Trump’s Hanukkah par­ties cel­e­brate de­ci­sion to move Is­rael Em­bassy

The Jerusalem Post - - NEWS -

WASH­ING­TON (JTA) – Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump presents as an anti-Barack Obama, boast­ing about how much of his pre­de­ces­sor’s work, from the courts to im­mi­gra­tion to med­i­cal care to the Iran deal, he has un­done.

Trump, nat­u­rally, men­tioned un­do­ing the Iran deal at both of his Hanukkah par­ties on Thurs­day.

But in that “both” lies a con­ces­sion that Trump likely will never cop to: He has taken up a tra­di­tion that Obama ini­ti­ated, dou­bling the num­ber of Hanukkah par­ties to two. (Last year, the White House hosted one Hanukkah party.)

His spe­cial guests at the first party were eight Holo­caust sur­vivors. The sec­ond fea­tured the Pol­lack fam­ily, who lost a daugh­ter, Meadow, in the mass shoot­ing in Park­land, Flor­ida, this year.

The mood was fes­tive, ac­cord­ing to those at­tend­ing. Men­tions of Trump’s pro-Is­rael moves were cheered and then, at the be­hest of one of the guests (not iden­ti­fied in pool re­ports) cheered harder.

From the pool re­port, filed by a Con­gres­sional Quar­terly re­porter: “PO­TUS ap­plauded the Jewish peo­ple for build­ing Is­rael into a ‘mighty and ma­jes­tic na­tion.’ He then pledged his ad­min­is­tra­tion would al­ways stand be­side Is­rael. That, and what was per­ceived as tepid ap­plause, led one of the gen­tle­men called on­stage by Trump to shout from over his left shoul­der, ‘Let’s hear it, ev­ery­body. Go! C’mon!’ as he en­cour­aged them to cheer louder. The crowd obliged as PO­TUS smiled.”

Then: “As PO­TUS be­gan speak­ing about rec­og­niz­ing Jerusalem as the cap­i­tal, the same gen­tle­man again urged the crowd to make more noise. Again, they obliged. PO­TUS thanked them. That’s when the ‘four more years!’ chant started. Some­one in the crowd noted, once the math is com­pleted from this date, it would be ‘six more years.’ Trump ex­pressed his agree­ment with the 2 + 4 equa­tion.”

Some folks in the room at the af­ter­noon party were non­plussed when Trump in­tro­duced Vice Pres­i­dent Mike Pence and his wife, Karen, as ad­mir­ers of “your” coun­try – that is, Is­rael.

“I want to thank Vice Pres­i­dent Mike Pence. A tremen­dous sup­porter (ap­plause), a tremen­dous sup­porter of yours. And Karen. And they go there and they love your coun­try. They love your coun­try. And they love this coun­try. That’s a good com­bi­na­tion, right?”

That raised a few eye­brows in the room, a par­tic­i­pant told JTA, and en­gen­dered com­men­tary out­side of it, where peo­ple won­dered whether Trump un­der­stood that Amer­i­can Jews tend to love Is­rael, but are, well, Amer­i­can (or at least re­sent any in­sin­u­a­tion, in­tended or not, that they put the for­mer be­fore the lat­ter).

“Just a nice re­minder that the line be­tween an­tisemitism and philosemitism is so, so thin,” Shayna Weiss, the as­so­ciate di­rec­tor of the Schus­ter­man Cen­ter for Is­rael Stud­ies at Bran­deis Univer­sity, said on Twit­ter.

The ace in Trump’s hand is his de­ci­sion one year ago to move the US Em­bassy to Jerusalem, which the hawk­ish pro-Is­rael crowd and the Evan­gel­i­cal com­mu­nity loved and even pro-Is­rael cen­trists found hard to crit­i­cize. He of­ten men­tions it at cam­paign events, and of course, he men­tioned it at the Hanukkah par­ties.

“They lit­er­ally had me sign­ing some­thing – over a bil­lion dol­lars – to build the em­bassy,” he said, speak­ing at length of the costs of the re­lo­ca­tion. “And [US Am­bas­sador] David [Fried­man] said, ‘You know, we al­ready own a site. It’s the best site in all of Jerusalem. The build­ing is set back. We could ren­o­vate the build­ing, and we could do it for less than $200,000.’ So I said, ‘So you got a bil­lion and it will prob­a­bly never get built or you got $200,000.’ Now what I said to David – I said – first time I’ve ever done this in my en­tire life – I said, ‘David, I never said this be­fore, but $200,000 is too cheap.’ ‘You got to raise it. How about $400,000?’ And we did it for right around $400,000, us­ing all Jerusalem stone.”

As he of­ten does, the real es­tate mogul turned politi­cian man­gled the num­ber, con­flat­ing the $400,000 it cost to move the em­bassy op­er­a­tion to an ex­ist­ing Jerusalem con­sulate build­ing with the costs over time of ren­o­vat­ing the build­ing to meet US Em­bassy spec­i­fi­ca­tions (an es­ti­mated $21 mil­lion), let alone the $1 bil­lion it might cost to build an en­tirely new em­bassy – which might yet hap­pen.

The ex­ist­ing build­ing was al­ready “all Jerusalem stone,” which is a re­quire­ment of the Jerusalem mu­nic­i­pal­ity.

Trump, in pre­pared re­marks, noted the re­siliency of the Jewish peo­ple, and how that is cel­e­brated dur­ing Hanukkah, and also spoke of the mas­sacre in Oc­to­ber at a Pitts­burgh syn­a­gogue, when an an­tisemitic gun­man killed 11 wor­shipers.

There also was a nod to post-elec­tion bi­par­ti­san­ship. Last year, the White House in­vited no con­gres­sional Democrats (al­though the over­whelm­ing num­ber of Jews in Congress are Democrats). This year they were in­vited, per­haps a nod to the Demo­cratic vic­tory in the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives. Turn­ing up were Reps. Ted Deutch of Flor­ida and Josh Got­theimer of New Jer­sey, as well as Jared Po­lis, the gover­nor-elect of Colorado.

It was (as it ever is) a busy Hanukkah week in the na­tion’s cap­i­tal. The Is­raeli Em­bassy hosted a Hanukkah party the same day (guests got a first-day is­sue of the Hanukkah stamp that Is­rael and the US are dis­tribut­ing at the same time). The con­gres­sional party took place at the Li­brary of Congress, co­hosted in comity by Rep. Deb­bie Wasser­man Schutz (D-Fla.) and Lee Zeldin (R-NY). And the Repub­li­can Jewish Coali­tion had its bash at the Trump In­ter­na­tional Ho­tel.

Ear­lier in the week, the Aus­trian and Pol­ish em­bassies hosted par­ties – the lat­ter for the first time – and it was in con­junc­tion with Is­rael’s Em­bassy, a sig­nal of warm­ing ties be­tween the coun­tries.

The fes­tiv­i­ties were launched Sun­day with the “Na­tional Meno­rah” light­ing on the El­lipse, in front of the White House – the event or­ga­nized for 25 years now by Amer­i­can Friends of Lubav­itch. This year, In­te­rior Sec­re­tary Ryan Zinke raised the crane to light the can­dle with Amer­i­can Friends of Lubav­itch ex­ec­u­tive vice pres­i­dent Rabbi Levi Shem­tov.

Shem­tov or­ga­nizes a slew of light­ings around the cap­i­tal, in­clud­ing one Mon­day night at the World Bank, and this coming Mon­day at the Pen­tagon.

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