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U.S. President Donald Trump lashed out on Thursday at an ultra-Orthodox Jewish reporter who asked him what his administration is prepared to do against anti-Semitism, apparently interpreting the question as a personal accusation of anti-Jewish sentiment.
Trump was taking questions from reporters at the East Room of the White House, his first solo press conference since taking office. About an hour into the conference, Jake Turx, a reporter for the haredi Ami Magazine, asked Trump about the administration's plan to handle the rise in anti-Semitic incidents across the United States, and noted the recent waves of bomb threats against Jewish centers throughout the country.
Though Turx started his question by telling Trump that no one in the Jewish community is accusing him or his staff of anti-Semitism, Trump took it personally.
Trump cut off the reporter before he finished his question, saying that the question was not a fair one. "Sit down, I understand the rest of your question," Trump said.
"Number one: I'm the least anti-Semitic person you have ever seen in your entire life," Trump continued.
"Number two: Racism. The least racist person." Trump said. The reporter then interrupted Trump and attempted to complete his question, when he was again cut off by the president, who proceeded to call him a liar.
"Quiet quiet quiet,” he said. “You see, he lied about he's going to ask a simple question. It's not a straight simple question. Welcome to the world of the media."
"Let me tell you something," Trump said. "I hate the charge. I find it repulsive."
Appearing to mispronounce Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s name when mentioning their joint White House press conference, Trump continued:
“I hate even the question because people that know me you heard the prime minister, you heard uhmm Betanyahu 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."
On Wednesday, 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 conference with Netanyahu, with a general pledge to "stop racism," without specifically using the word anti-Semitism.
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."
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.
At the press conference, Trump also had a bizarre exchange with an African American reporter, the Washington Post reported. The reporter, April Ryan of American Urban Radio Networks, asked Trump whether he would include the Congressional Black Caucus in discussions on urban policy.
“Well, I would,” Trump said. “Tell you what, do you want to set up the meeting? Do you want to set up the meeting? Are they friends of yours? Set up a meeting.”
Ryan responded by telling Trump that she is a journalist, and that while she does know members of the caucus, it's not her job to set up such meetings.