WASHINGTON (JTA) –Donald Trump’s transition team declined to directly condemn a conference where his victory was hailed as a triumph for white supremacists, instead reiterating a general denunciation of racism.
Asked by NBC and other media to comment on the weekend conference in Washington D.C., the president-elect’s transition team said Monday that Trump opposed “racism of any kind.”
“President-elect Trump has continued to denounce racism of any kind and he was elected because he will be a leader for every American,” the transition team said. “To think otherwise is a complete misrepresentation of the movement that united Americans from all backgrounds.”
The weekend conference convened by Richard Spencer, a founder of the alt-right movement, was a festival of racist and anti-Semitic preening. When Spencer said “Hail Trump,” some at the conference responded with Nazi salutes and cried out “Heil victory!”
At least three Jewish groups and one Israeli political leader suggested in statements that the Trump team’s statement did not go far enough, and that they still expected to hear direct condemnation of the conference.
“Watching Spencer using Nazi slogans to spew forth his hate was sickening,” said a statement by Rabbis Marvin Hier and Abraham Cooper, leaders of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, after the Trump transition team’s comment. “We call on our future president and commander-in-chief to take on Spencer and his ilk directly.”
The Union for Reform Judaism (URJ) called on Trump in an open letter to denounce Spencer. “Mr. President-elect: what do you say to Richard Spencer and others who are using pages from the Nazi playbook to build support for your Administration? We are eager to hear from you,” said Rabbi Rick Jacobs, the URJ President.
Anti-Defamation League (ADL) CEO, Jonathan Greenblatt, attached to a tweet a photo of a Nazi salute taken at a reception following the event, said: “Why does ADL think [it’s] important for @realDonaldTrump to reject #AltRight that embraces him? This picture from last weekend event in DC worth 1,000 words.”
Yair Lapid, the leader of Israel’s Yesh Atid party, appealed to Trump and to outgoing President Barack Obama.
“One of the greatest mistakes humanity ever made was a failure to recognize the danger of fascism early enough and tackle it head on,” he said Tuesday morning. “I have every confidence that President Obama and President-elect Trump oppose this abhorrent phenomenon, now is the time to translate that opposition into unequivocal condemnation and swift action.”
The alt-right is a loose far-right movement whose followers traffic variously in white nationalism, anti-immigration sentiment, anti-Semitism and a disdain for “political correctness.”
Trump and his campaign have borrowed images and themes originating in the alt-right, including a number that have brought condemnation from Jewish and anti-bias groups. Trump himself throughout the campaign delivered broadsides against Muslims and Hispanics, antagonized black groups and the disabled and used vulgar terms to describe women.
White supremacists and anti-Semites endorsed Trump before the election and have celebrated his victory. Trump has denounced racism and rejected the endorsements, but he has typically done so only when prompted by the media. At times, he has added to these repudiations angry denunciations of the media for making an issue of his support among racists.
In a statement issued before the Trump transition team’s comment was posted, the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum expressed its alarm at the Spencer event, held in the Ronald Reagan building just a short walk from the museum.
“The Holocaust did not begin with killing; it began with words,” it said. “The Museum calls on all American citizens, our religious and civic leaders, and the leadership of all branches of the government to confront racist thinking and divisive hateful speech. “
Following the alt-right event, conference-goers decamped to a restaurant, Maggiano’s, where some posed for photos raising their arms in a Nazi salute. Maggiano’s, on Facebook, apologized to the Friendship Heights neighbourhood where it is situated and said it was donating the profits from the evening, $10,000, to the Anti-Defamation League.