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

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.

About the author

Lauren Markoe

Lauren Markoe has been a national reporter for RNS since 2011. Previously she covered government and politics as a daily reporter at the Charlotte Observer and The State (Columbia, S.C.)

20 Comments

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  • “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.”

    So when is he going to fix this anti-semitism problem in his midst?

  • Don’t worry. He has a plan to “fix” anti-semitism alright–“fix” as in “make something work properly”. The plan will be published as soon as it’s translated from the original German.

  • The fight against anti-Semitism is neither wholly or solely the responsibility of the chief executive. His plate is quite full and he should not be condemned for not making a “statement” sooner, though in an earlier post I indicated that he should have done so. Whatever Mr. Trump’s predilections, I do not think indifference to anti-Semitism is one of them. However insensitive any comments he made have made regarding Jewish acumen in financial matters, they should be viewed at worst as backhanded compliments typical of his off the cuff temperament. Bigotry of any form and type needs to be addressed and condemned by all reasonably minded people.

  • No. Stereotypical insults should be viewed as insults. Obvious bad behavior is bad. Stop rewriting rules for this man.

    Of course he is indifferent to anti-Semitism. He is not Jewish. Please note how, when asked very nicely, by the reporter to comment on the recent rise in threats on Jewish centers, Trump immediately made it all about him. If he possessed an ounce of awareness outside of his bubble, he would have said (rambled?) something along the lines of the statement he just gave.

    But he can’t do that, and I realize his apologists don’t understand this yet, but they will. He has to be forced to look at the world beyond himself to acknowledge it exists. He can’t see how other people see his apparent collusion with anti-Semites because his world view is the only world view. No one else has any legitimate point of view.

  • What you call a back-handed compliments has lead to Jews to be murdered for centuries. They are dangerous and inciting. That is what make anti-Semitism a unique form of prejudice. Someone once called anti-Semitism the “socialism of fools.” Jews have had the highest rates of violence against any minority in the US. Many of the swastikas painted on Jewish building and homes have has Trump scrawled right next to the swastika. They think they are getting support from Trump, whether they are or not. Trump has a duty to speak to those people.

  • That if very true and we know that White Supremaciss and White Nationalist don’t consider Jews to be white. White Supremmacist or White Nationalist aned anti-Semites are an oxymoron.

  • You’re right Edward, it’s not solely the President’s responsibility. That’s why Jewish organizations have been asking for about a year why he hasn’t said a single word about it. We’ve been carrying the responsibility for our own safety, all the while just asking for the President to say one thing about the anti-Semitism that has infected his supporters and advisers. If he wasn’t indifferent to anti-Semitism, why until yesterday did he say nothing about not only the JCC threats but: (a) his massive support among the alt-right trolls who target and harass Jewish public figures and call for us all to be put in ovens? (b) the KGB agent that was his first choice for national security advisor re-tweeting “not any more, Jews, not any more”? (c) one of his advisors wearing a lapel pin from the Hungarian Nazi-allied group? (d) refusing to acknowledge the impact of the Holocaust specifically upon Jewish life?

  • For any politician with any party the immediate and obvious reaction to anti-Semitism is absolute condemnation. But not Trump. He has missed the clearest opportunities to speak out and when he finally had something to say it was read painfully from a paper, as if he might not get it right. No doubt the KKK, Milo and the alt-right are happy with his performance.

  • Isn’t it interesting, all of these threats of violence, bomb threats, vandalisms and so forth…

    I’m wondering exactly who is threatening terrorism in this country? It’s not the Muslims, from everything I have heard. It’s certainly not the Mexicans. I’m fairly certain it’s isn’t Mrs. Clinton.

    It sounds like our home grown people, quite possibly even white, religious conservative people, who are doing the threatening. Let us also not forget Omar Mateen, born and raised in this country.

  • I think the answer lies in the fact that Mr. Trump is narcissistic and unreflective by nature, and certainly has not included among his advisors those that would explicitly embrace the issue of anti-Semitism as a critical matter of policy. But as a pragmatic man I think Trump is smart enough to say “Duh…I get it.” As to the specific examples you cited, I am most curious about (b) “The KGB agent,” there have been so many switcheroo’s that I can’t keep count. Who was the first choice for NSA, and can you cite evidence for his affiliation with the KGB? I would be most grateful for a reply, and on certain issues and in certain areas I am prepared to be better educated.

  • I agree with you completely, without retreating from my argument that the guy has a full plate and the attention span of a will o’ the wisp.

  • Are you implying that if one is not Jewish, one is by default indifferent to anti-Semitism? That is the meaning I took from your 5th and 6th sentences. If so, I think that is quite incorrect. I will not argue that point here, but I will affirm the sensitivity that Jews have on the subject, and their legitimate fears regarding the immoral and moronic beliefs and behaviors of some citizens. At the present time I think there are sufficient numbers of Americans who will not tolerate any paradigm of a pogrom occurring in America. Law enforcement and the hand of government needs to aggressively target oppression of any group of citizens for whatever cause. I think the president realizes or will realize this. I would further add, I am a lukewarm supporter of the chief executive at best. That may be hope over reality.

  • Trump also has a personality disorder and is incapable of truly caring about anything. He sees everything through the lens of how it affects him personally.

  • No I do not think Trump is smart enough to “get it,” he had to be told to get it by his daughter, who herself only got it once she realized her own children and those of her friends would not be immune to the bomb threats. If Trump “got it,” he would have “gotten” long ago that his grandchildren go to a Jewish school and attend a synagogue on a regular basis and would be the target of similar threats.
    You have put so many conditions into your statement about anti-Semitism coming from Trump advisors that it’s impossible to fairly and reasonably counter. At the very least several of his advisors have cozied up to and apologized for the growing anti-Semitism of the right wing. Bannon has said that Breitbart was meant as the platform for the alt-right. Michael Anton, a senior national security aide, has defended the America First Committee and condemned diversity as “weakness.” It’s a source of schadenfreude to me that senior aides like Stephen Miller and Sebastian Gorka are having to defend their associations with fascist groups and individuals. I guess after eight years of constant smears, accusations and innuendos that everything Obama did was a leftist Muslim plot, it kind of sucks to have the shoe be on the other foot.
    Technically there no longer is a KGB (Committee for State Security of the USSR). There is the Federal Security Service (FSB), Russia’s FBI; and the Federal Intelligence Service (SVR), their CIA. The New York Times has reported that Russian intelligence officials ran Trump’s first national security advisor choice, Michael Flynn, as an asset during the campaign.

  • Yes, of course, the KGB does not now exist, but a rose by any other name, etc.. Interesting though that the former general would have been listed as such an asset.

  • I meant to imply that only Trump matters to Trump. Everyone else is merely a but player in the ongoing reality show that is his life. I absolutely believe any person with empathy will decry anti semitism.

  • The State Department’s web site has taken down its pages devoted to chronicalling and monitoring antisemitism. That shows that Trump didn’t mean it at all. Rex Tillerson is protecting his oil buddies and I don’t just mean the Arab countries. I mean Russia and countries in the former Soviet Union too and Trump doesn’t care.

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