President Trump pledged to “confront anti-Semitism” at a Holocaust remembrance ceremony on Tuesday. His remarks at the U.S. Capitol follow a number of controversies relating to anti-Semitism and his administration.
“I will always stand with the Jewish people, and I will always stand with our great friend and partner, the state of Israel,” the president said at the Holocaust Memorial Museum’s Days of Remembrance ceremony. The gathering included Holocaust survivors and veterans.
The week of remembrance has been observed in the U.S. since 1979, according to the museum. It notes that presidents have participated in the annual commemorations since the museum opened in 1993.
Anti-Semitic incidents are on the rise in the U.S., according to the Anti-Defamation League. The Jewish advocacy organization has recorded an 86 percent spike in attacks on Jews and Jewish institutions so far in 2017, as NPR reported on Monday. Globally, a Tel Aviv University report finds, such attacks fell 12 percent in 2016.
Allegations of anti-Semitism and insensitivity have plagued the Trump team, going back to the campaign:
- Trump was endorsed by former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke. Duke, who ran for U.S. Senate in Louisiana, told NPR in August that “of course” Trump voters were also his supporters.
- Trump’s first week in office, his administration issued a statement on Holocaust Remembrance Day which didn’t mention the Jewish people. Initial attempts to explain the omission did not satisfy critics.
- In the last few months, the administration had been criticized for not responding quickly enough to a recent wave of bomb threats. Asked about the incidents during a press conference with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in February, Trump pointed to his daughter Ivanka and son-in-law Jared Kushner, who are both Jewish. Pressed again on the issue the following day, Trump said he was “the least anti-Semitic person that you’ve ever seen in your entire life.”
- On April 11, press secretary Sean Spicer fumbled in a briefing while trying to compare Syrian President Bashar Assad to Hitler. Discussing the chemical weapons attack in Syria and the U.S.’s airstrike in retaliation, Spicer said, Hitler “didn’t even sink to using chemical weapons.” Millions were in fact gassed to death in Nazi concentration camps. Spicer also referred to the death camps as “Holocaust centers.” Later that day, Spicer apologized on CNN. On April 12, Spicer said he “let the president down” with his remarks.
- Last week, Democrats in Congress called on the president to fire adviser Sebastian Gorka over ties to anti-Semitic groups in Hungary, an allegation Gorka has denied.
In his remarks on Tuesday, Trump said, “Those who deny the Holocaust are an accomplice to this horrible evil. And we’ll never be silent — we just won’t — we will never, ever be silent in the face of evil again.”
He condemned anti-Semitic attacks and pledged: “We will confront anti-Semitism. We will stamp out prejudice. We will condemn hatred. We will bear witness. And we will act.”