WASHINGTON — US President Donald Trump opened his first address to a joint session of Congress Tuesday night by speaking out against the recent wave of anti-Semitic attacks across the country.
Noting his February 28 speech came at the end of Black History Month, Trump said the recurrent surges of bomb threats to Jewish institutions and the desecration of Jewish cemeteries were a reminder “of our nation’s path toward civil rights and the work that remains.”
“Recent threats targeting Jewish community centers and vandalism of Jewish cemeteries, as well as last week’s shooting in Kansas City, remind us that while we may be a nation divided on policies, we are a country that stands united in condemning hate and evil in all its forms,” he said.
In just the last week, hundreds of Jewish tombstones in Pennsylvania and Missouri were vandalized and numerous Jewish institutions received bomb threats, including 29 on Monday alone — the fifth wave of such scares since January.
There have been multiple other anti-Semitic incidents in the months since the election, including swastikas and racial slurs being drawn on schools and other buildings.
Trump’s remarks came hours after he reportedly told a group of state attorneys general visiting the White House Tuesday that he suspected the bomb threat calls may be planted out of political motives.
Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro (D), who is Jewish, described the meeting to a BuzzFeed reporter, and said that Trump said the calls — which have forced the evacuation of nearly 100 Jewish community centers and other institutions nationwide — were “reprehensible.”
But he also added, “Sometimes it’s the reverse, to make people – or to make others – look bad,” according to Shapiro, who quoted Trump as saying it was “the reverse” two or three times but did not clarify what he meant.
The White House denied Shapiro’s description of Trump’s comments. “This is not what he said or meant,” a White House spokesperson told The New York Daily News.
There have been five waves of bomb threats to Jewish institutions since January, resulting in the evacuations of nearly 100 Jewish community centers nationwide.
Earlier on Tuesday, Virgina Sen. Tim Kaine (D) penned an open letter to FBI Director James Comey, asking him to open a full investigation into the wave of anti-Semitic attacks throughout the United States.
Such repeated incidents have “heightened fear and anxiety in Jewish communities” throughout the country, said Kaine, who was Hillary Clinton’s running mate in the 2016 election contest against Trump.
Jewish leaders who have opposed Trump and spoken out against his policies and rhetoric in the past commended his acknowledgment of the phenomenon but asked for more action.
Powerful for @POTUS to note anti-Semitism at top of speech. Key now is to investigate and end terror campaign.
— Rabbi Rick Jacobs (@URJPresident) March 1, 2017
“Powerful for POTUS to note anti-Semitism at [the] top of his speech,” Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, tweeted. “Key now is to investigate and end terror campaign.”
Trump’s speech, intended to update the country on his actions since assuming office January 20, also noted his administration’s imposition of fresh sanctions on Iran for its ballistic missile testing, which he said “reaffirmed our unbreakable alliance with the State of Israel.”