JTA — US President Donald Trump, speaking to nearly a thousand Jewish leaders to wish them a Happy New Year on the eve of Rosh Hashanah, said he would be tough with Iran but did not want military conflict.
“Our country is reminded of the infinite ways Jewish families uplift our nation,” Trump said in the 13-minute call early Friday afternoon. “You embody the American dream.”
Trump introduced Elan Carr, the State Department’s anti-Semitism monitor, who gave a brief accounting of his work combating anti-Semitism on the far-left, the far-right and among Islamist extremists.
Norm Coleman, the chairman of the Republican Jewish Coalition and a former Minnesota senator, thanked Trump for intensifying sanctions on Iran but asked him what more he planned to do about Israel’s regional enemy.
Trump recently parted ways with John Bolton, his national security adviser, who had advised increasing the threat of military engagement as a means of forcing Iran to rein in its activities abroad and end its nuclear programs. Trump is reluctant to engage militarily. Bolton, notably, is close to the right-wing pro-Israel establishment.
“I don’t want military conflict,” Trump said. “We’ve offered to talk, we’ve offered to discuss things… I’ve shown great restraint and hope that Iran likewise chooses peace.”
Trump reviewed his pro-Israel record, noting his move of the US Embassy to Jerusalem in 2018 and his recognition this year of the Golan Heights as belonging to Israel.
Trump also took a question from Ellen Hershkin, the national president of Hadassah, about the importance of increasing Holocaust education in American schools. Trump agreed with the sentiment.
Leaders of non-Orthodox streams joined in the Rosh Hashanah call for the first time since Trump’s election. In 2017, they boycotted the call because of Trump’s equivocation in condemning neo-Nazi marchers in Charlottesville, Virginia. Last year, they were not invited to join the call.
Rabbi Debra Newman Kamin, the president of the Rabbinical Assembly, the union of Conservative rabbis, told the Forward on Thursday that its board had taken a vote and decided to have a representative participate in the call this year.
“The overall sense was, regardless of how people feel about the president, that respect should be shown for the office of the president,” she said.
A spokesperson for the Union for Reform Judaism also said a representative would participate in the call Friday, the Forward reported.
The Reform and Conservative movements, the two largest Jewish denominations in America, had traditionally organized the annual call, which dates back to the Eisenhower administration.
Tony Blinken, a former deputy national security adviser who is a top adviser to former Vice President Joe Biden, the leading contender as of now among Democrats to run against Trump next year, also spoke with Jewish leaders on Wednesday. He reviewed the Obama administration’s record of assistance to Israel.
The controversy over Trump’s July phone call to Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky and this week’s launch of an impeachment inquiry by Democrats was not broached during the call.