BOSTON – Jewish groups are up in arms after Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump declined to disavow support by the Ku Klux Klan in a televised interview Sunday.
During an appearance on CNN’s State of the Union, host Jake Tapper repeatedly asked Trump if he would distance himself from the white supremacist organization, prompting the candidate to respond that he did not know “anything about David Duke.”
On Friday, Trump distanced himself from Duke, a former KKK leader, telling reporters: “I didn’t even know he endorsed me.”
On Sunday, however, he moderated his statements, telling Tapper he did not “know anything about what you’re even talking about with white supremacy or white supremacists.”
“I have to look at the group. I mean, I don’t know what group you’re talking about,” he continued.
“You wouldn’t want me to condemn a group that I know nothing about. I’d have to look. If you would send me a list of the groups, I will do research on them and certainly I would disavow if I thought there was something wrong,” the candidate said. “You may have groups in there that are totally fine – it would be very unfair. So give me a list of the groups and I’ll let you know.”
Rabbi Steven Wernick, CEO of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, took to Facebook to condemn the politician, stating in a personal post that while it would be inappropriate as a faith leader to discuss his political preferences, “there are moments when one must speak out” concerning “what they are against.”
“I am against using racism and fear mongering to be elected the president of the United States,” Wernick wrote, asserting that “any candidate who claims he doesn’t know about the KKK as a white supremacist group and cannot bring himself to condemning them is a danger to our democracy.”
Subsequently speaking with the Jerusalem Post, Wernick was careful to explain that his position was a personal one and did not reflect an official stance of the Conservative movement, which does not involve itself in the elections.
In response to Trump’s comments, the Anti-Defamation League promised to provide the candidate, as well as all the others in the race, with information on hate groups.
“David Duke is a notorious anti-Semite and racist, and his name is synonymous with bigotry,” said Jonathan A. Greenblatt, ADL’s CEO.
“Duke is a perennial candidate for elected office and perhaps America’s best known racist and anti-Semite,” the ADL leader continued. “He is a former imperial wizard of the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan. His message is racist, anti-Semitic and anti-American to its very core, and he’s clearly exploiting Mr. Trump’s candidacy to get publicity for himself and his hateful ideas.”
Greenblatt spoke out against what he termed the danger of white supremacists using this election to “mainstream their bigotry,” stating that by declining to condemn such groups, Trump had granted them a measure of legitimacy.
“Even if it is unintentional on his part, he allows them to feel that they are reaching mainstream America with their message of intolerance,” Greenblatt said.
Following the CNN interview, candidates on both the Right and the Left expressed their dismay.
Republican Ted Cruz called Trump’s failure to condemn the KKK “really sad,” calling his opponent “better than this,” while Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders tweeted that “America’s first black president cannot and will not be succeeded by a hate-monger who refuses to condemn the KKK.”
In response, Trump tweeted: “As I stated at the press conference on Friday regarding David Duke – I disavow.”