President Donald Trump finally spoke on Tuesday about a recent rash of anti-Semitic threats and attacks in the U.S., telling one news outlet: “Anti-Semitism is horrible, and it’s going to stop.”
The vague statement was the president’s only response thus far to the latest wave of anti-Semitic acts—including 11 new bomb threats against Jewish community centers, from New York to New Mexico, on Monday alone—and it wasn’t enough for many observers.
This is a bullshit statement from a bullshit president. 69 bomb threats and this is all we get? “It’s going to stop?” https://t.co/ceS2g6Jefu
— Reza Aslan (@rezaaslan) February 21, 2017
50+ tweets whining about “fake news.”
0 tweets about threats against Jews.
— Michael Skolnik (@MichaelSkolnik) February 21, 2017
Steven Goldstein, executive director of the Anne Frank Center for Mutual Respect, issued the following statement:
The president’s sudden acknowledgement is a Band-Aid on the cancer of anti-Semitism that has infected his own administration. His statement today is a pathetic asterisk of condescension after weeks in which he and his staff have committed grotesque acts and omissions reflecting anti-Semitism, yet day after day have refused to apologize and correct the record. Make no mistake: The anti-Semitism coming out of this administration is the worst we have ever seen from any administration. The White House repeatedly refused to mention Jews in its Holocaust remembrance, and had the audacity to take offense when the world pointed out the ramifications of Holocaust denial. And it was only yesterday, President’s Day, that Jewish Community Centers across the nation received bomb threats, and the president said absolutely nothing. When President Trump responds to anti-Semitism proactively and in real time, and without pleas and pressure, that’s when we’ll be able to say this President has turned a corner. This is not that moment.
According to the Jewish Community Center (JCC) Association of North America, there have been 69 incidents (pdf) at 54 JCCs in 27 U.S. states and one Canadian province since the start of 2017.
In addition, vandals toppled and damaged as many as 200 headstones at a St. Louis-area Jewish cemetery sometime over the weekend.
— ADL St. Louis (@ADLStLouis) February 21, 2017
At least one group, the Jewish Community Relations Council of the Milwaukee Jewish Federation, is linking the rise in anti-Semitism to “expressions of bigotry surrounding the U.S. presidential campaign.”
“The rhetoric around the presidential election not only legitimized bigotry against all minorities, as we’ve seen through a variety of statistics, but also included specific coded and overt anti-Semitic expressions,” said Ann Jacobs, chair of the council’s Anti-Semitism Task Force, on Monday. “That climate on the national level affects the local community too.”
Ivanka Trump tweeted about the threats on Monday:
America is a nation built on the principle of religious tolerance. We must protect our houses of worship & religious centers. #JCC
— Ivanka Trump (@IvankaTrump) February 20, 2017
“Anti-Semitism is horrible. And it’s gonna stop and it has to stop,” Trump told the outlet after touring the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C. “You don’t know where it’s coming from, but I hope they catch the people.”
This came after the White House issued a statement Monday evening condemning “hatred and hate-motivated violence of any kind”—but failing to use the words “Jewish” or “anti-Semitism.”
What’s more, Trump’s remark on Tuesday followed his sidestepping of questions on anti-Semitism during two separate press conferences last week.
Last Wednesday morning, at a press conference held with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Israeli journalist Moav Vardi stood up and asked, “Since your election campaign, and even since your victory, we have seen a sharp rise in anti-Semitic incidents across the United States and I wonder what you have say to the Jewish community of the United States and Israel, and maybe around the world, and … to those who feel your administration is maybe playing with xenophobia and maybe racist tones?”
Trump’s response was surreal. First, he crowed about his electoral victory—”Well, I just want to say that we are, you know, very honored by the victory that we had I just want to say that we are very honored by the victory we had—316 Electoral College votes. We were not supposed to crack 220. You know that, right?” (It was so incongruous that a New York Times editorial noted: “It was as if his brain had short-circuited or someone had hit some internal replay button in his brain.”)
He went on to say, “we are going to have peace in this country,” and mentioned “Jewish people, so many friends; a daughter who happens to be here right now; a son-in-law, and three beautiful grandchildren.”
However, as journalist Sarah Wildman noted for Vox: “He did not say, On behalf of my Jewish grandchildren, this White House will stand against anti-Semitism. He did not say, even more simply, No children should live in fear. He merely noted the existence of his Jewish relatives, as though their very presence spoke sufficiently to both of those points.”
Later in the week, Wildman continued, Trump cut off a question from Jake Turx, a journalist from the ultra-Orthodox Jewish publication Ami Magazine. Turx, she wrote, “wasn’t accusing Trump himself of being anti-Semitic.” But Trump brusquely shut him down all the same.
“This is startling,” Wildman wrote. “Instead of taking an easy opportunity to reassure concerned American Jews that their president has their back, Trump roughly pushed back at an Orthodox Jewish reporter whose questions weren’t about what the administration, or the president, was doing negatively, but what it might be doing proactively to address those who are attacking the community.”