WASHINGTON — US President Donald Trump delivered his strongest denunciation of anti-Semitism to date on Tuesday, calling Holocaust deniers “an accomplice to this horrible evil” and vowing to use his office to “confront anti-Semitism.”
In an address inside the US Capitol’s ornate rotunda at the US Holocaust Memorial Museum’s annual National Commemoration of the Days of Remembrance, Trump seemed to respond to concerns voiced by Jewish leaders in the early months of his administration that he was reluctant to tackle anti-Semitism head on.
“This is my pledge to you: We will confront anti-Semitism,” Trump said. “We will stamp out prejudice, we will condemn hatred, we will bear witness and we will act. As president of the United States, I will always stand with the Jewish people — and I will always stand with our great friend and partner, the State of Israel.”
This year’s memorial was the first since the death last year of Elie Wiesel, and Trump paid tribute to the renowned writer and Holocaust survivor, saying the lessons of his life would guide his decisions to prevent atrocities like the Holocaust from recurring on his watch.
“I believe in Elie’s famous plea that ‘for the dead and the living we must bear witness,'” he said. “That is why we are here today, to bear witness. To make sure that humanity never, ever forgets that the Nazis massacred six million Jews. Two out of every three Jews in Europe were murdered in the genocide.”
The president also castigated Holocaust deniers, in terms more strident than he has used in the past.
“Those who deny the Holocaust are an accomplice to this horrible evil. And we’ll never be silent — we just won’t — we will never, ever be silent in the face of evil again,” he said, a statue of Abraham Lincoln towering over him.
Holocaust denial, Trump added, is “only one of many forms of dangerous anti-Semitism that continues all around the world.”
He closed the speech by saying, “Today we mourn, we remember, we pray, and we pledge — never again.”
The event was first organized in 1979. The following year, Congress established the annual Week of Remembrance as the nation’s official commemoration of the Shoah.
Trump’s speech won praise from the Anti-Defamation League, an organization that was not reluctant to criticize the president — neither during his controversial campaign, nor during his nascent presidency.
“We welcome President Trump’s clear pledge today to confront anti-Semitism and we look forward to working with the president and his administration to put his pledge into action,” the group’s CEO Jonathan Greenblatt said.
Greenblatt was one of the loudest and most strident critics of the Trump White House’s January statement for International Holocaust Remembrance Day that omitted mention of Jews or anti-Semitism, which he called at the time “puzzling and troubling.”
On Tuesday, he gave the president credit for the specificity of his language.
“It deeply matters that President Trump used the power of his office to stand against anti-Semitism and hate and to honor the memory of the six million Jews and millions of others murdered in Europe,” he said.
“But this spirit should not be restricted to Holocaust Remembrance Day,” he added. “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. We urge the president and his administration to act to protect targeted communities against hate crime and discrimination.”
Several senior-level administration officials were in attendance for Trump’s speech, including Vice President Mike Pence, Press Secretary Sean Spicer and Jewish members of Trump’s team.
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, Director of the National Economic Council Gary Cohn and Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, who is also a senior adviser to the president, were all there.
Since taking office in January, the Trump administration has repeatedly been forced to fend off claims of insensitivity to anti-Semitism and Holocaust-related matters.
Two weeks ago, Spicer drew intense criticism for falsely claiming Adolf Hitler never used chemical weapons.
He also referred to concentration camps and death camps as “Holocaust centers.”
Trump is the first president with immediate family members who are Jewish. His daughter Ivanka married Kushner, an Orthodox Jew, in 2009, and converted to Judaism.
The two — who observe Shabbat and keep kosher — have raised their three children, the youngest of whom was born last March, Jewish.
Members of his administration, however, have also been accused of links to anti-Semitic groups,including top adviser Stephen Bannon and policy adviser Sebastian Gorka.