Rivlin: Israel stands with US Jews after Charlottesville rally
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Rivlin: Israel stands with US Jews after Charlottesville rally

President calls display of Nazi flag 'beyond belief,' avoids mention of Trump's comments pinning blame on 'both sides'

President Reuven RIvlin attends US Independence Day celebrations at the US ambassador to Israel's residence in Herzliya on June 30, 2016. (Mark Neyman/GPO/Flash90)
President Reuven RIvlin attends US Independence Day celebrations at the US ambassador to Israel's residence in Herzliya on June 30, 2016. (Mark Neyman/GPO/Flash90)

President Reuven Rivlin said Wednesday that Israel stands with the American Jewish community in the wake of the rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, while calling the display of Nazi flags by white supremacists there “beyond belief.”

“The very idea that in our time we would see a Nazi flag — perhaps the most vicious symbol of anti-Semitism — paraded in the streets of the world’s greatest democracy and Israel’s most cherished and greatest ally, is almost beyond belief,” the president said in a letter addressed to Malcolm Hoenlein, the executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.

“We have seen manifestations of anti-Semitism again and again arise across the world; in Europe and the Middle East. In the face of such evil, we stand now as we did then. With faith. With faith in humanity, with faith in democracy, and with faith in justice,” he added.

“I know that the great nation of the United States of America and its leaders will know how to face this difficult challenge, and prove to the world the robustness and strength of democracy and freedom.”

Rivlin’s statement avoided the latest iteration of the controversy: US President Donald Trump’s comments appearing to equate neo-Nazis with left-wing anti-fascist activists, which have been strongly criticized by a number of Israeli lawmakers.

US President Donald Trump and President Reuven Rivlin shake hands following a press conference at the President's Residence in Jerusalem on May 22, 2017. (AFP Photo/Mandel Ngan)
US President Donald Trump and President Reuven Rivlin shake hands following a press conference at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem on May 22, 2017. (AFP Photo/Mandel Ngan)

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

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 counter-protesters.

Israeli leaders had come under fire 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.

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.”

Education Minister Naftali Bennett had been the only major Israeli politician to speak out against the neo-Nazis, saying in a statement Sunday that US leaders must denounce the white supremacist rally’s “displays of anti-Semitism.”

Hundreds of white nationalists, neo-Nazis and members of the "alt-right" march down East Market Street toward Lee Park during the "Unite the Right" rally August 12, 2017 in Charlottesville, Virginia. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images/AFP)
Hundreds of white nationalists, neo-Nazis and members of the “alt-right” march down East Market Street toward Lee Park during the “Unite the Right” rally August 12, 2017 in Charlottesville, Virginia. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images/AFP)

Trump, meanwhile, 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.

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.”

US President Donald Trump speaks to the media in the lobby of Trump Tower in New York, Tuesday, Aug. 15, 2017. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
US President Donald Trump speaks to the media in the lobby of Trump Tower in New York, Tuesday, Aug. 15, 2017. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

“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, meanwhile, have expressed unhappiness with Trump’s statements.

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