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Trump: Threats against Jewish centers ‘horrible and painful’

President Donald Trump speaks after touring of the

President Donald Trump speaks after touring of the National Museum of African American History and Culture, Tuesday, Feb. 21, 2017, in Washington. From left are, Candy Carson, Housing and Urban Development Secretary-designate Dr. Ben Carson, Trump, and Alveda King, niece of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Credit: AP / Evan Vucci

WASHINGTON - President Donald Trump voiced condemnation Tuesday of hate acts against the Jewish community, labeling them “prejudice and evil” amid criticism he has denounced such violence only vaguely.

His statement came after a wave of bomb threats Monday against 11 Jewish community centers around the nation and the vandalism of headstones at a Jewish cemetery near St. Louis.

“The anti-Semitic threats targeting our Jewish community and community centers are horrible and are painful and a very sad reminder of the work that still must be done to root out hate and prejudice and evil,” Trump said.

The president spoke after a visit to the National Museum of African American History, saying the tour served as a reminder of “why we have to fight bigotry, intolerance and hatred in all of its very ugly forms.”

He vowed to “bring this country together.”

He told MSNBC the anti-Semitism “has to stop.”

The White House has faced increasing pressure to directly condemn a spate of anti-Semitic acts, including online harassment, that began as Trump prepared to take office.

Since the start of the year, there have been 68 incidents at 53 Jewish community centers, according to the JCC Association of North America. All the bomb threats were hoaxes.

Some called Trump’s direct denouncement too little, too late.

“The president’s sudden acknowledgement is a Band-Aid on the cancer of anti-Semitism that has infected his own administration,” said Steven Goldstein, executive director of the Anne Frank Center for Mutual Respect, calling Trump’s statement “a pathetic asterisk of condescension.”

Jonathan Greenblatt, chief executive of the Anti-Defamation League, which has criticized the administration’s handling of hate acts, welcomed Trump’s remarks while urging the White House to release a plan to curb and stop the violence.

White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said he wished the Anne Frank Center had praised Trump.

Asking about what steps the administration will take to curb anti-Semitism, Spicer said Trump shows his stance through “deeds and actions” but did not detail any plans to investigate, prevent or otherwise address the issue.

He said the president has been “very forceful” in denouncing bigotry and wants to unify and represent all Americans.

Trump last week responded to reporters’ questions about what the federal government could do to combat anti-Semitism by discussing his Electoral College victory and his Jewish son-in-law, and by insisting he is not anti-Semitic or racist.

Also Tuesday, Spicer disputed reports that retired Vice Adm. Robert Harward turned down an offer to be national security adviser because he couldn’t choose his own staff.

Harward wanted the job but couldn’t commit due to financial and family reasons, Spicer said.

Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, newly appointed to the role, has full authority to “structure the national security team the way he wants,” the press secretary said.

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