President Donald Trump failed to invite Jewish Congressional Democrats to the White House’s annual Hanukkah party on Thursday night, demonstrating that Washington partisanship can poison even the most benign religious holidays.
The decision shocked some Jewish Democrats, who observed that previous presidents had invited members of the opposing party to religious holiday parties.
“Why would you make partisan decisions about invitations that are entirely not partisan?" Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) told McClatchy News. "Hanukkah is something that’s important to all Jews; the tradition is to invite the Jewish members of Congress.
“My feelings certainly aren’t hurt by not being invited but the few opportunities that we do have to come together certainly should include a celebration like Hanukkah,” she added.
Other representatives, however, were offended.
“It’s deeply unfortunate that the White House Hanukkah Party — a bipartisan event bringing together Jewish and non-Jewish leaders alike to celebrate the Festival of Lights since 2001 — has turned into a partisan affair under this administration,” Representative Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.) said in a statement.
There are 30 Jewish members of Congress, only two of whom are Republican. Some of the Trump administration’s most vocal critics, including Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders and California Representative Adam Schiff, are Jewish.
The party for the eight-day Jewish celebration was held just one day after Trump made the controversial decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. The move was criticized by leaders across the Arab world who said the decision signaled the end of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process that is being led by Trump’s son-in-law and adviser Jared Kushner, who is Jewish. The decision was also criticized by members of the Reform Jewish movement and other progressive American Jews.
In what appeared to be a conscious effort to exclude anyone who criticized his policies, Trump also failed to invite members of the Reform Jewish movement or any progressive Jewish activists to the Hanukkah party.
Wasserman Schultz, who was elected to Congress in 2005, told McClatchy she was invited to White House Hanukkah parties hosted by former Republican President George W. Bush. Jewish Republicans were also reportedly invited to attend White House Hanukkah celebrations under former President Barack Obama, a Democrat.
During the celebration, Trump’s Jewish grandchildren, the children of Ivanka Trump and her husband, Kushner, lit a menorah.
Morton Klein, president of the Zionist Organization of America, attended the party and called Trump's decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital as a "historic moment," and implied that the president didn't want to spoil the festive occasion by inviting critics.
“People are in a celebratory mood and just kvelling over this incredible, historic moment,” Klein told The New York Times, using the Yiddish word for "gushing with pride and joy." “[The president] did not invite people who have been hostile to him."
The Hanukkah party was also held days before the holiday begins on Tuesday night, something Trump criticized former President Obama for having done years earlier.
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