Congressional Democrats Left Out of White House Hanukkah Party

Congressional Democrats Left Out of White House Hanukkah Party


“People are in a celebratory mood and just kvelling over this incredible, historic moment,” said Morton Klein, the president of the Zionist Organization of America, who attended the reception as well as a “Hanukkah Nightcap” party afterward at the Trump International Hotel. That affair was hosted by the Republican Jewish Coalition, the organization funded by the casino magnate and Republican superdonor Sheldon Adelson, and America First Action, a political action committee staffed by Trump allies.

Representatives Lee Zeldin of New York and David Kustoff of Tennessee, the two Jewish Republicans in Congress, were attending the party, their offices said. But Jewish Democrats left off the invite list — many of whom have been harsh critics of Mr. Trump — were not in a festive mood.

“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 M. Lowey of New York said in a statement.

This year, officials slashed the size of the annual reception, inviting around 300 guests to one soiree instead of hosting 1,700 over two parties as in the past.

Among those who did not make the cut were Rabbi Rick Jacobs, the president of the Union for Reform Judaism, who in August criticized Mr. Trump for his handling of the neo-Nazi march in Charlottesville, Va. On Wednesday, Rabbi Jacobs said the president should not have made his declaration about Jerusalem, arguing that it could undermine the chances of achieving peace between Israelis and Palestinians.

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Representative Nita M. Lowey, Democrat of New York, in June in Washington.

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Andrew Harnik/Associated Press

The White House chalked up the limited guest list to a new approach from the president.

“I am not aware of the political affiliation of any of the guests, but I do know that this year was meant to be more personal than political,” said Stephanie Grisham, a spokeswoman for Melania Trump, the first lady, whose office oversees White House party planning. She declined to elaborate.

But for some invitees, the message was clear.

“He did not invite people who have been hostile to him,” Mr. Klein said in an interview. He should know. After being invited to the 2009 White House Hanukkah party during President Barack Obama’s first year in office, Mr. Klein was later cut from the guest list after condemning the former president in scathing terms. (Last year, Mr. Klein referred to Mr. Obama as a “Jew-hating anti-Semite.”)

Officials from J Street, a progressive pro-Israel group that strongly backed Mr. Obama and the nuclear deal he forged with Iran — which was detested by many conservative Jews — were excluded.

Malcolm Hoenlein, the executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, said Mr. Trump’s proclamation on Jerusalem was a “consensus issue in the Jewish community.” He said it would add to an ebullient mood at the Hanukkah party, which is to mark an eight-night festival beginning Tuesday night that celebrates the Jews liberating their temple from oppressors.

Vice President Mike Pence and his wife, Karen, mingled at length with guests, attendees said, and both he and Mr. Trump were showered with compliments about the Jerusalem speech.

“It was very festive and appropriate,” said Nathan J. Diament, the policy director of the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America, who brought his 12-year-old son, Josh. “People were telling them, ‘Thank you,’ and, ‘Congratulations.’

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Morton Klein, of the Zionist Organization of America, speaking last month at a congressional hearing about moving the American Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem.

Credit
Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images

The attendance of a Supreme Court justice, Stephen G. Breyer, nominated in 1994 by President Bill Clinton, a Democrat, was the only hint of bipartisanship at the gathering, Mr. Diament said.

At the party at the Trump International Hotel, in a small room adjoining the presidential ballroom, guests gathered to eat fish roe, latkes, egg salad and salmon. Attendees mingled with an assorted band of Republican representatives, including Mike Gallagher of Wisconsin, Lee Zeldin of New York and Don Bacon of Nebraska.

Other boldfaced names in the Trump orbit, including David A. Clarke Jr., a former sheriff of Milwaukee County, and Jill Kelley, the Tampa socialite, mingled near the bar. Several guests clutched copies of the book “Let Trump Be Trump,” by Corey Lewandowski, the president’s first campaign manager, which he had been signing earlier in the lobby.

Duvi Honig, the founder of the Orthodox Jewish Chamber of Commerce, a group that works to encourage business opportunities and shape public policy, was also in attendance. Of the earlier reception, he said he believed the White House had focused on inviting allies and “new kids on the block” versus people who had been invited every year in the past.

“The president’s making a nice statement recognizing how he’s judging success,” said Mr. Honig, who recently returned from a trip to Israel with the former White House communications director Anthony Scaramucci. “He’s an investor. He sees where the return is.”

Mr. Honig, who took photographs with Mr. Pence and Mr. Adelson, said he was impressed with Mr. Trump’s “calm, confident” demeanor at the White House.

“He wasn’t bragging about Jerusalem,” Mr. Honig said. “He said it was the right thing to do. He showed America that we can lead and make a controversial decision.”

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