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Trump calls recent anti-Semitic incidents ‘horrible’

WASHINGTON– President Donald Trump said Tuesday the recent spate of threats targeting the Jewish community in the US are “horrible” and “painful” as he faced a growing chorus of calls from Democrats and Jewish leaders urging him to speak out.

Trump made the remarks following a tour of the National Museum of African American Museum and Culture, hours after Hillary Clinton tweeted that “everyone must speak out, starting (with) @POTUS,” using Trump’s official White House Twitter handle.

“This tour was a meaningful reminder of why we have to fight bigotry, intolerance and hatred in all of its very ugly forms. 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 said.

Trump also told MSNBC in an interview at the museum that “anti-Semitism is horrible and it’s going to stop and it has to stop.”

The remarks came a day after the JCC Association of North America reported that 54 Jewish community centers have faced 69 threats, including three waves of bomb threats, since January.

Trump previously failed to clearly address the rise in anti-Semitic incidents in the US last week when he was pressed on the issue during two news conferences. He instead focused on defending himself against personal charges of anti-Semitism and berated a Jewish reporter for asking him how his administration would work to combat anti-Semitism.

Earlier on Tuesday, Rep. Jerry Nadler, D-New York, questioned why Trump had not spoken out against anti-Semitic incidents in the US despite being pressed on the issue multiple times during recent news conferences.

“The question isn’t why hasn’t he spoken out more vociferously, the question is why hasn’t he spoken out period? And why has he evaded two questions in his last two press conferences on this question?” Nadler said Tuesday on CNN’s “New Day.” “Maybe he doesn’t want to denounce his own supporters because some of his own supporters are responsible for this.”

Prominent white nationalists and neo-Nazi groups supported Trump during the election, and Trump’s slow pace to refute that support had raised questions.

The White House issued a statement Monday denouncing recent anti-Semitic threats, saying “hatred and hate-motivated violence of any kind have no place in a country founded on the promise of individual freedom.”

“The President has made it abundantly clear that these actions are unacceptable,” White House spokeswoman Lindsay Walters said in the statement.

Trump’s daughter, Ivanka, who converted to Judaism, also tweeted Monday evening that “we must protect our houses of worship & religious centers.”

But pressed during two news conferences last week to address the rise in anti-Semitic incidents, Trump chose to focus on defending himself against personal charges of anti-Semitism, declaring himself the “least anti-Semitic person that you’ve ever seen in your entire life,” rather than addressing threats against the Jewish community in the US.

Trump also berated a Jewish reporter for asking about how the government planned to address the rise in anti-Semitic incidents, telling him repeatedly to “sit down” and be “quiet,” even though the reporter made clear he did not believe Trump himself was anti-Semitic.

The Anti-Defamation League has since called on Trump to speak out against the anti-Semitic incidents and explain how his administration will address the rise in threats.

Malcolm Hoenlein, the executive vice-chairman of the Conference of President of Major American Jewish Organizations, said Sunday in Jerusalme that “the president helps set the tone for a country.”

“I’m hopeful that what he said about … addressing hate and racism of all kinds in American society will be translated into clear action,” Hoenlein said.

By Jeremy Diamond