U.S. President Donald Trump delivered his first public condemnation of anti-Semitic incidents in the United States on Tuesday after a new spate of bomb threats to Jewish community centers around the country and vandalism in a Jewish cemetery.
Several of the centers were evacuated for a time on Monday after receiving the threats, the JCC Association of North America said, and another center was evacuated on Tuesday morning in San Diego, California, according to police.
Also, vandals toppled about 170 headstones at the Chesed Shel Emeth Society cemetery in St. Louis, Missouri, over the weekend.
“The anti-Semitic threats targeting our Jewish community and community centers are horrible and are painful and a very sad reminder of the work that still must be done to root out hate and prejudice and evil,” Trump told reporters.
He was speaking at the end of a tour of the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, which Trump said showed “why we have to fight bigotry, intolerance and hatred in all of its very ugly forms.”
The comments marked a change for Trump, who had not explicitly and publicly condemned the threats against Jews when asked last week. Instead, he spoke more generally about his hopes of making the nation less “divided.”
The president reacted with anger at a news conference last week when a journalist from a Jewish magazine asked how his government planned to “take care” of a rise in threats.
Trump berated the reporter for asking a “very insulting” question, appearing to believe the reporter was accusing him of being anti-Semitic.
“Number one, I am the least anti-Semitic person that you’ve ever seen in your entire life,” the president said, adding that he was also the least racist person. Trump has often noted that one of his daughters is a convert to Judaism, he has Jewish grandchildren and he employs many Jews in his business.
Trump’s daughter Ivanka, a close adviser to her father who practices Orthodox Judaism, responded to the latest threats in a message on her Twitter account on Monday evening.
“America is a nation built on the principle of religious tolerance,” she said. “We must protect our houses of worship & religious centers.”
On Tuesday, Trump again declined to answer a question about what action he would take to address the threats to Jewish organizations. Sean Spicer, a White House spokesman, said later that Trump would respond through “deed and action” over the coming months and years.