In a Thursday news conference called to discuss the announcement of new secretary of labor nominee Alexander Acosta, President Donald Trump was asked about the rise in anti-Semitic incidents in the US throughout his 2016 election campaign and following his victory. In response to what Trump called an unfair and “insulting” question, the president said, “I am the least anti-Semitic person that you’ve ever seen in your entire life.”
See the full exchange below:
So, first of all, my name is Jake Turx. I haven't seen anybody in my community accuse either yourself or anyone on your staff of being anti-Semitic. We have an understand that you have Jewish grandchildren — you are their zayde. However, what we are concerned about and what we haven't being heard addressed is how the government is planning to take care of it. There are reports that 48 bomb threats have been made against Jewish centers across the country in the last couple of weeks. There are people committing anti-Semitic acts or threatening to—
He said he was going to ask a easy question — okay sit down, I understand the rest of your question. Folks, number one, I am the least anti-Semitic person that you have seen in your entire life. Number two, racism. The least racist.
We did relatively well — quiet, quiet, quiet — see he lied about what was going to be a very straight simple question. 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 Netanyahu yesterday. Did you hear him, Bibi, he said I've known Donald Trump for a long time and said forget it so you should take that instead of getting up and asking a very insulting question like that. Just shows you about the press but that's the way the press is.
The question followed a similar question Trump received at a joint press conference with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu yesterday. In his response then, Trump never directly addressed the issue of anti-Semitism. He started by boasting about his Electoral College victory (which he misrepresented):
Well, I just want to say that we are very honored by the victory that we had — 306 Electoral College votes. We were not supposed to crack 220. You know that, right? There was no way to 221, but then they said there’s no way to 270. And there’s tremendous enthusiasm out there.
Trump went on to say that his administration was “going to do everything within our power to stop long-simmering racism and every other thing that’s going on,” adding that “a lot of bad things have been taking place over a long period of time.”
That response angered many Jewish groups and representatives. On Twitter, the Anti-Defamation League — an organization devoted to combating anti-Semitic hate crimes and other hate-based violence — called Trump’s remarks “troubling.”
Troubling that @POTUS failed to condemn real issue of anti-Semitism in US today— ADL (@ADL_National) February 15, 2017
ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt went even further.
“His response was baffling. This issue is not electoral votes. It’s about the wave of hate crimes since the election and the spike in anti-Semitism across the country,” he said in a statement. “President Trump seemed uninformed about this issue and missed an opportunity to decry the rhetoric of hate that seems to be surging online and in the real world. Intentional or not, this emboldens anti-Semites.”
Trump throughout his campaign faced accusations of, at the very least, failing to adequately quell anti-Semitism among some of his supporters. He recently faced controversy, for example, when his White House statement on Holocaust Remembrance Day failed to specifically mention Jews.
In July 2016, Trump tweeted a meme that dubbed “Crooked Hillary” Clinton the “most corrupt candidate ever.” The image featured a six-pointed Star of David, a Jewish symbol that Nazis forced Jews to sew into their clothing to signify their Judaism during the Holocaust. Mic’s Anthony Smith revealed the meme was originally created by white supremacists on 8chan, an online messaging board for the self-described “alt-right.”
In September, Donald Trump Jr. came under fire for using Nazi imagery to criticize media coverage of his father’s campaign. He claimed that if his father acted like Hillary Clinton, news media would “be warming up the gas chamber right now.” As Vox’s Yochi Dreazen later wrote, “Donald Trump is openly trafficking in the types of anti-Semitic slurs that have been used to justify the hatred of Jews for decades.”
Journalists — some of whom were not even Jewish — frequently faced derogatory attacks from Trump supporters on Twitter. An ADL report identified 2,641,072 mentions of anti-Semitic language on Twitter from August 1, 2015, through July 31, 2016.
Following Trump’s election, hate crimes of all sorts spiked. The Southern Poverty Law Center, a group that tracks hate-based violence, identified 867 hate incidents in the 10 days following Trump’s election, 100 of which were anti-Semitic in nature.
More recently, Jewish community centers have become targets for anti-Semitic violence. As CNN reports, 48 JCCs in 27 states and one in Canada received about 60 telephone bomb threats during the month of January. The FBI and the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division are reportedly investigating these incidents.
In his press conference with Netanyahu, Trump stressed the fact that he has family ties to Judaism. “As far as people — Jewish people — so many friends, a daughter who happens to be here right now, a son-in-law, and three beautiful grandchildren.” He went on to say that he expects to see “a lot different United States of America over the next three, four, or eight years. I think a lot of good things are happening, and you’re going to see a lot of love.”
Netanyahu came to Trump’s defense. “I’ve known the president and I’ve known his family and his team for a long time, and there is no greater supporter of the Jewish people and the Jewish state than President Donald Trump,” he said. “I think we should put that to rest.”