How Several Former Presidents Dealt With (or Inflamed) Anti-Semitism

Trump isn't the only U.S. president to come under fire for a slow or weak reaction to hate crimes.

Many presidents like Franklin D. Roosevelt wrested with anti-Semitism. (Imagno/Getty Images)
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Many American presidents before Trump — including George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Dwight D. Eisenhower and Richard Nixon — had to deal with high-profile cases of anti-Semitism.

And each did so in his own way, with history showing several ending up on what most modern day Americans would consider the wrong side. It’s yet to be seen how Trump’s reaction to the anti-Semitic rhetoric exemplified by the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting will be interpreted by future historians.

But in 1958, seven synagogues were blown up in the south over the course of less than a year, and it took then-President Dwight D. Eisenhower until the seventh to publicly condemn the attacks, The Washington Post reported. It left many Jews criticizing him for taking seemingly taking his time.

He said he believed “we would all share in the feeling of horror, that any brigand would want to desecrate the holy place of any religion, be it a chapel, a cathedral, a mosque, a church or a synagogue.”

George Washington, on the other hand, wrote to a Jewish congregation in Rhode Island in 1790 to reassure the group that they would find protection and tolerance from the federal government, siting its commitment to religious liberty in the face of push-back from other citizens.

Lincoln was a notable friend to the Jews as well, according to The Washington Post. He famously revoked an order by Gen. Ulysses S. Grant during the Civil War to expel Jews from parts of Kentucky, Tennessee and Mississippi.

But, in quieter ways, some presidents engaged in various levels  of anti-Semitism themselves. Nixon, for example, was not a fan of the number of Jews in important government roles, according to Oval Office phone recordings.

“Generally speaking, you can’t trust the bastards,” he was heard saying on tape.

And Franklin D. Roosevelt, though a public critic of violence against the Jews, did not dissuade his administration from its restrictive policies on Jewish immigration during the holocaust.

Archived notes from a meeting between FDR and a Moroccan general also show him saying Jews’ should be “definitely limited” from participation in law and medical fields to “further eliminate the specific and understandable complaints which the Germans bore towards the Jews in Germany.”

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