Written by Don Byrd
[UPDATE: 2/22: President Trump yesterday made a point of condemning the increase in anti-Semitic incidents after his visit to the National Museum of African American History and Culture. Today, Vice President Pence visited a recently desecrated Jewish cemetery in Missouri, calling it a “vile act of vandalism.”]
In his White House press conference yesterday, President Trump was asked to respond to the recent upswing in incidents of anti-Semitism. It marked the second straight day that he was asked a similar question. In both cases, his response was met with criticism.
Following yesterday’s press conference, for example, Rabbi Jack Moline of the Interfaith Alliance expressed his concerns,
President Trump’s repeated avoidance of addressing the recent and substantial uptick in anti-Semitism in America can no longer be ignored. . . Yesterday with Prime Minister Netanyahu, he used a question about anti-Semitism as an opportunity to highlight his electoral victory and his Jewish family members. Today he chose to be offended by the question rather than address the facts behind it.
Q So, first of all, my name is (inaudible) from (inaudible) Magazine. And (inaudible). I haven’t seen anybody in my community accuse either yourself or any of the — anyone on your staff of being anti-Semitic. We have an understanding of (inaudible).
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you.
Q However, what we are concerned about, and what we haven’t really heard be addressed is an uptick in anti-Semitism and how the government is planning to take care of it. There have been reports out that 48 bomb threats have been made against Jewish centers all across the country in the last couple of weeks. There are people who are committing anti-Semitic acts or threatening to —
THE PRESIDENT: You see, he said he was going to ask a very simple, easy question. And it’s not. It’s not. Not a simple question, not a fair question. Okay, sit down. I understand the rest of your question. So here’s the story, folks. Number one, I am the least anti-Semitic person that you’ve ever seen in your entire life. Number two, racism — the least racist person. In fact, we did very well relative to other people running as a Republican.
THE PRESIDENT: Quiet, quiet, quiet. See, he lied about — he was going to get up and ask a very straight, simple question. So you know, welcome to the world of the media. But let me just tell you something — that I hate the charge. I find it repulsive. I hate even the question because people that know me — and you heard the Prime Minister, you heard Netanyahu yesterday — did you hear him, Bibi? He said, I’ve known Donald Trump for a long time, and then he said, forget it. So you should take that, instead of having to get up and ask a very insulting question like that.
And here is the transcript of the relevant exchange from Wednesday’s news conference with Prime Minister Netanyahu:
Q Mr. President, since your election campaign and even after your victory, we’ve seen a sharp rise in anti-Semitic incidents across the United States. And I wonder what you say to those among the Jewish community in the States, and in Israel, and maybe around the world who believe and feel that your administration is playing with xenophobia and maybe racist tones. And, Mr. Prime Minister, do you agree to what the President just said about the need for Israel to restrain or to stop settlement activity in the West Bank? And a quick follow-up on my friend’s questions — simple question: Do you back off from your vision to the end of the conflict of two-state solution as you laid out in Bar-Ilan speech, or you still support it? Thank you.
PRESIDENT TRUMP: Well, I just want to say that we are very honored by the victory that we had — 306 Electoral College votes. We were not supposed to crack 220. You know that, right? There was no way to 221, but then they said there’s no way to 270. And there’s tremendous enthusiasm out there. I will say that we are going to have peace in this country. We are going to stop crime in this country. We are going to do everything within our power to stop long-simmering racism and every other thing that’s going on, because lot of bad things have been taking place over a long period of time.
I think one of the reasons I won the election is we have a very, very divided nation. Very divided. And, hopefully, I’ll be able to do something about that. And, you know, it was something that was very important to me. As far as people — Jewish people — so many friends, a daughter who happens to be here right now, a son-in-law, and three beautiful grandchildren. I think that you’re going to see a lot different United States of America over the next three, four, or eight years. I think a lot of good things are happening, and you’re going to see a lot of love. You’re going to see a lot of love. Okay? Thank you.
As the Anti-Defamation League reported, the number of violent anti-Semitic assaults in the U.S. “rose dramatically” in 2015, as did the number of incidents across universities. As Mark Oppenheimer notes for the Washington Post, that trend appears to have continued into 2016.
Anti-Semitism has no place in America. It should be condemned in every form. The freedom to practice one’s religion without fear of violence or intimidation is a centerpiece of American liberty. Among the government’s jobs is to safeguard that right. Our leaders should be quick to acknowledge, condemn, and defend against any rise in anti-Semitic attacks, or attacks targeting any religion. The question of anti-Semitism is no time to change the subject; it is a time to stand firm and speak clearly.