Trump and the Holocaust Remembrance: A Second Chance

President Trump at the Yad Vashem memorial to the Holocaust in Jerusalem in May.

Saturday is International Holocaust Remembrance Day. For President Trump, it is a shot at redemption.

He failed a moral test on the same occasion a year ago when he issued a message that strangely left out any specific reference to the six million Jews murdered in the Nazis’ industrialized genocide. The White House cast the omission as somehow an “inclusive” approach because, it said, Roma, gays, the disabled and others were also victims. But Jews were unique targets. Failing to mention them was as bizarre as it would be to write a history of slavery and ignore the ordeal of Africans brought to America in chains.

It was an example of Mr. Trump’s complex, at times disturbing, instincts in regard to Jews.

On one hand, his elder daughter is a convert to Judaism, married to an observant Jew. His years in New York real estate involved frequent dealings with Jewish counterparts. He has thrilled many American Jews by recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital (though he’s displeased many more of them, who fear that this will impede the search for Middle East peace). At a ceremony on Capitol Hill in April, he spoke forcefully about the Holocaust as he pledged “never again.”

But there’s always another hand with Mr. Trump, and it can be unsightly.

After a march that included neo-Nazis in Charlottesville, Va., last summer, the president said that there were “very fine people” among them. No, there weren’t. There are no very fine Nazis, neo or otherwise. He has passed along tweets from unabashedly anti-Semitic accounts, and has been slow to denounce assaults, vandalism and other Jew-hating acts, which the Anti-Defamation League says have risen sharply. In the first nine months of 2017, the latest period with available numbers, the league reported there were 1,299 such episodes, an increase of 67 percent over the 779 recorded in the same stretch of 2016.

As with other minorities, Mr. Trump is not above indulging in glib, often hurtful stereotypes, like the age-old trope of greedy Jews. There was his campaign image of the six-pointed star and cash cascading down on Hillary Clinton, and his assertion that Mrs. Clinton “meets in secret with international banks to plot the destruction of U.S. sovereignty.” And there was this to Jewish Republican donors: “Is there anybody that doesn’t renegotiate deals in this room? This room negotiates them —Perhaps more than any room I’ve ever spoken to.”

Unlike previous presidents, Mr. Trump couldn’t be bothered on a July visit to Warsaw to stop at the site of that city’s notorious Jewish ghetto. In May he visited the Yad Vashem memorial to the Holocaust in Jerusalem, but offended some people by zipping through it far too quickly to absorb its poignancy and power. Then he signed the guest book with a discordantly, but typically, self-referential entry: “It is a great honor to be here with all of my friends — so amazing + will never forget!”

“I am the least anti-Semitic person that you’ve ever seen in your entire life,” Mr. Trump has said with characteristic grandiosity. That is of course a claim beyond measurement. No one can know what is in his heart. But we do know what is in his public statements — and also what is not, like his expunging of Hitler’s greatest victims from last January’s Holocaust message. He can make Saturday his day of atonement.

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