In a somber, conventional 15-minute speech, President Donald Trump commemorated the Holocaust last week in Washington by praising the survivors of the genocide of 6 million Jews and pledging to stand against anti-Semitism.
Speaking in the Capitol Rotunda on April 25, Trump headlined the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum’s annual Days of Remembrance ceremony.
“Despite your great pain, you believe famously that for the dead and the living we must bear witness. That is why we are here today, to remember and to bear witness,” he said.
During the speech, Trump praised Holocaust survivor and author Elie Wiesel, who died last year.
“[He was] a great person. A great man,” Trump said. “His absence leaves an empty space in our hearts, but his spirit fills this room.”
Trump referred to Wiesel as an “angel” who “lived through hell” and said his “courage lights the path from darkness.
“The duty we have is to remember that long dark night so as to never again repeat it,” he said.
Trump said the creation of the State of Israel after the Holocaust was “an eternal monument to the undying strength of the Jewish people.”
He also pledged to fight anti-Semitism throughout the world Jewish community, including terrorism against Israel.
“This is my pledge to you: We will confront anti-Semitism,” Trump said to applause.
And to Holocaust deniers, he said: “Those who deny the Holocaust are an accomplice to evil. We will never be silent in the face of evil again.”
The president’s remarks came as thousands of American Jews signed a petition challenging the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum’s invitation to Trump to deliver the keynote remarks at the National Day of Remembrance.
Launched Monday by Bend the Arc, a Jewish group that advocates for social justice causes, the petition by Tuesday morning had more than 7,400 signatures.
“President Trump’s administration has repeatedly insulted the memory of the Holocaust and embraced the agenda and rhetoric of white nationalism and anti-Semitism. So how can the U.S. Holocaust Museum invite him to deliver the keynote remarks at the National Day of Remembrance?” the petition asks. “Jews across the country are outraged by this bizarre and unacceptable choice.”
The Trump administration has made repeated gaffes regarding the Holocaust.
A week into Trump’s presidency, the White House released a statement in honor of International Holocaust Remembrance Day but made no mention of the Nazis’ Jewish victims.
More recently, press secretary Sean Spicer incorrectly stated that Adolf Hitler did not use chemical weapons during World War II. Spicer was attempting to make a comparison between the Holocaust and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s use of sarin gas against his own people.
Spicer later apologized for his remark, but several Jewish organizations and individuals still gave condemnations. Even normally objective CNN anchor Jake Tapper offered a rebuke and suggested Spicer visit the Holocaust Museum.
In other situations, Trump has come out strongly against anti-Semitism and for Israel. In the opening of his address to a joint session of Congress on Feb. 28 he said: “Recent threats targeting Jewish community centers and vandalism of Jewish cemeteries, as well as last week’s shooting in Kansas City, remind us that while we may be a nation divided on policies, we are a country that stands united in condemning hate and evil in all of its very ugly forms.”
Trump spoke after almost 100 bomb threats had been made against Jewish institutions. Earlier that day he
suggested to Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro that contrary to the threats being rooted in traditional anti-Semitism, something different was at play.
Dan Schere writes for the Washington Jewish Week, an affiliated publication of The Jewish Chronicle. JTA contributed to this article.