WASHINGTON — Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday defended US President Donald Trump and “his people” from charges of anti-Semitism, saying there is no “greater supporter of the Jewish people.”
Speaking alongside Trump in the White House, Netanyahu brushed off a question about surging anti-Jewish sentiment in the United States since the November 8 election.
Even though the question was addressed to Trump, Netanyahu stepped in to say that “there is no greater supporter of the Jewish people and the Jewish state than Donald Trump.
“I think we should put that to rest,” he added.
Netanyahu appeared to be referring not solely to the US president, as he suggested that “to allude to him or his people” as harboring this sentiment was misguided.
Meretz party leader Zehava Galon accused the prime minister of giving a “kosher certification” to anti-Semitism.
“Moav Vardi was the only journalist who dared asked about anti-Semitism during the press conference,” the left-wing party leader said, referring to the Channel 10 journalist who posed the question to Trump. “Netanyahu, by contrast, volunteered to give the administration’s anti-Semitism a kosher stamp.”
The US president was also evasive about the allegations of anti-Semitism among his supporters.
“We are very honored by the victory we had — 306 electoral college votes. We were not supposed to crack 220,” Trump responded. “There’s tremendous enthusiasm out there.”
The administration would do everything in its power “to stop long-simmering racism,” he added, without mentioning anti-Semitism, and asserted that the US was divided long before he came along.
Israeli reporter lobbed up an opportunity for Trump to condemn anti-Semitism and he didn't take it. Still shocking a few hours later.
— Janine Zacharia (@janinezacharia) February 15, 2017
He also mentioned the fact that his daughter Ivanka is Jewish.
“You will see a very different America,” he said. “You’re going to see a lot of love.”
In his opening remarks, the US president acknowledged the suffering of the Jewish people during the Holocaust, hailing the Jews for their “survival in the face of genocide.”
“We will never forget what the Jewish people have endured,” Trump said.
The statement came after the White House last month neglected to mention the suffering of Jews in its International Holocaust Remembrance Day statement. Faced with condemnation by Jewish groups in the United States, the White House doubled down on the omission, arguing that other groups also suffered during World War II.
The Israeli government has avoided rebuking the new US administration for the omission, with Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman saying it wasn’t worth starting a spat with Trump.
In November, Jonathan Greenblatt, head of the US-based Anti-Defamation League, said: “The American Jewish community has not seen this level of anti-Semitism in mainstream political and public discourse since the 1930s.”
But Netanyahu has publicly rejected the claims and dismissed criticism of Trump’s White House strategist Steve Bannon, who is accused of harboring white nationalist views and emboldening the so-called “alt-right” movement.
“I know his attitude toward Israel, toward the Jewish state, and the Jewish people and that’s so powerful. For God’s sake, he has Jewish grandchildren, he has a Jewish daughter, who converted to Judaism. I think we should keep sight of that,” Netanyahu said in a December interview with CBS News’ “60 Minutes.” The description of Trump as being anti-Semitic “is just not true,” said the Israeli leader.
The Southern Poverty Law Center, which works to combat domestic racism and extremism, said in a report issued Wednesday that the number of hate crimes committed in the US has risen for the second year in succession. The Center made a direct connection between the “radical right” and Donald Trump, saying his election as president had “energized” such groups.
The annual census found that the rise in extremism posed the greatest threat to the Muslim community, saying that the number of anti-Muslim hate groups almost tripled from 34 in 2015 to 101 in 2016.
Marissa Newman contributed from Jerusalem.