The White House said President Biden was referring to a call he had with the rabbi of the Tree of the Life synagogue in Pittsburgh when he recently spoke about “spending time” there after 11 congregants were killed by a gunman.
“I remember spending time at the, you know, going to the, you know, the Tree of Life synagogue, speaking with them,” Mr. Biden said Thursday. The synagogue’s executive director later said he never visited.
Mr. Biden “was referring to a call he had with the Tree of Life rabbi in 2019,” a White House official clarified in a statement Friday, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency (JTA) reported.
Jeffrey Myers, the synagogue’s rabbi, confirmed the phone conversation occurred, JTA said in its report.
“We spoke about the challenges of antisemitism, and he made clear he would confront it with us as president,” he said, according to the report. “The conversation meant a great deal to me, and I will always be grateful for his kind words and continued support of our community.”
A lone suspect has been charged with the October 2018 massacre at the Tree of Life, the deadliest attack on the Jewish community in U.S. history. Robert Gregory Bowers had pleaded not guilty to all counts.
Mr. Biden made the comment about spending time at Tree of Life during a speech to Jewish leaders. Barb Feige, the synagogue’s executive director, told The New York Post afterward that he never visited.
Critics of Mr. Biden were quick to call out the president once his claim became disputed.
“LIAR-IN-CHIEF?” asked the conservative news site Breitbart. “Is anybody tracking this dude’s lies?” questioned Buzz Patterson, a Republican running to represent California’s 7th Congressional District.
“The ultimate irony: the person who actually did visit in 2018 with members of the Jewish community? His predecessor,” the Republican Jewish Coalition said on Twitter.
Then-President Trump and several of his Jewish advisers visited Tree of Life three days after it was attacked. They were welcomed by the synagogue but protested by a crowd of several hundred people.