Yesterday Ivanka Trump responded to the latest spate of phony bomb threats to Jewish institutions across the country by calling for religious tolerance. "America is a nation built on the principle of religious tolerance," the president's daughter, who converted to Judaism before marrying Jared Kushner in 2009, said on Twitter. "We must protect our houses of worship & religious centers."
Jake Turx, White House correspondent for Ami magazine, seemed to be looking for just that sort of anodyne assurance when he tried to ask Ivanka's father a question at his press conference last Thursday. Trump called on Turx, an Orthodox Jew who wears a black suit and a large black kippah embroidered with his Twitter handle, after announcing, "I want to find a friendly reporter." He asked Turx, "Are you a friendly reporter?" After replying, "I am friendly," Turx introduced his question by telling the president that "despite what some of my colleagues may have been reporting, I haven't seen anybody in my community accuse either yourself or…anyone on your staff of being anti-Semitic." He even added, "We understand you have Jewish grandchildren; you are their zayde." Although Trump thanked him for that stipulation, he was so outraged by the subject of Turx's question that he would not let him finish:
Turx: What we haven't really heard be addressed is an uptick in anti-Semitism and how the government is planning to take care of it. There have been reports out that 48 bomb threats have been made against Jewish centers all across the country in the last couple of weeks. There are people who are committing anti-Semitic acts or threatening to—
Trump: You see, he said he was going to ask a very simple, easy question. And it's not. It's not. Not a simple question, not a fair question. OK, sit down. I understand the rest of your question.
So here's the story, folks. Number one, I am the least anti-Semitic person that you've ever seen in your entire life. Number two, racism—the least racist person. In fact, we did very well relative to other people running as a Republican.
Turx: [Inaudible objection.]
Trump: Quiet, quiet, quiet. See, he lied about—he was going to get up and ask a very straight, simple question. So you know, welcome to the world of the media. But let me just tell you something—that I hate the charge. I find it repulsive. I hate even the question because people that know me—and you heard the prime minister, you heard Netanyahu yesterday—did you hear him, Bibi? He said, I've known Donald Trump for a long time, and then he said, forget it. So you should take that, instead of having to get up and ask a very insulting question like that….It just shows you about the press, but that's the way the press is.
As Turx observed on Twitter, "President Trump clearly misunderstood my question." But the way he misunderstood it was telling. Even though Turx explicitly assured Trump he was not accusing him of anti-Semitism, the president interpreted his question as an accusation of anti-Semitism, which shows he was not paying attention and suggests he leaps at any opportunity to present himself as unfairly maligned (which he did through much of the press conference). The episode very clearly showed how Trump bullies people while claiming to be the victim, mirroring the left-wing critics whose political correctness he mocks.
"It was a very disheartening moment for us, to watch him being berated," Turx's editor, Rabbi Yitzchok Frankfurter, told The New York Times. I'm not sure what a president is supposed to do about anti-Semitic incidents like those Turx cited, beyond condemning them and perhaps saying the FBI is ready to assist local law enforcement agencies insofar as there is evidence of interstate coordination. Trump could easily have uttered some soothing words if he had not been so wrapped up in his own persecution complex that he literally could not hear what Turx, a bona fide "friendly reporter," was saying. Trump's egregious mishandling of the situation does not show he is an anti-Semite; it just shows he is a jerk, which we have known for quite some time now.
Update: After visiting the National Museum of African American History and Culture today, Trump said what he should have said on Thursday: "The anti-Semitic threats targeting our Jewish community and community centers are horrible and are painful and a very sad reminder of the work that still must be done to root out hate and prejudice and evil."