US President Donald Trump on Monday shrugged off suggestions that his rhetoric encouraged anti-Semitism and pointed to his administration’s move of the US embassy to Jerusalem along with recognition of the city as Israel’s capital as proof of his affinity toward the Jewish people.
Trump gave an interview to Laura Ingraham of Fox News the evening before he was due to visit Pittsburgh, where the funerals for 11 victims of an anti-Semitic synagogue shooting were scheduled for Tuesday.
Asked about suggestions that his statements embolden racists and anti-Semites, Trump noted that he had just received a plaque from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu thanking him for moving the embassy to Jerusalem earlier this year.
“I just received an award from the State of Israel,” Trump said and noted that although previous presidents had promised to relocate the mission from Tel Aviv to the capital, he was the only one who actually did it.
“This horrible human being, this terrible person who did this shooting is not a Donald Trump fan because he said I was too close to Israel,” Trump said, referring to Robert Bowers, the man accused of carrying out a fatal Pittsburgh shooting on Saturday. “That seemed to be his reasoning.”
Trump has been accused of fanning racial animus, and of failing to outright condemn white supremacist and racist supporters. One of the survivors of the synagogue shooting likened the president on Monday to Nazis.
Ingraham also noted that Trump’s daughter is Jewish and he has Jewish grandchildren.
Bowers is said to have yelled “All Jews must die” as he entered the Tree of Life Synagogue, a Conservative congregation, and began firing.
The president said he agrees with Jeffrey Myers, the synagogue’s rabbi, who on Monday called on Trump and other US leaders to take action by “stopping the words of hate.”
Although Bowers is not reported to have specifically cited US-Israel ties, he is said to have written anti-Semitic and anti-immigrant conspiracies on Gab, an alt-right social network similar to Twitter. His last reported message, hours before the shooting, read: “HIAS likes to bring invaders to kill our people. I can’t sit by and watch my people get slaughtered. Screw your optics, I’m going in.”
HIAS, formerly Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, is an American-Jewish nonprofit organization that provides humanitarian aid to refugees and immigrants.
Trump was to travel Tuesday to the historic hub of the city’s Jewish community as the first funerals are scheduled to be held for the victims, who range in age from 54 to 97. He is expected to meet with first responders and community leaders. The death toll includes a set of brothers, a husband and wife, professors, dentists and a physician. It was not immediately clear whether Trump, who will be joined by first lady Melania Trump, daughter Ivanka Trump and son-in-law Jared Kushner, would meet with any family members.
“Well, I’m just going to pay my respects,” Trump told Fox “I’m also going to the hospital to see the officers and some of the people that were so badly hurt.”
The White House said the purpose of Trump’s visit was to “express the support of the American people and to grieve with the Pittsburgh community.”
The internationally recognized Palestinian Authority has boycotted the Trump administration since it recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in December and announced it would move its embassy to the city. The Palestinians claim East Jerusalem, which Israel captured from Jordan in the 1967 Six Day War, as the capital of their future state.
With Trump’s announcement, the US became the first country to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. The decision to move its embassy was followed by Guatemala and Paraguay, though the latter later announced it would return its diplomatic mission to Tel Aviv, sparking a diplomatic row with Israel.