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Trump Pledges To Confront Anti-Semitism At Holocaust Remembrance Event

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

President Trump gave a speech today at the U.S. Capitol to mark the Days of Remembrance of victims of the Holocaust. His administration has been criticized for appearing insensitive to the Holocaust and anti-Semitism more broadly. Today's speech was a chance for Trump to dispel that impression, as NPR's national political correspondent Mara Liasson reports.

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: The Holocaust and anti-Semitism have been tricky subjects for Donald Trump. During the campaign, he was criticized for retweeting anti-Semitic posts and for being too slow to refuse support from David Duke, an anti-Semite and former Ku Klux Klan leader. The Trump White House failed to mention Jews at all in its statement on International Holocaust Remembrance Day in January, and recently, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said incorrectly that Adolf Hitler didn't use chemical weapons during World War II, ignoring the fact that millions of Jews were killed in Hitler's gas chambers.

But today President Trump delivered a strong indictment of anti-Semitism. We must never shrink from telling the truth in our time, he said. And he condemned those who would erase the Holocaust from history.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: 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.

(APPLAUSE)

LIASSON: The president was speaking at the United States Capitol, and he was joined by several Holocaust survivors. Mr. Trump said he was deeply moved to stand beside people who survived history's darkest hour. According to the Anti-Defamation League, anti-Semitic incidents have surged recently. The ADL reported that since the election, the number of incidents of anti-Semitic bullying and vandalism have doubled at secular elementary schools.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

TRUMP: We've seen anti-Semitism on university campuses, in the public square and in threats against Jewish citizens. Even worse, it's been on display in the most sinister manner when terrorists attacked Jewish communities or when aggressors threaten Israel with total and complete destruction. This is my pledge to you. We will confront anti-Semitism.

(APPLAUSE)

LIASSON: And he said...

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

TRUMP: We will stamp out prejudice. We will condemn hatred. We will bear witness, and we will act.

LIASSON: President Trump, who has an observant Jewish daughter and son-in-law, is sensitive to criticism that he hasn't said enough about anti-Semitism. When asked about the rise of anti-Semitic incidents during a press conference in February, he told a reporter from a Jewish publication to sit down. And then he said he was the least anti-Semitic person that you've ever seen in your entire life.

Since then, President Trump has been more outspoken about these incidents. In his speech today, he said he stood in awe of the unbreakable spirit of the Jewish people. Mara Liasson, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.