Jewish leaders in the UK including the Chief Rabbi and president of the Board of Deputies, have torn into Donald Trump after he told four congresswomen of colour to “go back” – despite three of them having been born in the US.
The collective reaction of contempt and disdain from some of the most senior Jewish leaders in the UK came after Trump targeted Representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, Ayanna Pressley and Rashida Tlaib with racist abuse.
He said the elected lawmakers “originally came from countries whose governments are a complete and total catastrophe,” adding that they “could leave” if they didn’t like his policies of separating immigrant families in huge camps. “This is about love for America,” he said.
Trump’s Twitter tirade on Sunday followed damning testimony from Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez on Friday, in which she described conditions in the border camps.
Trump’s comments were defended by US Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, who is Jewish. “I don’t find them racist,” he said. They have also been cheered white nationalists.
Yet while analysts said it would play well to Trump’s support base, world leaders – including allies such as Theresa May – suggested that the president’s comments were disgusting.
Although most Jewish leaders in the UK do not routinely comment on the words of foreign heads of state, Trump’s attack clearly hit a nerve and led to a rare, unanimous and instant outcry.
Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis led criticism, saying in a statement: “Our increasingly polarised world calls out for the kind of strong moral leadership which will quench the flames of hatred and bigotry and bring healing to our divided societies.”
Sadly, President Trump’s appalling “go back…” comment, exacerbated by his refusal to retract it, will achieve just the opposite.”
Whilst the President has a right, and indeed a responsibility, to challenge those people whom he believes are a force for negativity in American politics, the manner in which he has chosen to do so must be condemned in the strongest terms.”
Board of Deputies President Marie van der Zyl said the comments were “appalling and unjustifiable”.
She added: “Whatever one’s political disagreements, telling people to ‘go back home to where they came from’ can never be the right response. It is also wrong to drag Israel in to these undignified tirades.”
Senior Reform Rabbi Laura Janner-Klausner said the comments were “corrosive, disgraceful and undermine the true meaning of democracy,” adding: “The moral underpinning of any country is led by political leadership alongside religious leadership… These despicable words must be condemned and apologised for.”
Rabbi Baroness Julia Neuberger said she was “shocked by his racism, shocked by his obvious belief that they do not ‘belong’ in American society, and even more shocked by the fact he neither apologised nor retrenched”.
She added: “From Charlottesville to now, he shows no understanding of what it means to live in an integrated, tolerant, multicultural society. For Jews, that is all the more disturbing. We need inclusivity and tolerance, both in principle and in practice. It is in societies which treasure those values that we flourish best.”
Senior Masorti Rabbi Jonathan Wittenberg described the comments as “shameless” which “shows [Trump’s] racism, sexism and contempt for democratic political process”.
Senior Liberal Rabbi Danny Rich said the comments were “inimical to the Jewish ideal of a single humanity under the sovereignty of a single God”.
He added: “Trump demeans his Office as President of the United States by his foolish, ignorant and sometimes even misogynist and racist tweets which are designed to appeal to the worst of human thought and behaviour. The unity and strength of a democratic nation lies in the celebration of its diversity.”
Edie Friedman of the Jewish Council of Racial Equality (J-CORE) said: “It should be unthinkable that such racist comments can emanate from the President of the United States, a country where most families are of immigrant origin, including his own.”
She added: “This ‘go home’ trope has been used for centuries, including against Jews in different periods of our history. It smacks of white supremacy and is absolutely shameful.
“We must be on guard against the normalisation of such sentiments, which can too easily enter our political and social discourse and threaten us all.”
Mia Hasenson-Gross of London-based Jewish human rights group René Cassin said: “We deplore Trump’s attack against these four congresswomen of colour, which is so clearly rooted in racism and misogyny.”
She added: “Migration and the seeking of asylum are central to the Jewish experience and as Jews we must condemn his words. We must also condemn the inhumane treatment of migrants and asylum seekers, including children, who are locked up in immigration detention as a result of Trump’s hostile policies.”
Both Tory leadership candidates in the UK have condemned Trump’s comments, with Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt saying he was “utterly appalled” by the president’s emotive and divisive choice of words.
Even Boris Johnson, who refused to defend the UK’s ambassador in Washington after disparaging diplomatic cables were leaked, said of Trump: “You simply cannot use that kind of language about sending people back to where they came from.”
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- Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez
- Ilhan Omar
- Ayanna Pressley
- Rashida Tlaib
- Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis
- Rabbi Laura Janner-Klausner
- Rabbi Baroness Julia Neuberger
- Masorti Rabbi Jonathan Wittenberg
- Edie Friedman
- Rabbi Danny Rich
- Mia Hasenson-Gross
- Board of Deputies of British Jews
- Board president Marie van der Zyl