WASHINGTON – In response to a question Thursday about threats to Jewish centers nationwide, President Donald Trump called a Jewish reporter a liar, told him to sit down and later said anti-Semitism was coming from “the other side.”
The exchange kicked off as Trump looked through the room at a White House news conference and asked for a question from a “friendly reporter.”
He settled on a reporter who identified himself as Jake Turx, a reporter with Ami Magazine, which bills itself as “a new standard in Jewish media.” Turx prefaced his question by saying he did not see evidence the President or his staff were anti-Semitic. He even mentioned Trump’s Jewish grandchildren.
He then launched into the thrust of his question about bomb threats to dozens of Jewish Community Centers last month.
“What we are concerned about, and what we haven’t really heard being addressed, is an uptick in anti-Semitism and how the government is planning to take care of it,” Turx said.
As Turx continued, Trump interrupted, “See, he said he was going to ask a very simple, easy question, and it’s not.”
The reporter said, “It’s an important one.”
“Not a simple question. Not a fair question. OK, sit down. I understand the rest of your question,” Trump said. “So here’s the story folks. No. 1, I am the least anti-Semitic person that you’ve ever seen in your entire life. No. 2, racism. The least racist person. In fact, we did very well relative to other people running as a Republican.”
Turx raised his hand again and spoke up.
“Quiet, quiet, quiet,” Trump replied. “See he lied about — he was going to get up and ask a very straight, simple question. So, you know, welcome to the world of the media.”
Turx shook his head, and Trump continued as if he himself had been accused of anti-Semitism, despite Turx’s preface.
“But let me just tell you something: I hate the charge. I find it repulsive. I hate even the question because people that know me — and you heard the Prime Minister, you heard Benjamin Netanyahu, did you hear him, Bibi? He said, ‘I’ve known Donald Trump for a long time,’ and then he said, ‘Forget it.’ So you should take that instead of having to get up and ask a very insulting question like that.”
Later on in the news conference, Sirius XM’s Jared Rizzi said, “I’ll follow up on my colleague’s question about anti-Semitism. It’s not about your personality or your beliefs. We’re talking about a rise in anti-Semitism around the country. Some of it by supporters in your name. What can you do to deter that?”
Trump said, “Some of it is written by our opponents. You do know that? Do you understand that? You don’t think anybody would do a thing like that?”
He went on to insist anti-Semitism was coming from his political opponents, who were doing it to generate anger: “Some of the signs you’ll see are not put up by the people that love or live Donald Trump. They’re put up by the other side, and you think it’s like playing it straight? No. But you have some of those signs, and some of that anger is caused by the other side. They’ll do signs and they’ll do drawings that are inappropriate. It won’t be my people. It will be the people on the other side to anger people like you.”
Turx followed up on Twitter, saying, “President Trump clearly misunderstood my question. This is highly regretful and I’m going to seek clarification.”
Jonathan Greenblatt, CEO and director of the Anti-Defamation League, blasted Trump’s comments in an interview with CNN following the news conference and called on Trump to answer the questions about what he termed the “crisis” of rising anti-Semitic acts and take “concrete steps” to resolve the issue.
“In the face of danger, Trump dismisses critics, attacks journalists,” Greenblatt said. “These are not answers to a simple question: What is he going to do about the surge in anti-Semitism?”
In a statement, Interfaith Alliance President Rabbi Jack Moline called on Trump to protect the Jewish community, Muslim people and those of other minority faiths.
“President Trump’s repeated avoidance of addressing the recent and substantial uptick in anti-Semitism in America can no longer be ignored,” Moline said.
In an appearance with Netanyahu at the White House Wednesday, Trump answered a question about anti-Semitism by talking about his electoral victory and mentioning his daughter, Ivanka, and her husband, Jared Kushner, who are Jewish.
CNN’s Daniel Burke contributed to this story.
By Eli Watkins, CNN