Weisman: Trump reluctant to shun anti-Semitic supporters

as part of an in-depth panel discussion author Matthew Weisman discusses President Trump's past interactions with anti-Semitic supporters

Posted: Oct 29, 2018 9:32 AM
Updated: Oct 29, 2018 9:51 AM

I could feel the anger building inside of me as President Donald Trump delivered these lines after Saturday's horrific anti-Semitic attack at the Tree of Life synagogue: "There must be no tolerance for anti-Semitism in America or for any form of religious or racial hatred or prejudice."

Why the anger? Because Trump has spread religious hatred both as a candidate and as president. And he has also refused to denounce anti-Semitism when given the opportunities to do so.

Yet now Trump hypocritically tells us he opposes "any form of religious or racial hatred or prejudice." Trump deserves an award for saying that line with a straight face, given his horrible record.

Let me be clear: Trump made fearmongering of Muslims one of the main pillars of his 2016 campaign -- with comments like "Islam hates us" and false claims that Muslims in New Jersey cheered on 9/11. And, of course, there was Trump's December 2015 call for a "total and complete shutdown of Muslims" being allowed to enter our country, seemingly for no other reason than his prejudice toward our faith.

Trump continued this pattern as president when, in November 2017, he retweeted videos that had been shared on Twitter by one of the United Kingdom's most notorious anti-Muslim groups. These videos were created with the sole purpose of stirring up hate against Muslims -- and Trump helped to spread them to an even larger audience.

But Trump's prejudices are not just toward the Muslim community. In fact, if Trump claims he has "no tolerance for anti-Semitism," then why didn't he condemn acts of anti-Semitism when asked to do so in the past? In February 2016, Trump was asked directly by CNN's Jake Tapper if he would disavow the support of well-known white supremacist David Duke, a man who in the past claimed Jews were a threat to the Christian character of America -- and worse. Trump refused, instead claiming that "I know nothing about David Duke."

In reality, Trump had in past years had made numerous comments about Duke, even denouncing him, but now that Trump was running for president, he apparently didn't want to lose any potential supporters -- including anti-Semites.

Another glaring example was in May 2016, after Julia Ioffe, a Jewish journalist, wrote an article viewed by some as critical of Melania Trump. In response to the article, the journalist was subjected to a barrage of vile anti-Semitic threats, including a graphic depicting the journalist in a Nazi concentration camp and a barrage of messages on her phone, in which excerpts of Adolph Hitler speeches were played.

When Trump was asked point blank by CNN's Wolf Blitzer about the anti-Semitic death threats being sent to the journalist by several self-professed Trump supporters, Trump responded, "Oh, I don't know about that. I don't know anything about that. You mean fans of mine?"

Blitzer then explained, "Supposed fans of posting these very angry -- but your message to these fans is?" Here was Trump's opportunity to send a clear, passionate message to his supporters that there was no place for anti-Semitism in American political discourse. But what was Trump's response? He stated, "I don't have a message to the fans." And then, shockingly, Trump pivoted to slam the journalist with the comment, "A woman wrote an article that's inaccurate."

Actually, when Trump said, "I don't have a message to the fans," he was misleading. Trump was sending a clear message that he had no problem with anti-Semitism being used as a tool to silent Jewish journalists. (In fact, other Jewish journalists were targeted with anti-Semitic hate for criticizing Trump after this interview with Blitzer.)

The most recent example was after the 2017 Charlottesville violent rally where white supremacists chanted "Jews will not replace us." Did Trump deliver a full-throated slam of anti-Semitism in response? No, instead he made his infamous comment that there were "very fine people" on "both sides," as he equated those fighting against hate with those spewing bigotry.

And if Trump truly wanted to make it clear that he was opposed to religious hatred, then why has he not been outspoken as we've seen a spike in hate crimes in the past two years? For example, a report by the Anti-Defamation League found that a 57% spike in anti-Semitic hate incidents in 2017 from the year before. These events include everything from physical attacks on Jewish American to threats against places of worship. The head of the ADL, Jonathan Greenblatt, summed up Trump's silence on the issue at the time the report was issued with the comment, "There's no question we would love to see the President call out anti-Semitism as consistently and clearly as he does other issues."

There has also been a very disturbing 15% spike in anti-Muslim hate incidents in 2017 that range from attacks on Muslim Americans to arson attacks on mosque. One such incident was a terrorist plot to kill Muslim Americans waged by self-professed Trump supporters, yet Trump was silent even after these men were tried and convicted on multiple counts.

There's no doubt Trump could find time for at least one tweet on this topic if he truly cared.

Trump can now read all the prepared statements he wants about religious tolerance. But nothing speaks louder about Trump's true sentiment on this topic than his past actions -- as well as his calculated yet appalling silence.

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