WASHINGTON — Jewish groups called “worrisome,” “puzzling” and “mind-boggling” President Trump’s answers in two days’ worth of press conferences about rising anti-Semitic incidents in the United States.
During Wednesday’s press conference with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, an Israeli reporter asked Trump how he planned to address the hike in anti-Semitic incidents, and what he’d say to people around the world “who believe and feel that your administration is playing with xenophobia and maybe racist tones.”
After touting his electoral college victory, Trump replied, “I will say that we are going to have peace in this country.”
“We are going to stop crime in this country. We are going to do everything within our power to stop long simmering racism and every other thing that’s going on. There’s a lot of bad things that have been taking place over a long period of time,” he said.
At his marathon press conference in the East Room on Thursday, an event added to the president’s schedule at the last minute, Trump said he wanted to call on a “friendly” reporter and picked Jake Turx, a reporter for Ami, an orthodox Jewish magazine published in New York and Israel.
“I haven’t seen anyone in my community accuse you or anyone on your staff of being anti-Semitic. We understand that you have Jewish grandchildren, you are their zayde,” Turx said. “What we haven’t really heard being addressed is an uptick in anti-Semitism and how the government is planning to take care of it.”
That included, the reporter noted, bomb threats phoned into 48 Jewish community centers across 27 states in January.
“He said he was gonna ask a very simple, easy question,” Trump interjected. “And it’s not, its not, not — not a simple question, not a fair question. OK, sit down, I understand the rest of your question.”
“So here’s the story, folks. Number one, I am the least anti-Semitic person that you’ve ever seen in your entire life. Number two, racism, the least racist person. In fact, we did very well relative to other people running as a Republican — quiet, quiet, quiet,” he hushed reporters. “See, he lied about — he was gonna get up and ask a very straight, simple question, so you know, welcome to the world of the media. But let me just tell you something, that I hate the charge, I find it repulsive.”
“I hate even the question because people that know me and you heard the prime minister, you heard Ben Netanyahu 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.”
Turx tweeted that he believed Trump “clearly misunderstood my question.”
Another reporter followed up soon afterward, though, noting that it wasn’t a question about Trump’s personal beliefs but anti-Semitic incidents happening across the country, “some of it by supporters in your name.” The New York Police Department, for instance, reported last week that while the rate for several crimes such as murder have fallen this year, the number of hate crimes in the city had doubled in 2017 compared to the same period last year, with anti-Semitic incidents leading the increase.
“You have some of those signs and some of that anger is caused by the other side. They’ll do signs and they’ll do drawings that are inappropriate,” Trump replied. “It won’t be my people. It will be the people on the other side to anger people like you.”
American Jewish Committee CEO David Harris said that with Turx, Trump “chose instead to besmirch the reporter,” that he “replied without ever once referring to the subject” of anti-Semitism during the Netanyahu press conference, and in the follow-up question at today’s presser there was not “a substantive answer from the president.”
“This is both worrisome and puzzling. We know President Trump to be a personal, longtime friend to many Jews,” Harris said, including administration officials and his daughter’s family. “Our message to the president boils down to a simple and timely request: Mr. President, anti-Semitism around the world is on the rise. Sadly, it’s true in our own country as well, as exemplified by a growing number of incidents affecting Jewish community centers, synagogues, and campuses, not to mention the realm of social media.”
“The purveyors of anti-Semitism are many, including, it must be said, some who claim to be your supporters, but others as well with entirely different political agendas,” he added. “We need the help of the government to combat this cancer, which violates every value for which our nation stands. That’s why the questions are being asked at press conferences, and not in order to cast aspersions on your administration.”
“But if every such question elicits either no substantive response or, mistakenly, is taken personally, then what are people of good will supposed to conclude? Respectfully, Mr. President, please use your bully pulpit not to bully reporters asking questions potentially affecting millions of fellow Americans, but rather to help solve a problem that, for many, is real and menacing.”
An Anti-Defamation League study released in October uncovered 2.6 million anti-Semitic tweets reaching 10 billion Twitter users spanning the earlier part of the campaign from August 2015 to July 2016.
At least 800 journalists were the target of those anti-Semitic tweets, with the 10 most targeted journalists, all Jewish, receiving 83 percent of the tweets directed at media.
After Julia Ioffe wrote a profile of Melania Trump for the May issue of GQ magazine, the barrage of tweets she received included one calling her “filthy Russian kike” and others sent the journalist photos of concentration camps with captions such as “Back to the Ovens!”
New York Times editor Jonathan Weisman has “received images of ovens, of himself wearing Nazi ‘Juden’ stars, and of Auschwitz’s infamous entry gates, the path painted over with the Trump logo, and the iron letters refashioned to read ‘Machen Amerika Great.’”
Ben Shapiro has been called a “Christ-Killer” and a “kike,” among other anti-Semitic tweets. Commentary editors John Podhoretz and Noah Rothman, also critical of Trump, were cited as receiving a flood of tweets from anti-Semites.
Bethany Mandel told ADL that she has received anti-Semitic tweets before, but the volume and apparent coordination stands out in this year’s attacks. “One user tweeted about her for 19 hours straight, and she received messages containing incendiary language about her family, and images with her face superimposed on photos of Nazi concentration camps,” stated the report.
On Thursday, the ADL noted that in “two separate occasions over the past two days, President Trump has refused to say what he is going to do about rising anti-Semitism or to even condemn it.”
“It is mind-boggling why President Trump prefers to shout down a reporter or brush this off as a political distraction,” ADL National Chairman Marvin D. Nathan and ADL CEO Jonathan A. Greenblatt said in a statement. “This is not a partisan issue. It’s a potentially lethal problem — and it’s growing.”
“In light of the bomb scares, online harassment, physical vandalism, death threats and other hate crimes, there is a simple question at hand that Americans of all faiths deserve an answer to – what is the Trump administration going to do about the recent surge of anti-Semitism? What concrete steps will the White House take to address intolerance?” Nathan and Greenblatt said.
“We are going to keep asking these questions – and urge others in the press and public to do so as well – until we get a clear answer from our president.”