Trump Breaks His Silence: Anti-Semitism Is Horrible and It's Gonna Stop

After fourth wave of bomb threats on JCCs and attacks on Jewish cemetery, Trump finally condemns anti-Jewish hate crimes.

U.S. President Donald Trump walks on the South Lawn of the White House, February 20, 2017.
U.S. President Donald Trump walks on the South Lawn of the White House, February 20, 2017. YURI GRIPAS/REUTERS

After a wave of anti-Semitic incidents, U.S. President Donald Trump broke his silence and said "Anti-Semitism is horrible and it's gonna stop and it's got to stop" Trump told NBC News's Craig Melvin Tuesday.

Asked if he's denouncing anti-Semitism "once and for all" Trump answered "Yes. Of course. Where ever I get a chance I do it."

As of Tuesday, both White House press secretary Sean Spicer and the president’s daughter Ivanka Trump, spoke out against the phenomenon. Both did so, however, in general terms that avoided the use of the words “Jewish” and “anti-Semitic” and neither accompanied their denunciations with calls for action on the part of authorities to seek out and punish the perpetrators. 

Since taking office, Trump has avoided straightforward and specific denunciations of hate crimes against Jews when asked about them over the past week at two separate press conferences. Last Thursday, the president berated a Jewish reporter for asking him about the uptick in anti-Semitic threats, interpreting it as an accusation that he himself was anti-Semitic saying it was a “very insulting question.”

Earlier on Tuesday, Trump’s former rival for the presidency Hillary Clinton, joined the chorus of voices calling on him to speak out against anti-Semitism, tweeting: "JCC threats, cemetery desecration & online attacks are so troubling & they need to be stopped. Everyone must speak out, starting w/ @POTUS.”

Anti-Defamation League CEO Jonathan Greenblatt said on Thursday that he was disappointed by President Donald Trump's failure – twice within a timeframe of 24 hours – to condemn recent anti-Semitic incidents in the United States, after being asked about the issue at two separate press conferences

"He was asked about bomb threats against Jewish institutions, and replied by talking about the size of his electoral victory," Greenblatt told Haaretz.

"We have great concerns. We saw during the election the Trump campaign tweet and share anti-Semitic imagery and language. We were concerned about that, and we expressed it repeatedly and respectfully. After the election, we saw white supremacists celebrating, holding an event literally blocks away from the White House.

"We've seen a rise in hate crimes against Jews, who remain the most targeted religious minority in the country. There's been a surge of hate crimes, and just recently, a number of instances of bomb threats against Jewish community centers. And when the president was asked about all that, he talked about electoral votes and grandchildren," Greenblatt said.

Greenblatt was referring to Trump's press conference with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Washington on Wednesday, during which Israeli journalist Moav Vardi asked the president why his administration hasn't clearly denounced a number of recent anti-Semitic incidents in the U.S., including the bomb threats. Trump replied by bragging about the size of his electoral victory over rival Hillary Clinton, and mentioning the fact that his daughter Ivanka Trump, her husband, senior White House adviser Jared Kushner, and the couple's children, are Jewish.

Trump received backing on the issue from Netanyahu, who said that he's known both Trump and Kushner for many years and that it was baseless to accuse the president of anti-Semitism. After the press conference, in a separate briefing with the Israeli traveling press, Netanyahu criticized Jewish-American organizations that have spoken out against Trump on this issue, calling their criticism "misplaced."

On Thursday, Trump was once again asked about anti-Semitism, this time by Jake Turx, a reporter for the ultra-Orthodox magazine Ami, and replied by calling Turx's question "unfair." Trump told him that "Number one: I'm the least anti-Semitic person you have ever seen in your entire life." He added, "Did you hear him? Bibi. He said: I've known Donald Trump for a long time. And then he said: Forget it. "

Greenblatt didn't directly respond to Netanyahu's words in his interview with Haaretz, but said that his organization intended to "continue to stand up and speak out against hate and bigotry."

He added that the Trump administration was criticized by Jewish organizations "from all corners of the community" for its "bizarre" Holocaust Remembrance Day statement that omitted any reference to Jews or anti-Semitism.

"This is not a partisan issue. The response of Liberal and Conservative organizations to this was similar. We at ADL are not a political organization, we stand up for our principles, and we'll continue to do so, even if we don't get help from the highest levels in terms of our elected officials."

Greenblatt pushed back against the notion, raised by both Trump and Netanyahu, that the president's Jewish relatives gave him immunity from addressing the issue of anti-Semitism. "Whether or not you have Jewish relatives, that alone doesn't stop the bomb threats. Whether or not you celebrate holidays – that doesn’t stop the hate crimes. Whether you have Jewish friends – that doesn't stop the onslaught of slander on social media."

Greenblatt said that while he respects and cherishes the fact that the president has Jewish grandchildren – "We've never had a president who is so intimately familiar with our community before" – it was important to remember that "there are also other Jewish grandchildren, in pre-schools across the country, who had to be evacuated in the middle of the day because of bomb threats."

It was "inadequate," he added, for the president to time and again "miss opportunities to address this issue. When political leaders fail to denounce this kind of thing, it has consequences. It emboldens the bigots. This is really simple." Greenblatt said he "had no idea" why Trump chose to evade the questions, instead of providing a forceful denunciation.  

"If the president has ever attended a Jewish Passover Seder, he is probably familiar with the term dayeinu. Enough. We've had enough of this anti-Semitism and hatred. This needs to stop now."

Referring to Trump's meeting with Netanyahu, Greenblatt added that "I strongly agree with the prime minister when he says he wants the world to call out incitement by the Palestinian Authority and to call out incitement against Jews in mosques in many countries. At the same time, we also want our president to call out these things when they happen here, at home, in the United States."