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24 August 2017

Charlottesville violence: Rabbis cancel Trump call over remarks

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Media captionDonald Trump defended his Charlottesville response at a rally in Phoenix, but cut out a key part

A prominent coalition of rabbis has pulled out of an annual call with the US president over his remarks about violence in Charlottesville, Virginia.

The four groups said Donald Trump’s statements were “so lacking in moral leadership and empathy” that they had no choice but to cancel the call.

They condemned Mr Trump for blaming “many sides” for the violence on 11 August, which left one woman dead.

The White House noted the call was an Obama administration practice.

“The Trump Administration looks forward to creating its own traditions to observe the High Holidays and other important days in the Jewish faith,” an unnamed White House official said in a statement to the BBC.

The traditional call was held each year to mark the arrival of the Jewish autumn holidays, which include Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashanah.

White supremacists, neo-Nazis and the Ku Klux Klan were among the far-right demonstrators who took part in a torch-lit rally – shouting racist and anti-Semitic slogans – in Charlottesville.

The march had been organised to protest against the proposed removal of a statue of General Robert E Lee, who commanded the pro-slavery Confederate forces during the American Civil War.

But it descended into violence after the rally’s supporters were confronted by anti-racism groups. A car driven by a man linked to white supremacists later ploughed through a crowd of counter-protesters and killed a woman, 32-year-old Heather Heyer.

In a statement, the Central Conference of American Rabbis, the Rabbinical Assembly, the Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association and the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism denounced the president for repeatedly saying anti-racism protesters shared the blame for the violence.

“The President’s words have given succor to those who advocate anti-Semitism, racism, and xenophobia,” the coalition said.

“Responsibility for the violence that occurred in Charlottesville, including the death of Heather Heyer, does not lie with many sides but with one side: the Nazis, alt-right and white supremacists who brought their hate to a peaceful community. They must be roundly condemned at all levels.”

Mr Trump has insisted he has done enough to condemn hate and bigotry.

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The Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, led by Rabbi Jonah Pesner, is among the groups to pull out of the calls

The four groups of rabbis are said to represent much of the US Jewish community.

However, the organisation of Orthodox rabbis, the Rabbinical Council of America, did not sign the statement.

It has previously condemned “any suggestion of moral equivalency between the White Supremacists and neo-Nazis in Charlottesville and those who stood up to their repugnant messages and actions”.

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Media captionA Holocaust survivor joined protests against racism in New York

In recent years, the US president has spoken by phone to hundreds of rabbis to bring holiday greetings ahead of Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur. Reports say the conversations mostly steer clear of politics.

Rabbi Steve Fox, executive director of the Central Conference of American Rabbis, told Politico that former President Barack Obama participated in each year of his administration.

The majority of Jewish-American voters opposed Mr Trump in the 2016 US election, with the exception of Orthodox Jews who have been more supportive.

Mr Trump’s daughter Ivanka, converted to Orthodox Judaism after marrying Jared Kushner, who has since become a senior adviser to the president.

Last week, a rabbi in New York who oversaw Ms Trump’s conversion penned a letter to his congregation slamming the White House response to violence in Charlottesville.

“While we avoid politics, we are deeply troubled by the moral equivalency and equivocation President Trump has offered in his response to this act of violence,” wrote Rabbi Emeritus Haskel Lookstein in a letter first reported by New York Magazine.

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