U.S. President Donald Trump lashed out on Thursday at an ultra-Orthodox Jewish reporter who asked him what his administration is prepared to do against anti-Semitism, apparently interpreting the question as a personal accusation of anti-Jewish sentiment.
Trump was taking questions from reporters at the East Room of the White House, his first solo press conference since taking office. About an hour into the conference, Jake Turx, a reporter for the haredi Ami Magazine, asked Trump about the administration’s plan to handle the rise in anti-Semitic incidents across the United States, and noted the recent waves of bomb threats against Jewish centers throughout the country.
Though Turx started his question by telling Trump that no one in the Jewish community is accusing him or his staff of anti-Semitism, Trump took it personally.
Trump cut off the reporter before he finished his question, saying that the question was not a fair one. “Sit down, I understand the rest of your question,” Trump said.
“Number one: I’m the least anti-Semitic person you have ever seen in your entire life,” Trump continued.
“Number two: Racism. The least racist person.” Trump said. The reporter then interrupted Trump and attempted to complete his question, when he was again cut off by the president, who proceeded to call him a liar.
“Quiet quiet quiet,” he told someone in the audience who had interjected him. “You see, he lied about he’s going to ask a simple question. It’s not a straight simple question. Welcome to the world of the media.”
“Let me tell you something,” Trump said. “I hate the charge. I find it repulsive.”
Appearing to mispronounce Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s name when mentioning their joint White House press conference, Trump continued:
“I hate even the question because people that know me… you heard the prime minister, you heard… uhmm… Betanyahu yesterday, did you hear him? Bibi. He said: I’ve known Donald Trump for a long time. And then he said: Forget it. So you should take that, instead of having to get up and ask a very insulting question like that.”
On Wednesday, Trump sidestepped a question from an Israeli reporter about a rise in anti-Semitic incidents around the United States since Trump’s election victory in November.
Analysis: Trump blew the chance to denounce anti-Semitism. Netanyahu bailed him out with a kosher stamp
Trump responded to the query put to him by Channel 10’s Moav Vardi during the joint conference with Netanyahu, with a general pledge to “stop racism,” without specifically using the word anti-Semitism.
Netanyahu rushed to Trump’s defense, in his own response to Vardi.
“I’ve known President Trump for many years and to allude to him or his people … other people who I’ve known for a long time – can I reveal Jared (Kushner), how long I’ve known you? – there is no greater supporter of Israel or the Jewish State than President Donald Trump, I think we can put that to rest.”
Since the election, Jewish groups in the U.S. have warned of a rise in anti-Semitic incidents. In January, waves of coordinated bomb threats targeted dozens of Jewish community centers across the U.S., in what was described by Jewish leaders as an unprecedented threat. Though no bomb was found, the threats sparked anxiety and fear in the Jewish community.
Anti-Semitic rhetoric in the United States has reached levels unprecedented since 1930s Germany, Anti-Defamation League CEO Jonathan Greenblatt warned in December. “Anti-Semitism has wound its way into mainstream conversations in a manner that many Jews who lived through Nazi Germany find terrifying,” he said at a meeting at the Knesset, which was convened to discuss the plight of American Jewry under the incoming Trump administration.
Since the U.S. election, Greenblatt noted, “hundreds of hate crimes,” including against Jews, have been reported throughout the U.S.
During the presidential election, Trump’s campaign was dogged by accusations of anti-Semitism, which centered both on perceived anti-Jewish overtones of his campaign ads and slogans and on the then-candidate’s reluctance to disavow supporters such as former KKK leader David Duke.
After taking office, Trump took fire for a Holocaust Remembrance Day statement which decried the “horror inflicted on innocent people by Nazi terror,” but failed to specifically mention either anti-Semitism or Jews.
Trump berated for blasting haredi reporter
American Jewish Committee, Anti-Defamation League decry Trump’s treatment of reporter who asked about anti-Semitic incidents.
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 anti-Semitic incidents and challenged him to offer an explicit condemnation of anti-Semitism.
“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 about a recent spike in anti-Semitic 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 anti-Semite, although Turx had prefaced his question by emphatically saying he did not believe Trump was an anti-Semite.
Both statements noted that Trump within the space of 24 hours had evaded other questions about spikes in anti-Semitism, 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 anti-Semitic 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.
The Anne Frank Center for Mutual Respect separately berated Trump for telling Turx that he was “the least anti-Semitic 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?”