Israeli politicians reject Trump claim of two sides to Virginia hate march
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Lapid: When neo-Nazis march in Charlottesville and scream slogans against Jews, the condemnation has to be unambiguous

Israeli politicians reject Trump claim of two sides to Virginia hate march

Lapid and Livni slam US president for equivocating in criticism of anti-Semites and others, while justice minister calls for neo-Nazis to be prosecuted

US President Donald Trump delivers remarks at Trump Tower, August 15, 2017 in New York City. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images/AFP)
US President Donald Trump delivers remarks at Trump Tower, August 15, 2017 in New York City. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images/AFP)

Israeli politicians and others took aim at US President Donald Trump for comments appearing to equate neo-Nazi marchers in Charlottesville, Virginia, with left-wing anti-fascist activists, rejecting his assertion that there were two sides to the story.

“There aren’t two sides,” Yair Lapid, head of the centrist Yesh Atid party, said in a Wednesday statement.

“When neo-Nazis march in Charlottesville and scream slogans against Jews and in support of white supremacy, the condemnation has to be unambiguous. They represent hate and evil. Anyone who believes in the human spirit must stand against them without fear.”

Despite condemning white supremacists and neo-Nazis on Monday, Trump on Tuesday doubled down on his original statement from Saturday that equated the two groups of protesters, telling reporters that “both sides were to blame” for the deadly violence that unfolded at the neo-Nazi rally on Friday.

Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid speaks during a meeting with party supporters in Netanya, March 19, 2017. (Flash90)
Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid speaks during a meeting with party supporters in Netanya, March 19, 2017. (Flash90)

“You had a group on one side and you had a group on the other side that was also very violent,” he said.

Tzipi Livni, a former justice minister and No. 2 in the opposition Zionist Union faction, also rejected Trump’s assertion.

Zionist Union MK Tzipi Livni at a faction meeting in the Knesset on January 16, 2017. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)
Zionist Union MK Tzipi Livni at a faction meeting in the Knesset on January 16, 2017. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

“When it comes to racism, anti-Semitism and Nazism, there are never two equal sides. There’s good and there’s evil. Period,” she said in a Wednesday statement.

Jonathan Greenblatt, head of the anti-hate watchdog Anti-Defamation League, also slammed Trump as going “beyond the pale today in equating racist white supremacists in Charlottesville with counter protesters who were there to stand up against hate.”

“We have a history in this country of presidents standing up to bigotry and hate. Today, for the second time in four days, President Trump did the opposite,” Greenblatt said in a statement.

He added: “The entire Unite the Right rally was built on racial and conspiratorial anti-Semitism. Marchers threw Nazi salutes as they waved swastika flags, proudly wore swastika pins and shirts, and shouted ‘sieg heil!’ A sign carried by rally-goers warned that the ‘Jewish media is going down’; another declared that ‘Jews are Satan’s children.’”

The statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee stands behind a crowd of hundreds of white nationalists, neo-Nazis and members of the "alt-right" during the "Unite the Right" rally August 12, 2017 in Charlottesville, Virginia. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images/AFP)
The statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee stands behind a crowd of hundreds of white nationalists, neo-Nazis and members of the “alt-right” during the “Unite the Right” rally August 12, 2017 in Charlottesville, Virginia. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images/AFP)

“There is no rationalizing white supremacy and no room for this vile bigotry. It is un-American and it needs to be condemned without hesitation. President Trump has had a pattern of equivocating on prejudice.”

Israeli leaders had been criticized before Tuesday for failing to speak out on the violence and hateful rallies in Virginia over the weekend as a group of neo-Nazis, KKK members and other white nationalist groups clashed with anti-fascist activists who were protesting the removal of a statue of Confederate leader Robert E. Lee.

During the protest, marchers waved swastikas and chanted “Jews will not replace us” and “Blood and soil,” a popular Nazi chant.

On Tuesday evening, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu broke his silence on the issue, tweeting that he was “outraged by expressions of anti-Semitism, neo-Nazism and racism. Everyone should oppose this hatred.”

Yet on Wednesday morning, his son Yair dismissed the threat from “neo nazis scums” in a Facebook post, and slammed the left-wing protesters at Charlottesville instead.

“To put things in perspective. I’m a Jew, I’m an Israeli, the neo nazis scums in Virginia hate me and my country. But they belong to the past. Their breed is dying out,” the younger Netanyahu wrote. “However the thugs of Antifa and BLM who hate my country (and America too in my view) just as much are getting stronger and stronger and becoming super dominant in American universities and public life.”

Yair Netanyahu, son of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, at the annual bible study held at the Prime Minister's Residence in Jerusalem on October 13, 2016. (Marc Israel Sellem/Pool/Flash90)
Yair Netanyahu, son of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, at the annual Bible study held at the Prime Minister’s Residence in Jerusalem on October 13, 2016. (Marc Israel Sellem/Pool/Flash90)

Trump also found one explicit supporter in the Knesset: Likud’s MK Oren Hazan.

Hazan insisted on Tuesday that “Trump is right. Violence and extremism on any side is forbidden and demands condemnation. That doesn’t matter to the bleeding hearts on the left and in the media. After all, they believe that only the right is extremist and violent.”

Before Netanyahu, Education Minister Naftali Bennett had been the only major Israeli politician to speak out against the neo-Nazis, and on Wednesday he was joined by Jewish Home colleague and Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, who urged that the neo-Nazis face prosecution.

“The neo-Nazis in the United States should be prosecuted,” she said Tuesday. Allowing them to march violently through American streets “was not the intention of the American Constitution. A democratic state does not have to tolerate such phenomena.”

Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked attends a Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee meeting on July 9, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked attends a Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee meeting on July 9, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

On Sunday Bennett, who heads the Jewish Home party, condemned the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville and called on US leaders to denounce its “displays of anti-Semitism.”

“The unhindered waving of Nazi flags and symbols in the US is not only offensive towards the Jewish community and other minorities, it also disrespects the millions of American soldiers who sacrificed their lives in order to protect the US and entire world from the Nazis,” he said in a statement

“The leaders of the US must condemn and denounce the displays of anti-Semitism seen over the past few days,” he added.

A group of white supremacists, white nationalists and neo-Nazis gathered in Charlottesville on Friday to vent their frustration against the city’s plans to take down a statue of Confederate general Robert E. Lee.

A white nationalist demonstrator walks into Lee Park in Charlottesville, Virginia, Saturday, Aug. 12, 2017. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)
A white nationalist demonstrator walks into Lee Park in Charlottesville, Virginia, Saturday, Aug. 12, 2017. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

Counter-protesters massed in opposition the next day. A few hours after violent encounters between the two groups, a car was driven into a crowd of people protesting the racist rally, killing a 32-year-old woman and injuring 26 others. The driver was later taken into custody.

Two Virginia state troopers were also killed when their police helicopter crashed and caught on fire while responding to clashes between white supremacist protesters and counterprotesters.

Trump came under harsh criticism, even from members of his own party, for blaming the violence on hatred and bigotry “on many sides,” and not explicitly condemning the white extremist groups at the rally.

On Sunday, the White House released a statement clarifying that his condemnation of hate and bigotry at the “Unite the Right” Virginia rally had been in reference to the Ku Klux Klan and neo-Nazis.

Amid intense pressure, he followed up on Monday with a direct condemnation of white supremacy and white nationalism, naming the Ku Klux Klan and neo-Nazis.

US President Donald Trump speaks about the ongoing situation in Charlottesville, Virginia, at Trump National Golf Club, Saturday, Aug. 12, 2017, in Bedminster, New Jersey. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
US President Donald Trump speaks about the ongoing situation in Charlottesville, Virginia, at Trump National Golf Club, Saturday, Aug. 12, 2017, in Bedminster, New Jersey. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

But a day later, on Tuesday, he again reiterated that “both sides” were to blame, saying that “there are two sides to every story.”

“What about the alt-left that came charging at the, as you say, the alt-right?” he asked. “Do they have any semblance of guilt? What about the fact that they came charging with clubs in their hands, swinging clubs, do they have any problem? I think they do.”

“You had a group on one side and you had a group on the other side that was also very violent,” he said.

Trump’s depiction of the counter-protesters is similar to the narrative that has come from white nationalists since the bloody demonstration.

Republicans and Democrats alike expressed unhappiness with Trump’s statements.

“We must be clear. White supremacy is repulsive,” Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan wrote on Twitter.

“This bigotry is counter to all this country stands for. There can be no moral ambiguity.”

On Monday, one of the leading figures of the alt-right, Richard Spencer, told The Times of Israel that he found comfort in Trump’s original blaming of “many sides” for the melee. “I think in his gut he knows that we are not the ones aggressing,” he said.

And, indeed, Trump said on Tuesday, “They came at each other with clubs and it was vicious and it was horrible, and it was a horrible thing to watch. I think there’s blame on both sides.”

These remarks were met with praise by former KKK leader and Trump supporter David Duke who tweeted: “Thank you President Trump for your honesty & courage to tell the truth about #Charlottesville & condemn the leftist terrorists in BLM/Antifa.”

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