After a wave of anti-Semitic incidents intensified over President’s Day weekend, 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.
The White House statement did not come out in President Trump’s name nor at the administration’s initiative, but in response to an inquiry by NBC News. The network’s correspondent Peter Alexander - not Spicer himself - shared the official reaction. “Hatred and hate-motivated violence of any kind have no place in a country founded on the promise of individual freedom,” Spicer's statement said. “The president has made it abundantly clear that these actions are unacceptable.”
In fact, 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.”
Later, in the press conference, Trump seemed to suggest a conspiracy existed of false flag anti-Semitic incidents, being perpetrated by his “opponents” in order to bolster claims that his election and presidency was fueling racism and anti-Semitism. “You have some of the signs and some of that anger caused by the other side,” charged Trump. “They’ll do signs and drawing that are inappropriate. It won’t be my people. It will be people on the other side to anger people like you,” he told a reporter.
On Twitter, his daughter Ivanka Trump, who has until now generally refrained from taking public political stands since her father took office, tweeted Monday in reaction to the targeting of Jewish community centers across the country. "America is a nation built on the principle of religious tolerance. We must protect our houses of worship & religious centers. #JCC," she tweeted.
Ivanka Trump, who converted to Judaism before marrying Jared Kushner, sends her young children to a synagogue preschool and a Jewish school. Her tweet referred to the bomb threats that were made on Monday to 11 Jewish community centers, including those in New York, Wisconsin, Minnesota, New Mexico, Texas, Illinois and Alabama.
It was the fourth time over the past two months that such threats were made. So far, more than 54 JCCs have been targeted and on Monday, there was evacuation of the community centers, which house gyms, swimming pools, preschools and programs for youth and senior citizens, and are used by both Jews and non-Jews. Though the threats have thus far proven hoaxes, the disruption and fear they have triggered have damaged the operation of the centers. As a result of the threats, some people have removed their children out of JCC daycares and other activities, reported Steve Seiden, chair of the JCC Association, speaking on Monday during a visit to Jerusalem with the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations.
A government statement was issued by the FBI Monday announcing that "The FBI and the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division are investigating possible civil rights violations in connection with threats to Jewish Community Centers across the country. The FBI will collect all available facts and evidence, and will ensure this matter is investigated in a fair, thorough, and impartial manner.”
Beyond mere threats, the Jewish community of St. Louis was badly shaken Monday by actual damage when headstones were found damaged at a Jewish cemetery Chesed Shel Emeth.
Anita Faigenbaum, the manager of the cemetery told Israel Army radio that close to 200 headstones were damaged by vandals who jumped over the fence surrounding the cemetery on either Saturday or Sunday. She said that while the cemetery was equipped with security cameras, they were placed too far away from the area of the cemetery where the damage took place to detect.
Local police have not yet declared the damage a hate crime.
“There were no swastikas, there was no graffiti, but the number of the headstones were knocked down shows me that this was a group of people, that it was premeditated and nothing of this nature has happened at non-Jewish cemeteries,” said Faigenbaum when asked whether she believed the motivation for the vandalism was anti-Semitism.
Faigenbaum said that a list of the families whose headstones were affected by the vandalism would be listed on the cemetery's Facebook page once all of the headstones affected were identified.
It was in the city of St. Louis over a year ago, at a debate on October 9, 2016 that then-candidate Trump argued that a problem could not be addressed without naming it, slamming Hillary Clinton because she didn’t say the words “radical Islamic terrorism.”
"These are radical Islamic terrorists and she won't even mention the word, and nor will President Obama. He won't use the term ‘radical Islamic terrorism,’" said Trump. "Now, to solve a problem, you have to be able to state what the problem is or at least say the name. She won't say the name and President Obama won't say the name.”
Today, when it comes to hate crimes against Jews, Muslims and other racial minorities, it is Trump and his White House who consistently avoid specifically naming the phenomenon they are presumably battling.
Criticism has been mounting against Trump across the Jewish community, from left to right, or his avoidance of specific denunciation of anti-Semitic acts and statements.
“A lack of attention to this from the president creates an environment in which the bigots feel empowered,” Jonathan Greenblatt, CEO of the Anti-Defamation League, told Haaretz. “They feel like their intolerance is being tolerated.”
Mort Klein, president of the Zionist Organization of America and a supporter of the president, called on Trump to speak with a clearer voice.
“President Trump should come out as soon as possible against these phone threats and make it clear that we in America will not tolerate this kind of disgraceful hatred toward Jews,” he said.
Jake Turx, the reporter who was the target of the president’s wrath on Thursday, took to Twitter in the aftermath of the attacks defending himself against those who had criticized him for challenging Trump at the press conference and joining the calls the president to speak out take action against anti-Semitism, tweeting, “With utmost respect Mr. President, you're president of all Americans. Work with us, sir!”