, Mr Trump recognised Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and moved the US. Embassy there.
In a break from previous administrations, he has placed the blame for failed peace talks solely on the Palestinians and refrained from criticising Israeli settlement activity. He also pulled out of the Iran nuclear agreement, a step welcomed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Mr Netanyahu has also angered the liberal Reform and Conservative streams of Judaism, which represent the majority of affiliated Jews in the US, by siding with Orthodox rabbinical authorities on issues of recognition and pluralism in Israel.