Vandals who toppled tombstones in a Jewish cemetery near St. Louis last weekend did more than an act of desecration. Their vile crime prompted the new Trump Administration to finally speak out on a growing wave of anti-Semitism.
“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,” President Trump said Tuesday at during a visit to the National Museum of African-American History and Culture in Washington, D.C.
His response came two days after as many as 200 headstones were tipped over or vandalized in the Chesed Shel Emeth Cemetery in University City, Missouri, near St. Louis. There have been no arrests.
Muslims and other faith-based groups stepped forward, raising money for repairs at the Missouri cemetery and raising public awareness before there was comment or reaction from the Trump White House.
In recent weeks, there also have been numerous telephone bomb threats, resulting in evacuations and searches at Jewish Community Centers throughout the United States.
Several Jewish and civil rights organizations said the response from the Trump Administration was tardy or bland. Some had harsher criticism.
“Mr. President, your too little, too late acknowledgement of anti-Semitism today is not enough,” said Steven Goldstein, executive Director of the Anne Frank Center for Mutual Respect, a New York-based organization that address civil and human rights issues.
The new administration “committed grotesque acts and omissions reflecting anti-Semitism,” Goldstein said, noting the White House failed to mention Jews in its Holocaust remembrance.
“The anti-Semitism coming out of this Administration is the worst we have ever seen from any Administration,” Goldstein said.
Goldstein called on Trump to fire his “anti-Semitic” chief of staff, Steve Bannon, and “deliver a prime-time address to outline the specific steps his Administration will take to combat anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, racism, sexism, anti-LGBT bias and other hatred.”
The organization also called on the Trump Administration to “work with Congress to establish a national blue-ribbon commission on Combating Hate in America that would have sufficient independence and bipartisan representation.”
The White House apparently heard the growing criticism.
On Wednesday, Vice President Pence visited the vandalized Missouri cemetery.
“There is no place in America for hatred or acts of prejudice or violence or anti-Semitism,” Pence said as he surveyed the vandalism being repaired and cleaned up by workers and volunteers, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.
As a symbolic gesture, the vice president briefly assisted in the cleanup, raking leaves, according to media reports.
At the vice president’s side, Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens denounced the “vile act of desecration” and said he had received a private phone call from Trump.
“He asked me, on his behalf, to personally thank all of you … for standing up in the fight against anti-Semitism,” the governor said.
“Today, Vice President Pence proved to be the ultimate mensch by visiting, and even cleaning, the desecrated Jewish graves in St. Louis,” responded Goldstein, of the Anne Frank Center.
“We have been critical of President Trump for his gross insensitivity to anti-Semitism, including through his omission of Jews in Holocaust remembrance. But through the Vice President's visit to St. Louis today, this Administration finally showed America the kind of response our nation was waiting for all along — a response filled with proactive heart.”