Congressional Democrats Left Out of White House Hanukkah Party


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

WASHINGTON — The latkes were fried and the kosher lamb chops were prepared on Thursday, just as in past years, for the first White House Hanukkah party of the Trump era. But there was one prominent break with tradition: President Trump did not invite Democratic lawmakers.

Mr. Trump, who prizes loyalty and seldom forgets a slight, left Democratic members of Congress off his Hanukkah list this year, according to congressional aides tracking the invites. He also did not invite Reform Jewish leaders who have been critical of him or progressive Jewish activists who have differed with him publicly on policy issues.

The move injected a partisan tinge into a normally bipartisan celebration at the White House, where on Thursday Mr. Trump spoke to a crowd standing amid Christmas trees.

“Hanukkah is a time for Jewish families around the world to celebrate the miracles of the past and the promises of the future,” Mr. Trump said. “We are proud to stand with the people of Israel and renew our enduring bond.”


Rabbi Rick Jacobs, left, at a meeting for Reform Jews this week in Boston. Credit M. Scott Brauer for The New York Times

This year’s Hanukkah party was all the more joyous for attendees because it came the day after Mr. Trump delighted many Jews, particularly those politically allied with him, by declaring Jerusalem the capital of Israel and recommitting himself to moving the American Embassy there.

“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 planned to attend 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.

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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.


Representative Nita M. Lowey, Democrat of New York, in June in Washington. Credit Andrew Harnik/Associated Press

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.

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.

Ezra Friedlander, a public policy consultant, said Mr. Trump would be “cheered like a rock star” at the party in light of his speech on Jerusalem.

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