POTUS On The Line

Trump tells Jewish leaders that Israelis appreciate his actions on Iran

The president wished the Jewish community ‘many, many great years together.’

Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead

President Donald J. Trump signs an EO on Iran Sanctions in the Green Room at Trump National Golf Club Sunday, August 5, 2018, in Bedminster Township, New Jersey.

Speaking to Jewish leaders on Friday, President Donald Trump said that his actions against Iran were — according to Israel’s top diplomat — the most significant measures affecting the Jewish state that his administration has taken since coming into office.

During an annual conference call with rabbis and Jewish community leaders ahead of the High Holidays, Trump described a conversation he had this week with “a friend of mine.” The president was likely referring to a chat he had on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly with Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz. 

“I asked him, ‘So, which was more important — bringing the Jerusalem [issue] into effect by having our embassy go to Jerusalem, thereby becoming the capital of Israel, or the [recognition of the] Golan Heights?’ I said, ‘Which of those two things, in your opinion, were more important — Jerusalem or the Golan Heights?’” the president recalled. “And he said, ‘Neither! It’s what you have done to us with Iran.’ And I said, ‘You know, I never thought of it that way, but I probably happen to agree with you.’”

According to a statement provided by Katz’s office immediately following the photo op, the foreign minister told Trump that the decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital was more important because it acknowledged the historical connection of Jews to the holy city.

In the 12-minute call, the president did not mention Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The call comes more than a week after Israel’s redo election, after which Trump appeared to distance himself from the embattled premier. Last Wednesday, Trump offered a reserved response to Netanyahu’s failed attempt to garner enough support to decisively declare victory. The president told reporters at the time that he had not spoken to Netanyahu since the election. “Look, our relationship is with Israel,” Trump said. “We will see what happens.”

In last year’s conference call, Trump said American Jews and Israelis should be ‘optimistic’ about peace between Israel and the Palestinians. “I really do believe we are going to make a deal. I hope so,” the president proclaimed at the time. There was no mention of the still-unreleased peace plan on Friday’s call.

New Iran deal? “We offered to talk,” Trump told participants about the situation with Iran. “I have shown great restraint and hope that Iran, likewise, chooses peace. I can’t tell you exactly what’s going to be happening, but we are extraordinarily ready… It will work out. I can’t tell you exactly how and why, but it will work out because it always does. I have a tendency to make things work out, one way or the other. Sometimes it’s not pretty but it happens.”

Combating antisemitism: The president, referencing the deadly shootings at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh and Chabad of Poway in San Diego, pledged to combat hate and antisemitism.

Four more years? Trump concluded the call by saying, “We will have many, many great years together.”

Hebrew pronunciations: At the beginning of his remarks, Trump wished the community a “Shanah Tovah” and spoke about the “shofar,” an instrument typically constructed out of a ram’s horn and sounded during the High Holidays. 

List of attendees: Unlike previous years, the call was not exclusive. A registration link was circulated by several supportive Jewish groups in ahead of the call.  By 11 a.m. a message on the registration link read, “This event has reached capacity and can no longer accept new registrants.” Rabbis from the Reform and Conservative Jewish movements told The Forward they would participate in the conference call, after boycotting it the last two years.

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