Trump’s Yad Vashem visit highlights mixed Holocaust record

JERUSALEM (AP) — President Donald Trump’s brief visit to the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial may prove to be the most explosive stop during a hypersensitive trip to Israel. While Trump touts his Jewish daughter and his strong support for Israel, he has suffered a series of missteps on Jewish issues and appeared cavalier at times about the Holocaust.

Nearly all foreign leaders make a pilgrimage to Yad Vashem’s vast complex in Jerusalem during official trips to Israel and most visits typically last about an hour and a half and include a tour of the museum. Previous American presidents have had lengthy, emotional visits.

But Trump’s team has allotted no longer than 30 minutes to Yad Vashem, citing the busy schedule of his 27-hour stay in Israel.

At Yad Vashem, Trump is supposed to participate in a short ceremony paying respect to the 6 million Jewish victims of the Holocaust, sign the guestbook and make brief comments before shuttling off to deliver a keynote speech elsewhere in Jerusalem.

Yad Vashem Chairman Avner Shalev is expected to present Trump with a gift: an exact replica of the original Holocaust-era personal album that belonged to Ester Goldstein, who was murdered during the Holocaust at the age of 16. Ester’s sister Margot Herschenbaum, the sole survivor of her immediate family, will be there to meet Trump.

Some critics have criticized the truncated visit as a slight.

Yad Vashem said official visits were “not standardized by protocol” and each was “unique and personalized” depending on the guest. While appreciating Trump finding the time to visit, Yad Vashem said it hoped his next visit would allow also for a tour of the museum.

Trump has come under fire for appearing to play to Jewish stereotypes during his presidential campaign and for being slow to speak out against anti-Semitism in America. His administration famously refrained from mentioning the murder of Jews in a Holocaust commemoration statement in January, and his spokesman compared Adolf Hitler favorably to Syrian President Bashar Assad.

But recently, Trump has made an effort to change these impressions. Last month, he visited the U.S. Holocaust Museum and described how “six million Jews had been brutally slaughtered” in a proclamation marking the weeklong Days of Remembrance of Victims of the Holocaust. He also called the Nazi genocide of Jews “the darkest chapter of human history” in a speech to the World Jewish Congress.

Zohar Segev, a faculty member at the Ruderman program for American Jewish studies at the University of Haifa, said he didn’t think the quick visit was meant to offend but that Trump probably just didn’t properly estimate the sensitivity.

“There is a lack of professionalism of the new administration,” Segev said. “Anyone who understands the significance of the Holocaust in Israel and in America would not make a move like this.”

It wouldn’t be Trump’s first blunder.

In January, he angered U.S. Jewish groups across the political spectrum with his comments on International Holocaust Remembrance Day that made no mention of the murder of Jews, in contrast with previous administrations. The statement was defended by the White House as inclusive.

Throughout his campaign, Trump was criticized for what some saw as not forceful enough denunciations of hateful rhetoric by some of his supporters. Trump himself tweeted an anti-Hillary Clinton image that included what appeared to be a Jewish Star of David atop a pile of money.

Then last month, Press Secretary Sean Spicer told reporters during a daily White House briefing about a chemical attack in Syria that Hitler “didn’t even sink to using chemical weapons.” The comment drew an instant rebuke from critics, who noted the remark ignored Hitler’s use of gas chambers to exterminate Jews during the Holocaust.

In response, Yad Vashem invited Spicer to visit its website so he could educate himself.

Itamar Levin of the News1 website said the style of Trump’s visit demeaned the Holocaust. “I don’t remember a single foreign leader who came to Yad Vashem just to say ‘I was there,'” he wrote.

Jonathan Sarna, a professor of American Jewish History at Brandeis University, speculated that the brief visit could represent a 21st century attitude of having enough of the Holocaust. “It’s painful for the older generation to hear, but there is a sense among young people that they have Holocaust overload,” he said.

Sarna said Trump’s upbringing in New York would surely have exposed him to the Holocaust and its impact on Jews. But as president he may not fully comprehend its lessons and how it continues to shape attitudes in Israel and beyond.

“It was just a week ago that we learned about a crematorium in Syria and for those who spend more than 15 minutes at a Holocaust museum that word resonates deeply,” he said. “At the end of the day. Mr. Trump doesn’t much like museums … I think this is a man who is much more interested in the future than in the past.”


Follow Aron Heller on Twitter at

Copyright 2017 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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