(JTA) — Democratic presidential contender Joe Biden accused President Donald Trump on Thursday of fanning the flames of anti-Semitism.
Biden made his remarks in a post on Medium a week after two gunmen stormed a kosher grocery in Jersey City, New Jersey, killing three civilians. They had killed a policeman earlier at a nearby cemetery.
The former vice president decried the “tide of hatred” that he said had fueled anti-Semitic mass shootings in New Jersey, Pennsylvania and California, and condemned the president for failing to take the lead in rooting out extremism and racism.
Citing Trump’s widely criticized response to 2017’s Unite The Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia — the president said there were “very fine people” on both sides of the clashes there — Biden wrote that by declining to condemn “a naked display of hatred, Trump assigned a moral equivalence between those streaming through the night with torches, chanting anti-Semitic bile — and the courageous neighbors and activists who stood against them.”
Such rhetoric, he said, gave “license and safe harbor to white supremacists, Neo-Nazis, and the KKK.”
“There’s a short line from those white supremacists in Charlottesville chanting ‘Jews will not replace us,’ to the shooter at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh last year, saying Jews ‘were committing genocide to his people,'” Biden said.
Trump defenders note that Trump did condemn neo-Nazis, the Ku Klux Klan and white supremacists, and say that his comment about “fine people” at the events in Charlottesville was not a reference to the racists in attendance, but people who believe Confederate symbols pay tribute to Southern history and culture in general. Critics counter that the gathering was organized and dominated by white supremacists.
Some critics of Trump have condemned his anti-immigrant rhetoric for inspiring the Pittsburgh gunman, Robert Bowers, who vilified the Jewish refugee aid group HIAS in an online post just before the attack, and Biden appeared to agree with the sentiment, saying that there was “a short line from those white supremacists … to the shooter at the Tree of Life synagogue.”
While Bowers’ echoed some of the president’s rhetoric on immigration, he also criticized Trump.
Biden stated that “Trump has presided over a historic increase in hate crimes and biased-incidents targeting people of color, immigrants, LGBTQ Americans, and people of Jewish faith,” adding that at the end of Trump’s first year in office, “anti-Semitic incidents increased nearly 60%, the largest one-year increase since the Anti-Defamation League started keeping records 40 years ago.”
The one-year surge in 2017 referenced by Biden was driven in part by the hundreds of prank bomb threats to Jewish community centers and schools by a 20-year-old dual American-Israeli citizen living in Israel. According to ADL, anti-Semitic incidents have dramatically spiked over the past five years, with the increase starting in 2014, during the Obama administration, and continuing throughout the Trump administration.
He also condemned the president for cutting funding for anti-extremism programs intended to counter the far-right.
“Hate didn’t begin with Donald Trump, and it won’t end with him. But this is a defining moment in our nation’s history,” Biden said, asserting that Americans are now “in a battle for the soul of this nation.”
Trump has been a polarizing president for Jewish Americans, earning praise in some corners for actions on Israel, including moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem and backing Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights. Most recently, he generated intense debate between his supporters and detractors within the American Jewish community when he issued an executive order on anti-Semitism that he said would help combat hatred on college campuses. The order did receive praise from some lawmakers and Jewish organizations that have been critical of the president.
At the same time, his brash commentary directed at Jews in various speeches and interviews — stylistically carried over from his days as a real estate mogul and reality TV star — has led some to assert that he traffics in anti-Semitic tropes.