Trump Sidesteps anti-Semitism Question, Netanyahu Springs to His Defense

'I think we can put that to rest,' Netanyahu says, after Trump promises to fight racism, without actually uttering the word 'anti-Semitism.'

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US President Donald Trump(R) welcomes Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a joint press conference at the White House in Washington, DC, February 15, 2017.
U.S. President Donald Trump(R) welcomes Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a joint press conference at the White House in Washington, DC, February 15, 2017.Credit: MANDEL NGAN/AFP

President Donald Trump sidestepped a question from an Israeli reporter about a rise in anti-Semitic incidents around the United States, since Trump's election victory in November.

Trump responded to the query put to him by Channel 10's Moav Vardi during the joint White House news conference with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, with a general pledge to "stop racism," without specifically using the word anti-Semitism.

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"We are very honored by the victory we had. We are going to have peace in this country, we are going to stop crime in this country ... we are going to do everything we can to stop racism," Trump said.

Get live updates on Netanyahu's trip to Washington and meeting with Donald Trump

The president said that "as far as Jewish people - so many friends, a daughter, a son-in-law and three beautiful grandchildren - I think you’re going to see a very different America in the next three, four years ... You're going to see a lot of love."

Netanyahu rushed to Trump's defense, in his own response to Vardi.

"I’ve known President Trump for many years and to allude to him or his people ... other people who I’ve known for a long time - can I reveal Jared (Kushner), how long I’ve known you? - there is no greater supporter of Israel or the Jewish State than President Donald Trump, I think we can put that to rest."

Read the full transcript of Netanyahu and Trump press conference

Rep. Ted Deutch, a Jewish Democrat who represents a congressional district in Florida, said he was "appalled" by Trump's response. "The President not only refused to directly condemn anti-Semitism, but he couldn’t even bring himself to utter the word 'anti-Semitism,'" Deutch wrote in a statement.

"This continues an alarming trend in this White House, following the refusal to acknowledge that Hitler’s Final Solution was aimed at wiping Jews from the face of the earth, and the complete omission on a list of terror attacks of any acts of terrorism in Israel," he said.

Since the election, Jewish groups in the U.S. have warned of a rise in anti-Semitic incidents. In January, waves of coordinated bomb threats targeted dozens of Jewish community centers across the U.S., in what was described by Jewish leaders as an unprecedented threat. Though no bomb was found, the threats sparked anxiety and fear in the Jewish community.

Anti-Semitic rhetoric in the United States has reached levels unprecedented since 1930s Germany, Anti-Defamation League CEO Jonathan Greenblatt warned in December. “Anti-Semitism has wound its way into mainstream conversations in a manner that many Jews who lived through Nazi Germany find terrifying,” he said at a meeting at the Knesset, which was convened to discuss the plight of American Jewry under the incoming Trump administration.

Since the U.S. election, Greenblatt noted, “hundreds of hate crimes,” including against Jews, have been reported throughout the U.S.

During the presidential election, Trump's campaign was dogged by accusations of anti-Semitism, which centered both on perceived anti-Jewish overtones of his campaign ads and slogans and on the then-candidate's reluctance to disavow supporters such as former KKK leader David Duke.

After taking office, Trump took fire for a Holocaust Remembrance Day statement which decried the "horror inflicted on innocent people by Nazi terror," but failed to specifically mention either anti-Semitism or Jews.

Amir Tibon contributed to this report.

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