Despite repeatedly calling it his favourite book, Donald Trump appeared to admit he doesn’t know much about the Bible, after telling a roomful of religious leaders he “may not know it very well at all”.
In his remarks, Mr Trump invoked Robert Jeffress, an Evangelical pastor and Fox contributor who previously called the president a “Christian warrior” and said that removing him from office would create a “Civil War-like fracture” in the US. Mr Jeffress also once said Jews were going to hell but also prayed to “bless those who bless Israel and curse those who curse Israel”.
The president said: “I didn’t know him, but I watched him, and I’d watch him on different shows. I said,’ I like that guy. Man, he talks really great about me, and I like people that talk well about me.’ He was saying, ‘He may not be the greatest Christian I’ve ever seen, he may not know the Bible quite as well as the rest of us, in fact he may not know it very well at all, but that guy’s a real leader.'”
His comments on Wednesday followed the signing of an executive order that effectively defines Judaism under federal law as a race and nationality, as well as a religion, triggering Civil Rights Act protections that prevent educational institutions receiving federal funding from discriminating against people based on their national origin.
Critics have warned that the order is a dangerous move that conflates criticism of Israel with antisemitism and could be used to silence campus campaigns calling for Israeli divestment and to end Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories. Under the order, those actions could be condemned as a form of antisemitism.
The executive order quotes a definition of antisemitism from the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance as a “certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred towards Jews” which can manifest “towards Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, towards Jewish community institutions and religious facilities”.
However, the order excludes a part of the definition that says “criticism of Israel similar to that levelled against any other country cannot be regarded as antisemitic”.
Emily Mayer, political director of the Jewish advocacy group IfNotNow, said the executive order is “just more antisemitism.”
She said: “The order’s move to define Judaism as a ‘nationality’ promotes the classically bigoted idea that American Jews are not American … This order is a dangerous move to silence the free speech of human rights advocates and, in particular, Palestinian and Muslim college students.”
In August, the president approvingly shared a quote on Twitter from Christian convert and radio host Wayne Allyn Root, who called Mr Trump the “King of Israel” and criticised “American Jews” who don’t support the president.
The move also comes after Mr Trump faced allegations of antisemitism after telling the Israeli American Council in Florida that they had no choice but to vote for him in 2020 because Democrats proposed increased taxes on the wealthy.
In his appeal to Evangelical Christian voters, Mr Trump has repeatedly shared his apparent love for the Bible on the campaign trail
Asked in an August interview with Bloomberg Politics whether he has a favourite book of the Bible, Mr Trump said: “I wouldn’t want to get into because to me that’s very personal … The Bible means a lot to me, but I don’t want to get into specifics.”
When asked if he had a favourite verse, the president said: “No, I don’t want to do that.”
Asked whether he enjoys the Old Testament or the New Testament, Mr Trump said: “Probably equal. I think it’s just an incredible… the whole Bible. I think it’s just incredible. The whole Bible is incredible.”
He added: “I joke, very much so, they always hold up the Art of the Deal, I always say, ‘My second favourite book of all time.'”