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Trump ‘finally’ speaks against anti-Semitism; Jewish leaders had hoped for more

(RNS) 'President Trump’s condemnation this morning of anti-Semitism is as welcome as it is overdue,' said Rabbi Jonah Dov Pesner, in a statement issued on behalf of the Reform movement, the largest stream of American Judaism.

President Trump is flanked by Ben Carson, his nominee to lead the Department of Housing and Urban Development, and Trump's daughter Ivanka Trump as he delivers remarks after visiting the National Museum of African American History and Culture on the National Mall in Washington on Feb. 21, 2017. Reuters/Jonathan Ernst

(RNS) The condemnation came too little, too late, Jewish groups said.

On Tuesday (Feb. 21), President Trump condemned anti-Semitism, as Jewish leaders had been asking him to do for months.

“The President’s sudden acknowledgement is a Band-Aid on the cancer of AntiSemitism that has infected his own Administration,” said Steven Goldstein, executive director of the Anne Frank Center for Mutual Respect, in a statement Tuesday after Trump called anti-Semitism “horrible.”

Jewish leaders have long accused Trump of tolerating advisers and supporters’ willingness to traffic in anti-Semitic tropes and language. And they have asked Trump to address a rise in anti-Semitic incidents, which Monday included a mass desecration of Jewish graves in Missouri and a fourth wave of bomb threats against Jewish community centers.

It shouldn’t have taken this latest spate of headlines roiling Jewish communities to prompt Trump to speak up, they said.

“President Trump’s condemnation this morning of anti-Semitism is as welcome as it is overdue,” said Rabbi Jonah Dov Pesner, in a statement issued on behalf of the Reform movement, the largest stream of American Judaism.

The statement criticized the president as “inexcusably silent as this trend of anti-Semitism has continued and arguably accelerated.” 

The headline in The Forward, the nation’s largest Jewish newspaper, on Tuesday read: “Donald Trump Calls For An End To ‘Horrible’ Anti-Semitism — At Last”

White House press secretary Sean Spicer, responding to Goldstein’s statement, said he should have instead praised Trump.

“I think that it’s ironic that no matter how many times he talks about this that it’s never good enough,” Spicer said regarding Trump’s attention to anti-Semitism.

“Today, I think, was an unbelievably forceful comment by the president as far as his denunciation of the actions that are currently targeted towards Jewish community centers. But I think that he’s been very clear previous to this.”

Trump’s critics say he has been remarkably reluctant to denounce bigotry, and that his presidential campaign and administration have used anti-Semitic, anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant and racist tropes and language.

The president made his remarks against anti-Jewish bigotry after touring the National Museum of African American History and Culture on Tuesday.

“The anti-Semitic threats targeting our Jewish community and community centers are horrible and are painful, and a very sad reminder of the work that still must be done to root out hate and prejudice and evil,” he said.

Trump had said earlier in the day on MSNBC: “Anti-Semitism is horrible, and it’s going (to) stop and it has to stop.”

Trump’s oldest daughter, who is Jewish, tweeted after Monday’s fourth round of bomb threats against Jewish community centers:

Many tweeted in response that she should pass the message of religious tolerance on to her father.

Trump has abetted anti-Semites many times, Jewish and other civil rights groups contend. They have decried:

  • Trump’s refusal to denounce prominent anti-Semites who endorsed him, including former KKK Grand Wizard David Duke and Richard Spencer, who has publicly proclaimed “Heil Trump!”
  • Trump’s own use of Jewish stereotypes on the campaign trail, characterizing Jews as dealers and moneymakers, pulling the strings of government.
  • A White House statement on International Holocaust Remembrance Day that made no reference to Jews or anti-Semitism.
  • His appointment of Steve Bannon as one of his top aides. Bannon, who used to edit Breitbart News, has been accused of running anti-Semitic headlines and columns.
  • His failure last week to answer reporters’ questions about rising anti-Semitism. When a journalist from an Orthodox Jewish publication assured Trump that he did not consider the president anti-Semitic, but wanted him to comment on recent anti-Semitic incidents around the country, Trump called it an unfair question and told the reporter to sit down. “I am the least anti-Semitic person you’ve ever seen,” he said.

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