Local and national media report on more than 170 toppled Jewish headstones after a weekend vandalism attack on Chesed Shel Emeth Cemetery in University City, a suburb of St. Louis, Missouri, February 21, 2017. / REUTERS

Trump's Anti-Semitism Response 'Too little, too late'

President Donald Trump’s delayed response to condemn a national rise in anti-Semitism was met with criticism from civil rights groups.

“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,” the president said Tuesday after taking a tour of the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C.

Since January, at least 69 bomb threats have been made to Jewish community centers around the country. Trump was previously slammed for failing on at least two separate occasions to comment on the incidents, which have raised concerns among Jewish groups. And Trump’s statement Tuesday garnered further backlash for being what some considered not strong enough and not soon enough.

Mark Potok, a senior fellow at the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), said that it doesn’t even matter whether or not Trump is anti-Semitic what matters is the message he sends his supporters.

“The reality is, is that Donald Trump, from the very first day of his campaign, when he denounced Mexican immigrants as drug dealers and rapists, has been playing a game of footsie with the extreme right. And in any number of other ways, he avoided until the very last moment, until he was backed into a corner by reporters or other people, making these kind of statements,” Potok said in an interview on MSNBC. “Now, do I believe Donald Trump is personally anti-Semitic You know, it hardly matters. The fact is, is that when he makes these comments, he essentially gives permission to people out there to act in this way.”

“He’s not trying to attack Jews,” Potok said. “He’s trying to avoid offending the anti-Semites who support them, and there are quite a lot of them.”

Steven Goldstein, executive director of the Anne Frank Center for Mutual Respect, in a Facebook post described the Trump administration’s anti-Semitism as “the worst we have seen” from any presidential administration. He called the president’s response “too little, too late” and “not enough.”

“The President’s sudden acknowledgement is a Band-Aid on the cancer of Antisemitism that has infected his own Administration,” Goldstein wrote. “His statement today is a pathetic asterisk of condescension after weeks in which he and his staff have committed grotesque acts and omissions reflecting Antisemitism, yet day after day have refused to apologize and correct the record.”

He also criticized the president for not making a statement sooner: “When President Trump responds to Antisemitism 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.”

Linda Stasi, a writer for the New York Daily News, expressed similar sentiments, calling Trump’s “little” response “like wearing a fancy dress over a severed artery and figuring no would notice the bleeding.”

“Did you think that the election of Trump, a President endorsed by the chair of the American Nazi party not to mention various neo-Nazi groups, white supremacist groups, the official KKK newspaper and militia groups was going to usher in a wave of inclusiveness that would include Jews” Stasi questioned.

Some groups seemed happy that Trump acknowledged the issue at all.

“We appreciate that President Trump spoke directly to this matter,” said Nathan J. Diament, the executive director for public policy at the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America. “The words of a president of the United States carry great weight, and it is important that Mr. Trump addressed the American Jewish community and all our fellow Americans at this time.”

At a briefing on Tuesday White House press secretary Sean Spicer addressed a question about the Anne Frank Center’s firm response to Trump’s statement.

“Look, the President has made clear since the day he was elected and, frankly, going back through the campaign, that he is someone who seeks to unite this country,” Spicer said. “And I think he has been very forceful with his denunciation of people who seek to attack people because of their hate excuse me, because of their religion, because of their gender, because of the color of their skin. And it is something that he is going to continue to fight and make very, very clear that he has no place in this administration.

“But I think that it’s ironic,” he added, “that no matter how many times he talks about this, that it’s never good enough.”

Hate incidents occurred in record numbers following Election Day, with a report from the SPLC calculating roughly seven times the weekly average according to the FBI’s 2015 hate crimes report. The FBI estimated that, in 2015, 38 anti-religious crimes targeting all faiths occurred every 10 days. During the 10-day period following the election, 100 anti-Semitic incidents alone took place.

Last Wednesday Trump shocked attendees of a news conference with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu when he disregarded a reporter’s question about the rise in anti-Semitism. Rather than address the incidents Trump spoke about his November victory in the election.

“I just want to say that we are, you know, 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. Then they said there’s no way to 270. There was tremendous enthusiasm out there,” he said.

A day later Jake Turx, an Orthodox Jew from a Brooklyn-based Jewish weekly newspaper, asked about the “uptick in anti-Semitism and how the government is planning to take care of it.”

Trump interrupted Turx, saying it was “not a fair question” and told him to “sit down.” He proceeded: “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.”

As Turx attempted to clarify that he was not suggesting the president himself was anti-Semitic, Trump again cut him off, saying, “Quiet, quiet, quiet.”

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