President Trump’s Inspirational Words on Israel and the New Year
Before the Sabbath, I participated in President Trump’s conference call with Jewish leaders for the new year. The invitation said that the President would “send well wishes for the upcoming holidays” and then move on to “discuss his administration’s progress on issues of interest to the Jewish community.”
The president was introduced by his son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner. He told the participants that no president had been more supportive of Israel than Trump — and that Trump would always be a true friend of the Jewish people.
He also asserted that “anyone [who] knows the President understands that he takes great pride in having a Jewish daughter and Jewish grandchildren.” A president with a Jewish grandchild has no precedent in our nation’s history. Being told of the president’s immense pride in his daughter, who converted to Judaism, and grandchildren during an official White House briefing has no precedent.
The president then took to the phone, and wished all those on the call, “Shana tova.” He went on to point out how the Jewish tradition of “taking time each year to rededicate your lives to the sacred values” of Judaism, “strengthens our nation and inspires us all.”
Trump expressed his “deep admiration” for the Jewish people, who had “endured unthinkable persecution.” He then recognized and honored the presence of Holocaust survivors who were on the call, telling them of the “lasting inspiration” that Americans draw from their perseverance despite having “witnessed evil beyond human comprehension.” He thanked them for telling their stories, which “help us to confront evil in our world.”
President Trump then expressed his firm commitment to Israel, pointing out that his connection ran far deeper than our vital security-interests, but were also rooted in our shared values. He said that Israel, to him, represented “resilience in the face of oppression” and “democracy in the face of violence.”
Trump referenced his support of Israel at the UN, and particularly his administration’s successful campaign to have the international body rescind its latest biased report against Israel, an action that he harshly termed “horrible.” He promised to help direct international attention toward the “real threats to our security, such as Iran, Hezbollah and ISIS.”
On a personal level, too, he assured us: “I love Israel.”
It was a deeply encouraging call, filled with statements of unambiguous and unconditional connection to Israel and the Jewish people.
This pre-Rosh Hashanah call has been a White House tradition since the Obama era. This year, some Jewish leaders decided not to participate. Graham Roth, a spokesman for the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, declared that “Reform rabbis, along with Reconstructionist and Conservative rabbis, decided to forgo hosting the annual High Holiday call with the president this year.” The decision, he pointed out, had not been made “lightly,” but was “necessary” following “the president’s lack of moral leadership in the wake of Charlottesville…”
Here, I must disagree.
The president’s response to the events in Charlottesville was, in my opinion, inadequate. and on some level, dubious. Even if there were extremist elements on “both sides,” only one of those sides was promoting a white supremacist and racist ideology that led to the murder of six million Jews, among many other horrible things. The two ends of this stick simply cannot be brought together for comparison.
Still, the president’s mis-step, which I publicly criticized, does not change what has been an incredibly strong record of support for the Jewish people and Israel.
From his time as a candidate, Trump has championed the Jewish state. No president fought for Israel at the UN in quite the way Trump has, with his phenomenal representative Nicky Haley. Trump was also the first president to visit the Western Wall, which had shockingly never happened before — not even during the eras of Clinton or Bush. Trump has also put pressure on countries such as Qatar to cease their financing of Hamas terror. With regard to the other major terror financiers, Mahmoud Abbas and his Palestinian Authority, Trump reportedly screamed at Mahmoud Abbas for having tricked him with false promises.
These are just a few examples, but they’re critical insofar as they represent a level of commitment to Israel that should earn widespread Jewish appreciation. Trump’s record isn’t perfect, but he certainly doesn’t deserve rabbis refusing to participate in his High Holiday call.
The most ironic part of all is that this comes just before Rosh Hashanah and the Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur. On these days, we as a people reflect on our own records. We ask repeatedly throughout the long prayer service that God acknowledge not only our misdeeds, but our acts of goodness and kindness. We ask that he understand our struggles and lend us an open ear.
This year, we’ll repeat that message again. But it’s not enough to say it. We have to internalize it and judge others the way that we ourselves hope to be judged.
President Trump deserves recognition and gratitude for his stalwart support for the Jewish state at a time when its enemies continue to call for its destruction. Those who disagree, which is their right, should, at the very least, give him a chance to be heard.
Shmuley Boteach, “America’s Rabbi,” whom the Washington Post calls “the most famous Rabbi in America,” is founder of The World Values Network and is the international best-selling author of 31 books. Follow him on Twitter @RabbiShmuley.