“The anti-Semitic threats targeting our Jewish community at 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 said.
During an earlier interview with NBC News at the site, Trump said: “Anti-Semitism is horrible and it’s going to stop, and it has to stop.”
“I certainly hope they catch the people,” he added.
On Monday, the Anti-Defamation League reported a wave of bomb threats directed against Jewish Community Centers in multiple states, the fourth series of such threats this year. More than 170 Jewish gravestones were toppled at a cemetery in Missouri over the weekend.
Calls for Trump to condemn the violence had been growing. On Twitter on Tuesday, Hillary Clinton, Trump's Democratic presidential rival, added her voice to those calling on Trump to speak out.
Jewish Community Center “threats, cemetery desecration & online attacks are so troubling & they need to be stopped. Everyone must speak out, starting w/ @POTUS,” Clinton said.
Trump was offered an opportunity to condemn the rising violence at a new conference Thursday. In response to an invitation by a reporter to do so, Trump called the question “insulting” and instead defended his personal beliefs, saying: “I am the least anti-Semitic person that you’ve ever seen in your entire life.”
Earlier in the week, appearing at another news conference alongside Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Trump was asked about rising anti-Semitic violence across the country and started his answer by talking about the size of his electoral college victory in the fall. Trump said he wants to heal “a divided nation,” but did not explicitly condemn the spate of violence.
Trump’s daughter Ivanka Trump, who joined him on the museum tour Tuesday, took to Twitter on Monday night to address the issue, saying: “We must protect our houses of worship & religious centers.”
President Trump’s words Tuesday were welcomed by some and criticized by others as too late.
“The President’s sudden acknowledgment is a Band-Aid on the cancer of anti-Semitism that has infected his own administration,” said Steven Goldstein, executive director of the Anne Frank Center for Mutual Respect. “His statement today is a pathetic asterisk of condescension after weeks in which he and his staff have committed grotesque acts and omissions reflecting ant-semitism, yet day after day have refused to apologize and correct the record.”
Goldstein was critical in particular of the White House’s decision not to mention Jews in a statement last month marking the Holocaust.
Meanwhile, Rabbi Jonah Dov Pesner, Director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, called Trump’s statement “as welcome as it is overdue.”
“President Trump has been inexcusably silent as this trend of anti-Semitism has continued and arguably accelerated,” Pesner said. “ The president of the United States must always be a voice against hate and for the values of religious freedom and inclusion that are the nation’s highest ideals.”