New York — Ivanka Trump’s rabbi denounced President Donald Trump for blaming “both sides” in a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, as the number of American Jewish leaders willing to criticize him grew.

Rabbi Haskel Lookstein of Congregation Kehilath Jeshurun, and other rabbis from the prominent modern Orthodox synagogue in Manhattan, said in a Facebook message late Wednesday that they were “deeply troubled by the moral equivalency and equivocation” of Trump’s reaction. Lookstein oversaw Ivanka Trump’s conversion to Judaism. He has only rarely commented on the president.

Separately, the Republican Jewish Coalition, which has supported Trump through earlier controversies, urged him “to provide greater moral clarity in rejecting racism, bigotry and anti-Semitism.” Among the coalition’s board members is Las Vegas casino magnate and GOP donor Sheldon Adelson, who eventually supported Trump.

“The Nazis, the KKK, and white supremacists are dangerous anti-Semites,” the Republican Jewish Coalition said in a statement Wednesday. “There are no good Nazis and no good members of the Klan.”

The rebukes are the latest from American Jews outraged and frightened not only by Saturday’s march, which drew neo-Nazis and Ku Klux Klan members ostensibly to protest the removal of a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee. But they were also troubled by Trump’s reaction. At a news conference Tuesday, Trump doubled down on his initial comments on Saturday and said, “I think there is blame on both sides” and “there were very fine people on both sides.”

Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the liberal Union for Reform Judaism, the largest American synagogue movement, and an outspoken critic of many Trump policies, said it should have been “incredibly simple and easy and obvious” for the president to denounce white supremacists and neo-Nazis.

A Reform Jewish synagogue in Charlottesville, Congregation Beth Israel, which sits one block from the site of Saturday’s demonstrations, said Nazi websites had called for burning the synagogue, so congregational leaders moved their Torah scrolls out of the building and hired a guard.

But condemnations of Trump also have come from U.S. Jewish groups that usually avoid commenting directly on the president. The Rabbinical Council of America, which is part of the modern Orthodox movement, said in a statement specifically naming Trump that, “failure to unequivocally reject hatred and bias is a failing of moral leadership and fans the flames of intolerance and chauvinism.”

However, some of Trump’s U.S. Jewish backers have praised how Trump has handled the fallout from the Virginia rally.

Rabbi Yaakov Menken of the Coalition for Jewish Values, an Orthodox Jewish public policy organization based in Baltimore, said the president was right to call out bigotry on “many sides.” Menken said he sees anti-Jewish bigotry coming from the right and the left.

Jewish members of Congress ‘troubled’

Rep. Sandy Levin, the longest-serving Jewish member of Congress, on Thursday led a letter signed by Jewish members of Congress urging President Donald Trump to “stand with us on the right side of history” after Trump’s defense of white nationalist protestors in recent days.

Eighteen Democrats in the U.S. House signed onto the letter including Levin, a Royal Oak Democrat, saying they were “deeply troubled” by Trump’s combative remarks at a Tuesday news conference where he blamed “both sides” for deadly violence at a neo-Nazi and white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, last weekend.

“Your statements show a deep misunderstanding of history and a fundamental lack of moral compass. As the leader of our nation, it is incumbent upon you to stand up to hate, not provide legitimacy to those who violently perpetrate it,” the letter reads.

The lawmakers denounced Trump’s comments for equating neo-Nazis wielding swastika flags and anti-Semitic slurs with the counter-protestors who showed up to resist that message, and for describing some of the white nationalist demonstrators as “very fine people.”

The letter was signed by 18 of the 23 Jewish members of the House.

Melissa Nann Burke


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