Considering the consistent din of criticism regarding the Trump administration’s tone-deafness toward anti-Semitism, the bar was set pretty low for the president’s Yom HaShoah speech on Capitol Hill Tuesday. In January, the White House omitted specific mention of Jews from Trump’s International Holocaust Remembrance Day speech, while this month Sean Spicer remarked that Hitler didn’t use chemical weapons during World War II and referred to concentration camps as “Holocaust centers” during the same press conference. And yet, despite a few flubs, Trump’s speech Tuesday at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum’s Days of Remembrance ceremony in Washington was largely on-point and impassioned—a welcome departure from the flood of controversy surrounding this administration that should enable viewers to focus on what matters most here: remembering the Holocaust.
Trump’s speech echoed sentiments from his pre-recorded address to the World Jewish Congress in New York on Sunday, which itself drew at times almost directly from a page on the Holocaust Memorial Museum’s website. Despite a botched pronunciation of “Nazi” (“z” as in “cozy”), Trump spoke with seeming sincerity and pathos about the life and legacy of Elie Wiesel, noting that this year’s Day of Remembrance is the first since the Holocaust survivor and political activist died last summer. “His absence leaves an empty space in our hearts, but his spirit fills this room,” said Trump, describing how Wiesel’s “courage still lights the path from darkness.”
The Washington Post reported that “Vice President Pence, senior White House adviser Jared Kushner, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and National Economic Council Director Gary Cohn were among the guests sitting in the front row.” Ivanka Trump was in Berlin touring the Holocaust memorial there.
Notably, Trump called out Holocaust deniers and vowed to stand up to anti-Semitism and support Israel. He said: “Those who deny the Holocaust are an accomplice to this horrible evil. And we’ll never be silent—we just won’t—we will never, ever be silent in the face of evil again…”
“This is my pledge to you: We will confront anti-Semitism. We will stamp out prejudice, we will condemn hatred, we will bear witness. And we will act. As president of the United States, I will always stand with the Jewish people, and I will always stand with our great friend and partner, the state of Israel.”
Zoe Miller is Tablet’s editorial intern. Follow her on Twitter here.