(JTA) – The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) joined critics of U.S. President Donald Trump in condemning his assertion that there was “blame on both sides” in Charlottesville, Va., where neo-Nazis faced off protesters.
“I think there’s blame on both sides,” Trump said at a news conference in New York Wednesday, four days after a 32-year-old counter-protester was killed by a car driven by one of the white supremacist marchers.
The victim had come to Charlottesville to protest a gathering of far-right supporters that observers said was the largest event of its kind in over two decades. Hundreds chanted slogans against Jews, blacks and other minorities during a torch-lit procession Friday night and an aborted rally Saturday morning.
ADL National Director Jonathan Greenblatt said in a statement he is “profoundly disturbed” by Trump’s remarks, whom Greenblatt said “went beyond the pale today in equating racist white supremacists in Charlottesville with counter-protesters who were there to stand up against hate.” For the second time in four days, Trump “did the opposite” of previous presidents who are remembered for “standing up to bigotry and hate,” Greenblatt added.
Trump on Saturday condemned the “display of hatred and bigotry and violence on many sides,” drawing criticism that by not singling out the racists, he was drawing a moral equivalence between supporters of fascism and their opponents.
On Monday, Trump did single out the far-right when he said during a statement: “Racism is evil, and those who cause violence in its name are criminals and thugs, including the KKK, neo-Nazis, white supremacists and other hate groups that are repugnant to everything we hold dear as Americans.”
But on Tuesday, during a press conference intended to discuss infrastructure, Trump appeared to revert to the view of shared blame.
“What about the ‘alt-left’ that came charging at, as you say, the ‘alt-right’?” Trump asked. “Let me ask you this: What about the fact they came charging – that they came charging with clubs in their hands, swinging clubs? Do they have any problem? I think they do.”
Addressing the alleged actions of James Alex Fields Jr. – the 20-year-old white supremacist accused of murdering Heather Heyer and wounding 20 others by driving a car into the crowd of protesters – Trump called him a “murderer.” Fields did “a horrible, horrible inexcusable thing,” Trump added.
Trump’s references to violence on both sides drew criticism from opposition politicians in Israel.
Former justice minister Tzipi Livni wrote on Twitter that “In racism, anti-Semitism and Nazism, there are no two equal sides. There’s good and there’s bad, period.” Yair Lapid, the leader of the Yesh Atid centrist party, also wrote: “There are no two sides” and that “every leader must confront racism head on.”
Former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke thanked Trump for the statements. “Thank you President Trump for your honesty & courage to tell the truth about #Charlottesville & condemn the leftist terrorists in BLM/Antifa,” Duke wrote, referring to the Black Lives Matter campaign and the “antifa” anti-fascist movement.