(JTA) – Prominent New York Rabbi Haskel Lookstein criticized President Donald Trump’s response to the violent white supremacist protest in Charlottesville, Virginia last weekend.
Haskel, who oversaw the conversion to Judaism of the president’s daughter Ivanka Trump, weighed in on the issue Wednesday along with other rabbis at Congregation Kehilath Jeshurun, a prominent modern Orthodox synagogue in Manhattan.
“We are appalled by this resurgence of bigotry and antisemitism, and the renewed vigour of the neo-Nazis, KKK, and alt-right,” the rabbis wrote in a letter to members of the synagogue and its affiliated Ramaz School. “While we avoid politics, we are deeply troubled by the moral equivalency and equivocation President Trump has offered in his response to this act of violence.
“We pray that our country heeds the voices of tolerance, and stays true to its vision of human rights and civil rights.”
Far-right protestors converged on Charlottesville in defense of a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee and brawled with counter-protestors. Some of the protestors carried Nazi and Confederate flags, gave Nazi salutes and expressed anti-Semitic and racist views.
After police broke up the the rally, a white supremacist, James Fields, rammed his car into a crowd of the counter-protesters, killing one woman and injuring at least 19. Two police officers also died when their helicopter crashed while monitoring the rally.
President Trump said at a news conference Tuesday that not all the participants in the rally were white supremacists. Confronted about whether he was putting white supremacists and neo-Nazis on the same “moral plane” as the liberal and leftist counter-protestors, he said, “I’m not putting anybody on a moral plane.” Trump seemed to backtrack from his statement a day earlier condemning neo-Nazis and white supremacists for the violence.
Trump’s comments were widely criticized, including by Republicans and Jewish groups, and praised by white supremacists.
In addition to Lookstein, who is rabbi emeritus, the letter was signed by Kehilath Jeshurun Rabbis Chaim Steinmetz and Elie Weinstock. Ivanka Trump and her husband, Jared Kusher were members of the Upper East Side synagogue before moving to Washington, D.C., to serve as White House aides. They reportedly tried and failed to convince Trump to moderate his comments on Charlottesville.
Lookstein last year agreed to give the invocation at the Republican National Convention but later withdrew after outcry from modern Orthodox Jews and others.
In a letter to members at the time, he wrote, “Like my father before me, I have never been involved in politics. Politics divides people.”
In a widely viewed Vice documentary about the events in Charlottesville that aired on HBO Tuesday, Christopher Cantwell, a vocal white supremacist, expressed disgust with Donald Trump because he “gave his daughter to a Jew.”
Cantwell asks Vice News’ reporter Elspeth Reeve, “Do you think you could feel about race like I do and watch that Kushner bastard walk around with that beautiful girl?”