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After Criticism, Trump Speaks Out Against Anti-Semitic Violence

Feb 21, 2017
Originally published on February 21, 2017 8:09 pm
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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

When President Trump has been given the opportunity to talk about anti-Semitism, he has sidestepped the issue multiple times until today, as NPR's Tamara Keith reports

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: In the president's first week in office, his administration released a statement on Holocaust Remembrance Day that didn't mention the Jewish people, 6 million of whom were killed in the Holocaust. Press Secretary Sean Spicer defended this statement, saying a staffer who is the descendant of Holocaust survivors helped write it.

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SEAN SPICER: To suggest that remembering the Holocaust and acknowledging all of the people - Jewish, gypsies, priest, disabled, gays and lesbians - I mean it's frank - it is pathetic that people are picking on a statement.

KEITH: That explanation didn't satisfy many in the Jewish community who said the statement risked giving comfort to Holocaust deniers trying to erase Jewish suffering from the Holocaust. Then last week with the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, at the president's side, an Israeli reporter asked Trump about a rise in anti-Semitic incidents across the United States during the campaign and following his election victory.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: And I wonder. What do you say to those among the Jewish community in the States and in Israel and maybe around the world who believe and feel that your administration is playing with xenophobia and maybe racist tones?

KEITH: Trump started out by talking about how great his election victory had been.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I just want to say that we are, you know, very honored by the victory that we had - 306 Electoral College votes.

KEITH: Trump didn't directly address the anti-Semitic incidents, but he did say this.

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TRUMP: We are going to do everything within our power to stop long-simmering racism and every other thing that's going on.

KEITH: Trump then talked about his daughter Ivanka, his son-in-law Jared Kushner and their children, who are Jewish. The next day, a reporter attempted to ask Trump the question again, but he didn't really get a chance because Trump cut him off.

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TRUMP: 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.

KEITH: Trump made it clear he objected to even being asked the question.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

TRUMP: I hate the charge. I find it repulsive.

KEITH: Asked again by another reporter, Trump suggested that anti-Semitic or racist vandalism may have been the fault of opponents trying to make him look bad. After that, the chorus of people calling for the president to speak out against anti-Semitism got louder even as there were more threats and vandalism. And then this morning, touring the African-American History Museum, the president made a statement.

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TRUMP: The anti-Semitic threats targeting our Jewish community and community centers are horrible and are painful and a very sad reminder of the work that still must be done to root out hate and prejudice and evil.

KEITH: The Anti-Defamation League said it was pleased that the president acknowledged the seriousness of the threats. Jonathan Greenblatt is the group's CEO.

JONATHAN GREENBLATT: We agree with the president that these anti-Semitic threats targeting our community are horrible and painful. As a next step, we fully hope that the administration will announce concrete measures to demonstrate that it doesn't just take these threats seriously but it's mobilizing to action.

KEITH: He's calling for, among other things, the president to create a task force led by the attorney general looking at the threats. But not all Jewish organizations responded so diplomatically. The Anne Frank Center for Mutual Respect said, quote, "the president's sudden acknowledgement is a Band-Aid on the cancer of anti-Semitism that has infected his own administration." Tamara Keith, NPR News, the White House. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.