Donald Trump responded on Monday to a swirling controversy over an apparently antisemitic tweet featuring Hillary Clinton which he subsequently deleted.
Using Twitter again, Trump said: “Dishonest media is trying their absolute best to depict a star in a tweet as the Star of David rather than a Sheriff’s Star, or plain star!”
Later, he put out a statement on his website blaming Clinton for “false attacks” and said that linking the star with antisemitism was “ridiculous”.
“Clinton, through her surrogates, is just trying to divert attention from the dishonest behavior of herself and her husband,” the statement said.
The argument that the star in the original tweet, which had six points and was superimposed over an image of $100 bills, was not a star of David was first used by Trump’s fired campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, in an appearance as a CNN pundit on Sunday.
The image in Trump’s original tweet was traced by the news site Mic to a white supremacist message board. Trump’s tweet was deleted on Saturday and replaced by a similar image featuring a circle rather than a star.
Clinton, whom Trump’s tweets labelled “Most Corrupt Candidate Ever!”, has not commented. On Monday her campaign’s director of Jewish outreach, Sarah Bard, issued a statement.
“Not only won’t he apologize for it,” Bard said, “he’s peddling lies and blaming others. Trump should be condemning hate, not offering more campaign behavior and rhetoric that engages extremists. The president should be someone who brings Americans together, not someone who sends signals and offers policies of division.”
On Sunday, the Libertarian candidate for president, Gary Johnson, told CNN in a wide-ranging conversation: “He has said 100 things that would disqualify anyone else from running for president but it doesn’t seem to affect him. The stuff he’s saying is just incendiary. It’s racist.”
On Monday, the chief executive the Anti-Defamation League condemned Trump’s tweet as further evidence of extremist sympathies within the Trump campaign.
“We’ve been troubled by the tone of this campaign for the past six months,” said Jonathan Greenblatt, national director and CEO of the Anti-Defamation League, also speaking to CNN.
“The first time something like this happens, like the quote from [in fact attributed to] Mussolini, it’s called a mistake. The second time it happens, like you re-tweet from a white supremacist Twitter account, that’s sloppy. But we’re now at the sixth or seventh time the Trump campaign has invoked bigotry or racism. It’s a pattern that’s perplexing, troubling and wrong.”
At minimum, said Greenblatt, the deleted tweet raised questions about why a national presidential campaign could be looking at racist websites or antisemitic sections of online sources and using such searches to find content to share with the public.
Greenblatt said the tweet was a dog-whistle to neo-Nazis that did not belong in the campaign.
“These bigoted and prejudicial ideas don’t belong in the conversation,” Greenblatt said. “Donald Trump is the presumptive GOP candidate and we’d like to see him speak out with the same energy he brings to the campaign to call out white supremacists.
“We want to him to make it clear that bigotry and antisemitism has nothing to do with making America great again.”
Bard echoed Greenblatt, saying in her statement: “Donald Trump’s use of a blatantly antisemitic image from racist websites to promote his campaign would be disturbing enough, but the fact that it’s a part of a pattern should give voters major cause for concern.”
A Trump surrogate, Boris Epshteyn, appeared on CNN. He said the ADL was a “notoriously left-leaning Jewish organisation”, adding that a lot of “conservative-leaning Jews … disagreed with the ADL on a lot of its stances”.
“I will not stand for the idea that a tweet like this was antisemitism,” Epshteyn said. “It was a mistake and it was taken down. End of discussion.”
This not the first time Trump has been linked to antisemitic or white supremacist views. In February, he was asked repeatedly about the Ku Klux Klan and its notorious former grand wizard, David Duke, and refused to immediately disavow Duke’s expressions of enthusiasm for his campaign. When he did disavow Duke, he failed to articulate why the Klan’s white nationalism was wrong.
Trump’s inconsistency over instances of alleged antisemitism is underlined by his own family ties – his daughter Ivanka converted to Judaism when she married the real estate developer and publisher Jared Kushner in 2009. He is said to be a key adviser to the Trump campaign.
Trump has also reiterated his support for Israel in several statements and speeches. The prominent Republican donor Sheldon Adelson has proclaimed that Trump is definitely pro-Israel, reportedly vowing to give $100m or more to the Trump campaign.
On Sunday, Trump tweeted a statement on the death, at 87, of the Holocaust survivor and Nobel peace laureate Elie Wiesel. He wrote: “On Saturday a great man, Elie Wiesel, passed away. The world is a better place because of him and his belief that good can triumph over evil!”
He also recently condemned the murder of a man who was reportedly killed by a Palestinian gunman while driving with three children.
“I strongly condemn this attack and call upon the Palestinian leadership to completely end this barbaric behavior,” he said in a statement. “I also call upon President Obama to recognize and condemn each and every terrorist attack against Israeli citizens. This cannot become the ‘new normal’. It has to end.”
The latest incident may be more accurately attributed to the Trump campaign’s capacity to bring attention on itself even when it would be advantageous to remain silent.
Trump tweeted and deleted the post on the same day Hillary Clinton was interviewed by FBI agents for three and a half hours about her use of a private email server while serving as secretary of state, and as controversy continued over Bill Clinton’s private meeting with attorney general Loretta Lynch.