NEW YORK (JTA) – President Donald Trump paid extended tribute to the memory of the Holocaust and to Israel in a speech to the World Jewish Congress.
Speaking via prerecorded video at the opening dinner of the WJC’s Plenary Assembly in New York City on Sunday night, Trump’s remarks honed close to Jewish communal talking points. The speech marked an evolution in his rhetoric from just three months ago, when his administration’s remembrance of the Holocaust failed to mention Jews and he seemingly appeared reluctant at first to condemn anti-Semitism.
But Sunday, on the eve of Holocaust Remembrance Day, Trump invoked the memory of the genocide’s 6 million Jewish victims, praised Israel as a “great nation” and vowed to fight anti-Semitism.
“On Yom Hashoah, we look back at the darkest chapter of human history,” the president said, using the day’s Hebrew name. “We mourn, we remember, we pray and we pledge: Never again. I say it, never again.”
“The mind cannot fathom the pain, the horror, and the loss. Six million Jews, two-thirds of the Jews in Europe, murdered by the Nazi genocide. They were murdered by an evil that words cannot describe and that the human heart cannot bear.”
The speech contrasted with the White House’s statement on International Holocaust Remembrance Day in January, which mourned the Holocaust but omitted any mention of Jews. Jewish groups across the ideological spectrum condemned the statement; the WJC, notably, was the one major Jewish group that defended it.
In his speech Sunday, Trump also lauded Israel, quoting the founder of modern Zionism, Theodor Herzl.
“Today, only decades removed from the Holocaust, we see a great nation risen from the desert and we see a proud Star of David waving above the State of Israel,” Trump said. “That star is a symbol of Jewish perseverance. It’s a monument to unyielding strength. We recall the famous words attributed to Theodor Herzl: If you will it, it is no dream. If you will it, it is no dream.”
Trump also promised to combat anti-Semitism and bigotry, as he has repeatedly since a wave of bomb threats hit Jewish institutions nationwide. Making a veiled reference to Iran, whose leaders have repeatedly called for Israel’s destruction, he affirmed U.S. support for Israel.
“We must stamp out prejudice and anti-Semitism everywhere it is found,” he said. “We must defeat terrorism, and we must not ignore the threats of a regime that talks openly of Israel’s destruction. We cannot let that ever even be thought of. To all of you tonight, who have come from around the world, let it be known, America stands strong with the State of Israel.”
Trump also took the opportunity to reference his election victory last year. Thanking Ronald Lauder, the WJC’s president and prominent New York cosmetics executive, philanthropist and Republican activist, Trump said “he even predicted early that I was going to win the presidency.”