WASHINGTON — The rival presidential campaigns issued warring statements Monday on what is fast becoming known as ‘Stargate’ — the controversy over an image tweeted by GOP frontrunner Donald Trump that critics complain relies on anti-Semitic imagery to malign Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton.
The image, tweeted by Trump on Saturday, featured the presumptive Democratic nominee’s picture on a background of $100 bills with a six-pointed star reading “most corrupt candidate ever.”
Trump’s campaign did not disavow the image, which continued to dominate headlines even as Trump met with prospective vice presidential candidates. Rather, his aides said it was intended to represent a sheriff’s star.
But the Mic website reported Sunday that the image had initially appeared on what it described as “an Internet message board for the alt-right, a digital movement of neo-Nazis, anti-Semites and white supremacists,” several days before Trump tweeted the image from his official account.
Sarah Bard, Clinton’s director of Jewish outreach, said in a statement Monday that “Trump’s use of a blatantly anti-Semitic image from racist websites to promote his campaign” was part of a pattern. “Now, not only won’t he apologize for it, he’s peddling lies and blaming others,” she added. “Trump should be condemning hate, not offering more campaign behavior and rhetoric that engages extremists.”
Trump’s camp issued a statement doubling down on its message.
“These false attacks by Hillary Clinton trying to link the Star of David with a basic star, often used by sheriffs who deal with criminals and criminal behavior, showing an inscription that says ‘Crooked Hillary is the most corrupt candidate ever’ with anti-Semitism is ridiculous,” Trump’s representatives responded in a statement.
“I’m not sure who tweeted this out,” Trump aide Ed Brookover said Monday on CNN’s “New Day.”
“We corrected it. There was never any intention of anti-Semitism. There’s no anti-Semitism in Mr. Trump’s body, not one ounce, not one cell,” he said.
CNN commentator and former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski also defended the tweet, while condemning criticism of the tweet as “political correctness run amok.”
But not all of the meme’s critics were credulous.
“The imagery is the classic trope of Jews and money implying that she’s raising Jewish money, or something along those lines,” complained Anti-Defamation League CEO Jonathan Greenblatt. “I get tweeted pictures like this all the time from anti-Semites and racists and white supremacists.”
Trump last week tweeted the image of Clinton surrounded by $100 bills with the words “Most Corrupt Candidate Ever!” on a six-pointed star, a common Jewish and Israeli symbol. Below the image was a screenshot of a Fox News poll claiming that 58 percent of American voters considered Clinton to be “corrupt” — but the meme quickly turned the focus back on Trump.
The attack ad drew immediate condemnation from social media users, with some questioning Trump’s motive for using a six-pointed star in a campaign ad slamming his opponent’s finances.
Earlier during the Fourth of July holiday weekend, Trump wrote on Twitter that, “Dishonest media is trying their absolute best to depict a star in a tweet as the Star of David rather than a Sheriff’s Star, or plain star!”
Trump’s camp has not specified where the image was found, or who sent the tweet that started the Stargate firestorm. But shortly after its appearance on Trump’s Twitter feed Saturday, the post was removed and replaced by a revised version of the image, this time with his accusations of Clinton’s corruption appearing in a red circle.
This was not the first time that Trump and his campaign have come under fire for tweeting material deemed racist or anti-Semitic. In January, he retweeted a post by an account with the handle “White Genocide TM,” which gives its location as “Jewmerica.”
Unlike his opponent, Clinton, Trump does not differentiate on his Twitter account between tweets sent personally by the bombastic candidate and tweets composed and deployed by his campaign staffers.
Many prominent politicians in the US — including Clinton and President Barack Obama — have taken to signing off posts personally composed by themselves with their initials.
Trump has also faced a backlash for refusing to directly denounce anti-Semitic supporters, some of whom launched a harassment campaign against Jewish reporters who have written critically of the presidential contender or his wife.
Times of Israel staff and AP contributed to this report.