By Ron Kampeas
(JTA) — The American Jewish Committee and the Anti-Defamation League decried President Donald Trump’s brusque treatment of a reporter who asked about a spike in antisemitic incidents and challenged him to offer an explicit condemnation of antisemitism.
“It is honestly mind-boggling why President Trump prefers to shout down a reporter or brush this off as a political distraction,” Jonathan Greenblatt, the ADL’s national director, said in a statement posted on Twitter.
The American Jewish Committee’s CEO, David Harris, also posted a statement on Twitter.
“Instead of answering a timely and legitimate question, the president chose instead to besmirch the journalist,” Harris wrote.
Jake Turx of Ami Magazine had asked Trump at a news conference Thursday, Feb. 16, about a recent spike in antisemitic incidents, particularly a wave of bomb threats called in to Jewish community centers.
Trump interrupted Turx, called him a liar and treated the question as if Turx had asked Trump if he was an antisemite, although Turx had prefaced his question by emphatically saying he did not believe Trump was an antisemite.
Both statements noted that Trump within the space of 24 hours had evaded other questions about spikes in antisemitism, sometimes manifest in expressions by purported Trump supporters: one at the same news conference on Thursday, and one a day earlier at a joint news conference with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
The ADL and the AJC implored Trump to address the spike.
“Respectfully, Mr. President, please use your bully pulpit not to bully reporters asking questions potentially affecting millions of fellow Americans, but rather, to help solve a problem that for many is real and menacing,” Harris said.
Rep. Ted Deutch, D-Fla., chided Trump on Twitter for saying Turx’s question was not “fair.”
“60 bomb threats against Jewish Centers in 27 states,” Deutch wrote. “Oh, it’s fair.”
Rep. Nita Lowey, D-N.Y., also picked up on Trump’s claim that the question was “unfair.”
“What is truly unfair and deeply disturbing is the Trump Administration’s deafening silence at the continued rise of antisemitic incidents across the country, leaving Jewish families fearful for their safety,” she said in a statement. “The Jewish community deserves nothing less than a swift, comprehensive response from President Trump and his Administration on their plans to investigate these dangerous threats.”
Both Deutch and Lowey are Jewish.
Rabbi Jack Moline, president of the Interfaith Alliance, also released a statement noting that Trump has twice refused to directly address reporters’ questions about an uptick in antisemitism.
“President Trump, you are President of the United States. It’s not enough to just not be an anti-Semite, we expect you to do something about it,” Moline said. “Get past being offended and take action to protect the Jewish community. And while you are at it, the Muslim community and all other minority faiths in this great nation.”
The Anne Frank Center for Mutual Respect separately berated Trump for telling Turx that he was “the least antisemitic person you have ever seen.”
“Mr. President, that’s an alternative fact on a psychedelic acid trip,” said its director, Steven Goldstein. “Have you been adding magic mushrooms to your chopped liver on matzo?”
Bend the Arc, a liberal Jewish activist group, re-released its statement from a day earlier after Trump had avoided the question at his joint news conference with Netanyahu.
“Donald Trump’s inability to simply condemn antisemitism boggles the mind,” the statement said.
Human Rights First, a watchdog, said Trump’s reply was a lesson in how not to respond.
“In our investigation into hate crime in Germany, particularly hate crime associated with xenophobia, we found that the rhetoric of leaders matters a great deal,” the group said in a statement. “Insufficiently denunciatory language like Trump’s normalizes hatred and effectively gives license to hate groups.”
Caption: President Donald Trump speaks at a news conference announcing Alexander Acosta as the new Labor Secretary nominee in the East Room at the White House, Feb. 16, 2017.(Mario Tama/Getty Images)