Did President Trump’s Holocaust memorial speech clean up his blemished record on anti-Semitism and the Holocaust?
Reactions in the Jewish world to Trump’s Tuesday morning speech in the Capitol rotunda were as varied as the political views held by activists and organizations, but the Anti-Defamation League, perhaps the gold standard in battling anti-Semitism and bigotry in America, gave Trump what could be seen as a stamp of approval.
ADL national director Jonathan Greenblatt, who criticized Trump’s rhetoric throughout his presidential campaign and early presidency, took a cautiously positive approach at the beginning of the speech, tweeting that his words were “overdue but powerful.” Minutes later, Greenblatt struck a warmer tone, praising Trump’s “bold repudiation” of anti-Semitism, which, Greenblatt said, “strikes me as clear, unambiguous rejection of [the] Alt-Right and their toxic hate.” In another tweet, the ADL chief called Trump’s speech “deeply moving”, adding: “Now I hope [Trump] will honor [the] memory of martyrs and pursue policies that respect pluralism and civil rights of all people.”
In his speech, Trump sought to touch on all the issues that had plagued his presidency and troubled many in the Jewish community. The president pledged to “confront anti-Semitism,” to “stamp out prejudice” and to “bear witness,” and added that “as president of the United States, we will always stand with the Jewish people.” Trump also acknowledged the problem of anti-Semitism in America and around the world, and spoke out forcefully against Holocaust denial.
“Rhetorically it looks he turned a corner, but ultimately the question will be how he turns these words into deeds,” Greenblatt told the Forward. Greenblatt noted that it appears the White House is working “on rectifying mistakes they made out of the gate” and suggested Trump take practical measures, such as ensuring hate crime reporting by law enforcement agencies and introducing anti-bias programs at schools.
Republicans celebrated Trump’s speech, in what could perhaps be seen as a sigh of relief after months of trying to defend the president’s positions on Jewish issues. “President Trump denounced Holocaust deniers and anti-Semitism in all its forms, including on university campuses and in threats and attacks against Jewish communities and against the State of Israel,” said Matt Brooks, executive director of the Republican Jewish Coalition in a statement. “We applaud President Trump for his heartfelt and moving remarks today.” But on the other end of the Jewish political map, skepticism remained.
Trump’s speech at the event, which was sponsored by the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, was met with a mocking response from Stosh Cotler, CEO of Bend the Arc Jewish Action. “Donald Trump’s ability to read carefully scripted remarks must not and will not excuse his administration’s overt embrace of white supremacy and white nationalism,” she said. Cotler noted that Trump is still surrounded by “radical advisors” like Steve Bannon and Sebastian Gorka, and argued that the president’s speech should be viewed in the context of “his disturbing record and policy actions to date.”
The Anne Frank Center for Mutual Respect, a relatively unknown group which had emerged in recent months as Trump’s harshest critic on issues relating to anti-Semitism, gave Trump an overall C-minus grade. Trump got an A for recognizing the Holocaust as the Jewish genocide, but on other aspects of the speech, the group was less enthused, especially the absence of any mention of the need for the U.S. to welcome refugees.
Will the speech resolve all of Trump’s issues with the Jewish community? Even the ADL doesn’t believe that’s enough. Trump, the group argued, now needs to show more consistency. “We very much hope the president will continue to use his bully pulpit to speak out against anti-Semitism, bigotry, and hatred in all forms,” the group stated.
Nathan Guttman staff writer, is the Forward’s Washington bureau chief. He joined the staff in 2006 after serving for five years as Washington correspondent for the Israeli dailies Ha’aretz and The Jerusalem Post. In Israel, he was the features editor for Ha’aretz and chief editor of Channel 1 TV evening news. He was born in Canada and grew up in Israel. He is a graduate of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Contact Nathan at firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow him on Twitter @nathanguttman