ADL: Trump’s comments misinterpreted, not anti-Semitic

Still, watchdog urges GOP candidate to clarify controversial comments made during Republican Jewish event linking audience and money

Rebecca Shimoni Stoil is the Times of Israel's Washington correspondent.

Presidential hopeful Donald Trump poses for a portrait after an interview with The Associated Press in Sterling, Virginia, December 2, 2015.
Presidential hopeful Donald Trump poses for a portrait after an interview with The Associated Press in Sterling, Virginia, December 2, 2015.

WASHINGTON — GOP frontrunner Donald Trump’s comments at the Republican Jewish Coalition were not anti-Semitic, Anti-Defamation League CEO Jonathan Greenblatt said Thursday evening, hours after some prominent Republican Jewish pundits decried comments by the presidential hopeful implying that Jews are inherently negotiators and concerned with money.

The ADL, which regularly publishes surveys of global and national anti-Semitism, issued a statement in which the organization “disagreed with those writers and commentators who suggested that presidential hopeful Donald Trump intentionally evoked anti-Semitic stereotypes.” At the same time, however, the ADL “urged” Trump “to clarify that he did not mean his comments to be interpreted that way.”

Trump peppered his speech before the Republican Jewish donors with comments attributing special skills at negotiation to his audience.

“I’m a negotiator like you folks were negotiators,” the candidate declared, as he explained that he would have brokered a tougher nuclear deal with Iran than the one concluded earlier this year.

At another point in his speech, he said: “Is there anyone in this room who doesn’t negotiate deals? Probably more than any room I’ve ever spoken.”

Later in the speech, he told attendees that “you’re not gonna support me even though you know I’m the best thing that could ever happen to Israel.” Apparently evoking a stereotype about Jews, money and control, he continued “and I know why you’re not going to support me. You’re not going to support me because I don’t want your money.”

Former Bush-era White House press secretary Ari Fleischer responded to the last comment via Twitter, asking “what the hell does that mean?” Conservative Jewish blogger Jennifer Rubin described the speech as “strewn with Jewish stereotypes.”

Although a number of prominent Jewish Republican commentators immediately derided Trump’s comments on social media, the ADL’s Greenblatt concluded that the maverick Republican outsider’s remarks were simply misunderstood.

“After having carefully reviewed the speech, we do not believe that it was Donald Trump’s intention to evoke anti-Semitic stereotypes,” Greenblatt wrote. “He has made similar comments about spending his own money on the campaign, and not asking for money from donors, to many other groups.”

“Here, context is everything,” Greenblatt added. “Mr. Trump’s presentation was completely supportive of Israel and the Jewish community, even if one might disagree with him on some of the other issues he raised.”

The ADL leader noted that in the past, the organization has criticized Trump “when he crossed the line” including in remarks made on the campaign trail in which the real estate mogul referred to Mexican immigrants as “racists and criminals.” The ADL had also censured the candidate for “his failure to stand up to an anti-Muslim bigot at a campaign rally.” In both those instances, the ADL said Thursday, Trump “not only used stereotypes but exhibited hostility.”

This case, the ADL suggested, was different.

“In this case he is speaking to a group of Jewish Republicans, a significant portion of whom are business people,” the organization wrote in its statement. “We do not believe he intended his comments regarding negotiations and money to relate specifically to their Jewishness, but we understand that they could be interpreted that way.”

Despite exonerating Trump from the intense criticism that followed his comments during the candidates’ forum, the ADL reiterated that it “encourage[d] him to clarify that this was not his intention, and that he rejects the traditional stereotypes about Jews and money.”

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