Were Jewish Democrats Banned from White House Hanukkah Party?

Only two Jewish members of Congress, both Republicans, received invitations to the Trump White House's first Hanukkah celebration.

  • Published 11 December 2017

The guest list for the annual White House Hanukkah party was considerably smaller in 2017 than in previous years, in part because no House or Senate Democrats were invited. The New York Times has reported:

The latkes were fried and the kosher lamb chops were prepared on Thursday [7 December], 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.

Out of a total 30 Jewish members of Congress, only two received invitations this year, and they were both Republicans, according to the Times: Representatives Lee Zeldin of New York and David Kustoff of Tennessee. The party was held a day after President Trump announced his historic decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and move the U.S. Embassy there from Tel Aviv despite criticism from global leaders that it might harm the Middle East peace process. 

Vice President Mike Pence, Jared and Ivanka Kushner, and a number of other top officials of the Trump administration also attended the party. According to the Times of Israel, the only invitee with views notably to the left Trump’s was U.S. Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer:

Several Jewish cabinet members were also in attendance, including Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, Secretary of Veteran Affairs David Schulman and Trump’s special Middle East peace envoy Jason Greenblatt.

While there were no Congressional Democrats or other notable Democrats present, Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer, who is Jewish, was there, donning a kippah. Breyer was appointed to the high court by former president Bill Clinton.

Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Florida) was among those who was not invited to the Hanukkah celebration. It didn’t hurt her feelings, she told McClatchy DC, but said the partisan guest list broke with tradition and was an “unforced error” on Trump’s part:

When you have a celebration at the White House, the people’s house, to mark the festival of lights and have an event that is designed to be unifying and bringing a community together and celebrating with that community, why would you tinge that celebration with partisanship?

Similarly, Rep. Nita M. Lowey (D-New York) told the New York Times:

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.

Trump supporter and party attendee Morton Klein, president of the Zionist Organization of America, confirmed to the New York Times that “[Trump] did not invite people who have been hostile to him.”

But Klein disagreed that withholding invitations from critics of the administration was unprecedented, noting he had stopped receiving invitations to President Obama’s White House Hanukkah parties for much the same reason.

A spokeswoman for First Lady Melania Trump, whose office is responsible for organizing White House holiday parties, told the Times she wasn’t aware the party affiliations of the invitees and said the event was “meant to be more personal than political.” 

We asked the White House for further clarification on the guest list policy but did not receive a reply by publication time.

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