State of the Union 2018

Jewish groups criticize Trump on immigration, praise him on Iran

US organizations slam president’s remark that he has ‘protected religious liberty,’ commend him for Israel support

US President Donald  Trump claps during the State of the Union address in the chamber of the US House of Representatives in Washington, DC, on January 30, 2018. (AFP PHOTO / POOL / Win McNamee)
US President Donald Trump claps during the State of the Union address in the chamber of the US House of Representatives in Washington, DC, on January 30, 2018. (AFP PHOTO / POOL / Win McNamee)

US Jewish organizations on Tuesday offered mixed reactions to US President Donald Trump’s State of the Union address, with many praising him over his recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and for underlining the danger posed by Iran, while criticizing his stance on immigration, tax cuts, healthcare, and religious liberties.

B’nai B’rith issued a statement saying it “salutes President Donald J. Trump for his steadfast support of Israel during his State of the Union address,” adding that “the refusal of the global community to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s rightful capital has long been objectionable.”

“Israel is the only country in the world whose choice of a capital is not internationally recognized. We commend this administration for its unequivocal support of Jerusalem and for reviving the US-Israel relationship,” it said, referring to the US president’s December 6 declaration.

However, the organization expressed “disappointment” with Trump’s tax cuts and the administration’s efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act healthcare program, known as Obamacare, saying the act had “done a commendable job of keeping health care premiums for older people somewhat in check.”

US President Donald J. Trump (R) greets U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Neil M. Gorsuch during the State of the Union address in the chamber of the U.S. House of Representatives January 30, 2018 in Washington, DC. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images/AFP)

In his 80-minute address, Trump vowed to pursue immigration policies that focus on the “best interests of American workers and American families.”

“Americans are dreamers too,” Trump said.

His remark came as 700,000 immigrants brought to the United States illegally as children, the so-called “Dreamers,” risk losing their protected status while the White House and Congress square off over their fate.

On immigration, B’nai B’rith called for “both parties to agree on a plan for comprehensive immigration reform.”

But other Jewish groups expressed strong criticism of Trump’s rhetoric around the need for immigration reform, including the US president’s equation of immigrants with criminals and economic tension and call on a packed joint session of Congress to enact hardline restrictions.

Trump lamented that for decades, “open borders” had allowed “drugs and gangs to pour into” the United States, and again called for the construction of a border wall that remains unfunded in Congress.

“The United States is a compassionate nation,” he said, “but as president of the United States, my highest loyalty, my greatest compassion, and my constant concern is for America’s children, America’s struggling workers, and America’s forgotten communities.”

The Hebrew Immigration Aid Society (HIAS) tweeted that “closing our doors on those seeking refuge or in need is not what we stand for. It is NOT the American way.”

The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) expressed similar sentiments.

“Justice delayed for immigrant youth is justice denied,” it said in a tweet. “Congress must take action to pass the #DreamActNow. Our children deserve a future where equal access to the American dream is embraced.”

This file photo taken on October 05, 2017 shows protesters during a demonstration against US President Donald Trump during a rally in support of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), also known as Dream Act, near the Trump Tower in New York. (AFP PHOTO / Jewel SAMAD)

Jewish organizations were particularly irked by Trump’s statement that his administration was “totally defending our Second Amendment” and has “taken historic actions to protect religious liberty.”

The ADL tweeted that Trump’s administration “should not be making it harder for people to access services under the guise of ‘religious freedom.‘ They should be enforcing anti-discrimination protections, not enabling discrimination.”

The organization was referring to a program by the Department of Health and Human Services designed to regulate “activities that violate conscience,” which it said could potentially make it “easier for healthcare providers to discriminate against women, LGBTQ people and others in the name of religion.”

Rabbi Jack Moline, president of the Interfaith Alliance, said in a statement that the US president “clearly doesn’t know what the words ‘religious liberty’ mean if he thinks he’s taken historic action to protect it. His actions in his first year as president have in fact significantly undermined the rights of people of faith whose beliefs don’t align with the president’s allies in the Religious Right.”

Meanwhile, some American Jewish organizations voiced support for Trump’s reiteration of his tough stance on Iran and opposition to the 2015 nuclear deal signed between Tehran and world powers.

“We agree with the president’s assessment that the Iran nuclear agreement is not a good deal,” said B’nai B’rith, adding that “the global threat posed by Iran’s access to nuclear weapons cannot be overstated.”

The ADL, meanwhile, said it urged Trump and Congress to “pursue legislation which targets Iran’s support for terror, and continue working to ensure that the regime does not engage in illicit nuclear activities.”

Agencies contributed to this report.

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