WASHINGTON — The Republican Jewish Coalition implored US President Donald Trump on Wednesday to “provide greater moral clarity” against bigotry, racism and anti-Semitism following his comments blaming “both sides” for deadly violence at a far-right rally in Virginia.
The group, long an engine of support for the president that has defended him on issues pertaining to Israel and the Jews, was responding to a press conference Trump gave on Tuesday in which he said “some very fine people” were marching with the white supremacists at the Charlottesville event.
“The Nazis, the KKK, and white supremacists are dangerous anti-Semites,” RJC Chairman Norm Coleman and Executive Director Matt Brooks said in a statement. “There are no good Nazis and no good members of the Klan.”
“We join with our political and religious brethren in calling upon President Trump to provide greater moral clarity in rejecting racism, bigotry, and anti-Semitism,” the statement continued.
On Saturday, after a 20-year-old man described as an admirer of Adolf Hitler and Nazi Germany, rammed a car into a crowd of counter-protesters, killing one woman and injuring at least 19 others. Trump intially said “many sides” were at fault, while pointedly declining to mention the racist hate groups that had organized the rally.
Two days later he eventually did so, calling out the Ku Klux Klan and neo-Nazis who played an outsized role in the demonstration protesting the city’s plan to remove a statue of Confederate general Robert E. Lee.
But come Tuesday he doubled down on his original assessment and apportioned equal blame to the white supremacists and the counter-protesters.
“You had a group on one side that was bad and you had a group on the other side that was also very violent and nobody wants to say that but I’ll say it right now,” he said.
Shortly after Trump made those remarks — during a press conference in the lobby of Trump Tower in New York — former grand wizard of the KKK David Duke thanked the president in a tweet for “his honesty and courage to tell the truth about #Charlottesville.”
Trump’s Tuesday comments were swiftly repudiated by numerous Republican leaders, including former presidents George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush, former Massachusetts govenor Mitt Romney, Senator John McCain and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, among others.
“No, not the same,” Romney tweeted Tuesday night. “One side is racist, bigoted, Nazi. The other opposes racism and bigotry. Morally different universes.”
One Jewish Republican, however, defended Trump’s response to the Charlottesville episodes, while simultaneously stressing there was no equivalence between the white supremacists and their opponents.
“These two sides are not equal,” Rep. Lee Zeldin of New York told The Times of Israel in a statement: “I would add though that it is not right to suggest that President Trump is wrong for acknowledging the fact that criminals on both sides showed up for the purpose of being violent. That particular observation is completely true.”
Zeldin, for his part, nequivocally condemned the hate groups that orchestrated and participated in Saturday’s rally.
“Anyone associating themselves with the KKK and Nazism is associating themselves with hatred, bigotry, racism, intolerance and a tremendously inhumane past filled with horrible evil,” he said, adding that their “violent acts inspired by deep hatred are disgusting, un-American, and unwelcome in our great nation.
In their Wednesday statement, the leaders of the Republican Jewish Coalition took a similar tone and cited the history of the party as a lodestar for their denunciation of what happened in Charlottesville.
“As representatives of the party whose founder, Abraham Lincoln, broke the shackles of slavery, and of an organization with many members who experienced firsthand the inhumanity of the Nazi Holocaust, we state unequivocally our rejection of these hatemongers,” they said.