Wednesday, February 22nd, 2017...1:35 pm

Editorial: Trump responds to anti-Semitic threats, finally

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Like many political observers, my Swedish wife and I were taken aback last weekend, when we were watching President Trump deliver a campaign-style speech, in Melbourne, Fla., and he decried an alleged terrorist incident in Sweden:

“You look at what’s happening last night in Sweden,” Trump declared. “Sweden! Who would believe this? Sweden. They took in large numbers. They’re having problems like they never thought possible.”

Who would believe this? Nobody.

It quickly emerged that nothing untoward happened in Sweden last Friday. Trump later clarified that he saw a lurid Fox News report about violence caused by immigrants to Sweden. And, as Trump tried to salvage some credibility after his fake news report, a number of Swedish authorities gainsaid the veracity of the Fox News piece.

The president is given to stretching the truth a bit.

And, to give him some credit, he finally uttered the hyphenated “A”-word this week: anti-Semitism.

Trump offered incredibly benighted answers last week to questions at press conferences about a spike in anti-Semitic incidents across the country. However, after a tour of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture on Tuesday, he said, “The anti-Semitic threats targeting our Jewish community at 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.”

Trump’s comment came after a day when bomb threats this year were called in to 11 JCCs around the United States, including one to the St. Paul JCC. This was the fourth wave of bomb threats called in to JCCs over the past two months; on Jan. 18, the Sabes JCC in St. Louis Park received a bomb threat and was evacuated. And as the JCCs were going through the evacuations and police sweeps for explosive devices (none were found), news came of the extensive desecration of Chesed Shel Emeth Cemetery in University City, near St. Louis, Mo. More than 100 150 headstones were knocked over during the night.

As mentioned above, Trump delivered some truly appalling answers to questions about anti-Semitism at two press conferences the previous week.

At a joint press conference with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, on Feb. 15, an Israeli reporter asked Trump the following question: “Mr. President, since your election campaign and even after your victory, we’ve seen a sharp rise in anti-Semitic incidents across the United States. And I wonder what 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?”

Trump replied: “Well, I just want to say that we are, you know, very honored by the victory that we had. Three hundred and six 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.”

At this point, you wonder if Trump is suffering from a wax build-up in his ears, or what?

Then he continued answering:

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. Because a lot of bad things have been taking place over a long period of time. I think one of the reasons I won the election is because we have a very, very divided nation. Very divided and hopefully, I’ll be able to do something about that. And I — you know, something that was very important to me.

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. I think that you’re going to see a lot of 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. You’re going to see a lot of love. Okay? Thank you.

We’re “going to see a lot of love.” And may we see it soon.

The question of the Trump administration’s response to anti-Semitism became murkier the next day, when the president held forth for an hour and a quarter, following the announcement that he was naming Alexander Acosta as his choice for Secretary of Labor. (His previous nominee, Andrew Puzder, the fast-food burger CEO, withdrew his name from consideration in the face of significant opposition.)

The Feb. 16 press conference, which was mainly a testy harangue against what the new president sees as “fake news” and “fake media,” included a question from Jake Turx, an Orthodox Jew and writer for Ami Magazine.

Turx, wearing a velvet yarmulke with his Twitter handle embroidered on the front (@JakeTurx),asked, or tried to ask, Trump: “I haven’t seen anybody in my community accuse either yourself or anyone on your staff of being anti-Semitic… However, what we are concerned about, and 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. There have been reports that 48 bomb threats have been made against Jewish centers all across the country in the last couple of weeks. There are people who are committing anti-Semitic acts or threats…”

Note that Turx explicitly said that he was not accusing Trump or anybody on his staff of being anti-Semitic.

The president, however, apparently heard something different and interrupted the Jewish reporter: “He said he was gonna ask a very simple, easy question. And it’s not, it’s 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.

“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.”

There was no “charge” of anti-Semitism made by Turx, who seemed to be nonplussed by Trump’s angry and bullying response.

To his credit, Trump did not cite his Electoral College numbers in answering Turx. He left that for another reporter — and lied again about what he contended was the “biggest Electoral College win since Ronald Reagan.” It wasn’t.

It is truly distressing to have a president who lies about things big and small on a daily basis. The Washington Post recently published a catalog of Trump’s “dubious, misleading or false statements” made during his brief tenure in the White House. The count is 132 “false or misleading claims” made over 33 days — that’s four per day. Cynics will say that all politicians lie; however, Trump’s performance in this regard is abnormal. His lack of attention to the facts and deficit of critical intelligence prompt fears about how he will act in a serious geopolitical crisis.

Returning to the issue of anti-Semitism, Steven Goldstein, of the Anne Frank Center, released a scathing statement following Trump’s belated comment on the bomb threats called in to JCCs and other malign events affecting Jews: “The President’s sudden acknowledgment of anti-Semitism is a Band-Aid on the cancer of anti-Semitism that has infected his own administration. His statement today is a pathetic asterisk of condescension after weeks in which he and his staff have committed grotesque acts and omissions reflecting anti-Semitism, yet day after day have refused to apologize and correct the record.

The Anne Frank Center’s statement continued: “Make no mistake: The anti-Semitism coming out of this administration is the worst we have seen from any administration. The White House repeatedly refused to mention Jews in its Holocaust remembrance, and had the audacity to take offense when the world pointed out the ramifications of Holocaust denial. And it was only yesterday, President’s Day, that Jewish Community Centers across the nation received bomb threats, and the President said absolutely nothing. When President Trump responds to anti-Semitism proactively and in real time, and without pleas and pressure, that’s when we’ll be able to say this president has turned a corner. This is not that moment.”

— Mordecai Specktor

editor [at] ajwnews [dot] com

(American Jewish World, 2.24.17)

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