Why Does Trump Always Make Anti-Semitism About Himself?

Photo: REX/Shutterstock.
On Tuesday, President Donald Trump finally made a direct statement condemning anti-Semitism in America amid a recent uptick in threats against the Jewish community. Although he won praise from some critics with his declaration, it may not be time to pull out the pom-poms.

Eleven Jewish community centers across the U.S. received bomb threats, and more than 100 headstones were vandalized at a Jewish cemetery in St. Louis, MO, over the weekend, Buzzfeed reported. There have been over 60 reported bomb threats to Jewish community centers since the beginning of 2017.

"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," Trump remarked while touring the National Museum of African American History and Culture.

“I will tell you that anti-Semitism is horrible, and it’s going to stop. It has to stop,” Trump told MSNBC’s Craig Melvin in an interview after his tour.

The president has come under fire for failing to speak out against anti-Semitism despite having several opportunities to address the issue at prior press conferences and even on social media. He’s had a strained relationship with the Jewish community thanks in part to remarks made by his supporters, as well as the alleged “dog whistle” tweet featuring Hillary Clinton and the Star of David that caused a great deal of controversy during the presidential campaign. More recently, there was much criticism of a White House statement on the Holocaust,

But what’s most concerning is that when pressed to speak out against the national issue of anti-Semitism, Trump takes it as a personal attack.

As CNN senior political reporter Stephen Collinson writes, Trump tends to “equate questions about racial and religious prejudice in general as a suggestion that he might somehow be personally guilty of such sins, obscuring the larger issue and the depth of his opposition to expressions of prejudice.”

This issue was evident during Trump’s exchange with Jake Turx, a Jewish reporter, during the now-infamous February 17 press conference. Turx attempted to ask the president how his administration would address anti-Semitic acts in America. The president saw the question as an accusation of bigotry, even though the reporter made clear that wasn’t the case.

“Folks, number one, I am the least anti-Semitic person that you have ever seen in your entire life. Number two, racism. The least racist person,” Trump said. “I hate the charge. I find it repulsive.”

“Mr. President, anti-Semitism around the world is on the rise,” American Jewish Committee CEO David Harris said in a statement after the incident with Turx. “We need the help of the government to combat this cancer. That’s why questions are being asked at press conferences. ... But if every such question elicits either no substantive response or, mistakenly, is taken personally, then what are people of good will supposed to conclude?”

The Trump administration’s overall lukewarm response to anti-Semitic acts fails to give the Jewish community in America peace of mind. “We look to our political leaders at all levels to speak out against such threats directed against Jewish institutions, to make it clear that such actions are unacceptable, and to pledge that they will work with law enforcement officials to ensure that those responsible will be apprehended and punished to the full extent of the law,” Anti-Defamation League CEO Jonathan Greenblatt said in a statement Monday.

This is a time for action, not rhetoric. A tweet, an official statement, a Q&A with reporters without a plan to back up words is not simply enough.
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