Pittsburgh synagogue shooting: Why was synagogue attack suspect Robert Bowers apparently obsessed with HIAS?

The Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS) is a non-profit organisation providing relief and support to refugees around the world

Sarah Harvard
New York
Monday 29 October 2018 22:49
Department of Justice will file hate crime charges against alleged Pittsburgh synagogue shooter

Pittsburgh resident Robert Bowers is facing court having been charged with a number of crimes over the deaths of 11 people during a shooting at a synagogue in the city.

It is alleged that the suspect wrote a series of antisemitic comments about Jews and refugees on Gab, a social media site.

It is one such message, written by a user with the name Robert Bowers, which has garnered much of the focus.

“HIAS likes to bring invaders in that kill our people,” he wrote. “I can’t sit by and watch my people get slaughtered. Screw your optics, I’m going in.”

What is HIAS?

The Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society is a non-profit organisation providing relief and support to refugees around the world. It was established in 1881 to help Jewish refugees flee the antisemitic pogroms of 19th and 20th century Russia. Since then, the organisation has helped resettle approximately 4.5 million refugees fleeing persecution.

What does HIAS do for refugees?

Initially, the organisation—originally based out of New York City’s Lower East Side neighbourhood—provided hot meals, job training, legal aid, resettlement relief and language programs for Jewish refugees arriving in to the United States.

Since then, HIAS expanded its aid and legal work by offering additional resources to refugees including mental health services, food security programmes and legal representation. The organisation also works on advocacy work fighting for refugee protection and assistance in the US and abroad.

Does HIAS only work with Jewish refugees?

Although it started as an organisation to help Jewish refugees flee imperial Russia, HIAS evolved over time to help refugees from all different religions, ethnicities and nationalities.

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For example, in 1975, the U.S. government asked HIAS to help resettle 3,600 Vietnamese refugees in the US Since the 2000s, the organisation officially expanded their refugee resettlement work to include non-Jewish refugees. According to its website, HIAS helped refugees from Afghanistan, Bosnia, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, Ethiopia, Haiti, Hungary, Iran, Morocco, Poland, Romania, Tunisia, Vietnam and states that formerly made up the Soviet Union.

Why did Mr Bowers, the alleged synagogue shooter, seemingly hate HIAS?

Mr Bowers is said ot have written hate-filled comments and posts on social media targeting the Jewish and refugee community. Mr Bowers is alleged to have written that he believed HIAS was a part of the greater conspiracy of Jewish global domination bringing refugees, whom he considered to be “invaders,” into the country.

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