The question was a softball, lobbed slow over the plate. President Trump whiffed. Hard.
“Forty-eight bomb threats have been made against Jewish centers all across the country in the last couple of weeks,” a reporter from an Orthodox magazine said. “There are people who are committing anti-Semitic acts, or are threatening to —”
Trump interrupted. “Okay, sit down,” he said before going on to call himself the “least anti-Semitic person you have ever seen in your entire life.”
What Trump did not do was condemn anti-Semitism.
The exchange came after another incident Wednesday, when an Israeli reporter cited a rise in anti-Semitic incidents to Trump and then asked about allegations that his administration was engaging in xenophobia and racism. Trump responded by discussing his electoral victory, and citing his Jewish relatives.
In the hours since the two incidents, Jewish observers have been scratching their heads over what’s keeping the president from condemning anti-Semitic acts. So why hasn’t he? Below, we’ve brought together a few theories.
1. He Is An Actual Anti-Semite
That’s the suggestion offered by Bradley Burston in Haaretz. “Donald Trump IS an anti-Semite,” Burston wrote. “A man who initiates, fuels, and fans anti-Semitism, a man who is in a direct position to combat it and does not, is, in my view, an anti-Semite.”
2. He Doesn’t Want To Offend Actual Anti-Semites
On MSNBC, Chuck Todd suggested that Trump was afraid of offending the anti-Semites. Asking why Trump hadn’t condemned anti-Semitism, Todd said: “Could it be because some of the president’s supporters aren’t as welcoming as he is, and the president doesn’t want to insult or criticize them? … Could it be that the president needs and welcomes [the] support of the ‘alt-right’?”
3 He’s Angry At Being Labeled An Anti-Semite
This one comes from Jake Turx, the Ami magazine reporter whom Trump shouted down Thursday. In an interview on Fox, Turx defended Trump’s response to his question as a justified expression of frustration. “It’s very unfair what’s been done to him and I understand why he’s so defensive,” Turx said. “I’m with him when it comes to him being outraged about him being charged with this anti-Semitism.”
4. He Lacks “Moral Understanding”
The New York Times editorial board struggled to come to terms with Trump’s repeated dodges on the anti-Semitism question in their column Friday. “For a normal American politician, the moment offered a perfect opportunity for a home run,” the editorial board wrote. “Mr. Trump, alas, is not that politician. He lacks the principles and moral understanding that most Americans want to see in their presidents.”
5. It Fits A Pattern.
In a column in The Washington Post, the Anti-Defamation League national president, Jonathan Greenblatt, wrote that Trump’s answer to the anti-Semitism question was “the latest episode in a troubling pattern.” Greenblatt doesn’t offer a full theory of the case. But he admits that Trump’s response was “mind-boggling,” and writes that it “has consequences, emboldening bigots.”
Josh Nathan-Kazis is a staff writer for the Forward. He covers charities and politics, and writes investigations and longform.