Trump's response to anti-Semitism question 'disturbing,' says Beth Adam rabbi

Posted at 12:56 AM, Feb 17, 2017
and last updated 2017-02-17 07:38:11-05

CINCINNATI -- President Donald Trump's Thursday news conference was "in its totality disturbing," according to one Cincinnati-area rabbi, but Xavier University professor Mack Mariani said the president's response to a question about anti-Semitism wasn't surprising -- and his rhetorical style is unlikely to change.

"Trump is Trump," Mariani said. "He's continued to be this kind of combative rhetorical brawler."

His unwilling opponent Thursday was Jake Turx, a reporter for the New York-based Ami Magazine, which focuses on issues facing the Orthodox Jewish community. After a nearly 90-minute press conference in which the president denied involvement with Russia, called the assembled reporters "dishonest people" and complained that he had inherited a "mess" from the Obama administration, he called on Turx.

"What we are concerned about, and what we really haven't heard being addressed, is an uptick in anti-Semitism and how the government is planning to take care of it," the reporter began, referencing the 48 bomb threats made against Jewish community centers in the month of January.

The president cut him off, shushed him and ordered him to sit down before he could finish his question, which Trump called "very insulting."

"See, he lied," Trump said. "He (said he) was going to get up and ask a very simple, straightforward question."

Rabbi Robert Barr of Congregation Beth Adam said Thursday night it was difficult to understand why the president reacted the way he did.

"(The question) gave the president an opportunity to use his bully pulpit to say without evocation, without hesitation, clearly and decisively, he is opposed, he stands against anti-Semitism and all forms of racism, full stop," Barr said. "Why he didn't take this opportunity, I do not understand."

Trump's administration has been criticized as insensitive to the Jewish community, most recently when its International Holocaust Remembrance Day statement failed to include an explicit mention of the Jewish people killed by the Third Reich. Endorsements from white supremacists such as Richard Spencer and former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke have also complicated the president's perceived relationship with the Jewish community, although he denounced both endorsements during his campaign.

Barr said he believed the president's hostile answer to Turx's question came out of a belief that it was a personal criticism.

"As president of the United States, he can't take everything personally," Barr said. "It's not about him. It's about our nation."

He admitted, however, that he did not expect Trump's behavior or interactions with the media to change. Neither did Mariani.

"Responding as forcefully as possible to every criticism seems to be kind of the way he works," he said. "That's the way he operates, and he doesn't let anything sit."