By Kanishka Singh
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. President Joe Biden told top American rabbis on Thursday that he felt antisemitism has "risen to record levels" and was a big challenge for the entire country, while also taking a dig at Republican former President Donald Trump over the issue.
"Antisemitism has risen to record levels," Biden said in a call with U.S. rabbis to commemorate the Jewish High Holidays.
"In the past several years, it has been given too much oxygen," Biden added.
The Democratic president said in the call that the 2017 "Unite the Right" white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, made him decide that he should run for president.
The rally followed months of protests over the city's plan to remove a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee. Hundreds of white nationalists traveled to Charlottesville in August 2017, with some marching on the University of Virginia campus carrying torches and chanting "Jews will not replace us!"
Trump, who was president at the time, was criticized for initially saying there were "fine people on both sides" after the rally devolved into violent clashes.
"That is when I decided I had to stay engaged instead of walking away," Biden said in the call on Thursday, quoting Trump's remarks from then. The president added: "Silence is complicity."
Trump denies allegations of antisemitism.
The social and political climate in the United States has become fertile ground for antisemitism in recent years, according to a report released in April by advocacy group Anti-Defamation League (ADL) and the Tel Aviv University.
Expressions of hatred against Jews have become "mainstreamed and normalized," and incidents of violence, vandalism, and harassment of Jews have increased, the report had said.
More than 3,600 antisemitic incidents were recorded in the United States in 2022, more than in any year since ADL began tracking the issue in 1979.
(Reporting by Kanishka Singh; Editing by Christopher Cushing)