(JTA) – The Rabbinical Council of America (RCA) criticized U.S. President Donald Trump for blaming left-wing counter-protesters along with white supremacists for the violence that erupted at a far-right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia.
“There is no moral comparison,” the president of the centrist Orthodox group, Rabbi Elazar Muskin, wrote in the statement Wednesday. “Failure to unequivocally reject hatred and bias is a failing of moral leadership and fans the flames of intolerance and chauvinism.”
Leaders of the RCA, which is affiliated with the Orthodox Union, noted in the statement that their group usually stays out of politics. But the RCA’s executive vice-president, Rabbi Mark Dratch, said the organization was joining Americans of different political leanings and backgrounds, as well as politicians, in “calling on President Trump to understand the critical consequences of his words.”
Though the Jewish community has been largely critical of Trump, the president has found relatively high levels of support among the modern Orthodox, many of whom are ardently pro-Israel.
The International Rabbinic Fellowship, a liberal Orthodox group, also condemned comparisons between the two sides on Wednesday.
“We condemn all false equivalencies between violence by protesters and counter protesters in Charlottesville, where such equivalencies leave minorities and endangered populations more vulnerable to attack, and where they strengthen hate groups such as the KKK, neo-Nazis and white supremacists,” the group said in a statement.
On Tuesday, Trump doubled down on his assessment that both far-right extremists and counter-protesters were to blame for the violence in Charlottesville. He also said there were “very fine people on both sides.”
The Unite the Right rally Saturday saw hundreds of white supremacists and neo-Nazis converge in defence of a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee and brawl with counter-protesters. After police dispersed the rally, a white supremacist, James Fields, rammed his car into a crowd of counterprotesters, killing one woman and injuring at least 19. Two police officers also died when their helicopter crashed while monitoring the rally.
Rally participants waved Nazi and Confederate flags, shouted anti-Semitic and racist chants – including “Jews will not replace us” – and gave Nazi salutes. But Trump said at the news conference that not all the participants were white supremacists, seemingly backtracking from his statement a day earlier that explicitly condemned neo-Nazis and white supremacists for the violence.