'I just left Israel recently, I love Israel'

Trump to Jewish leaders: Hopes for ‘significant progress’ soon on Mideast peace

In traditional High Holy Days conference call not including Conservative, Reform and Reconstructionist Jewish movements, president condemns anti-Semitism

US President Donald Trump speaking on the phone in the Oval Office on June 27, 2017. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)
US President Donald Trump speaking on the phone in the Oval Office on June 27, 2017. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

WASHINGTON — During a pre-Rosh Hashanah conference call with American Jewish leaders on Friday, US President Donald Trump said he hoped there would be “significant progress” on the Middle East peace process by the end of the year.

“I am very hopeful that we will see significant progress before the end of the year. Ambassador David Friedman, Jared, Jason and the rest of my team are working very hard to achieve a peace agreement. I think it’s something that actually could happen,” Trump said, according to a transcript of the call released by the White House.

Trump was referring to his son-in-law and adviser Jared Kushner, who introduced the call, and peace envoy Jason Greenblatt.

Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is set to meet with Trump in New York on Monday, as world leaders gather for the UN General Assembly. There have been no indications as to whether Trump will also meet with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

It is not clear what progress Trump was talking about. Despite several visits by the president’s envoys to the region, they have yet to present concrete plans for the resumption of the long-moribund peace process.

Included in the call were leaders from the Orthodox Union, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, the Simon Wiesenthal Center and the Zionist Organization of America.

Leaders from the Conservative, Reform and Reconstructionist Jewish movements had earlier declined to participate in the call,  citing “the president’s lack of moral leadership in the wake of Charlottesville.” Some of them were then left off the invitation list for the call.

In the six-minute call with no Q&A, Trump  covered a number of bases: He condemned anti-Semitism, declared his love for Israel and vowed to protect American Jews after a year in which they’ve been the targets of bomb threats and other expressions of virulent hatred.

“The United States will always support Israel not only because of the vital security partnership between our two nations, but because of the shared values between our two peoples,” the president said. “And I can tell you on a personal basis, and I just left Israel recently, I love Israel.”

Trump also condemned those who spread anti-Semitism and hate.

“We forcefully condemn those who seek to incite anti-Semitism, or to spread any form of slander and hate — and I will ensure we protect Jewish communities, and all communities, that face threats to their safety,” he said.

Trump hailed the Jewish communities’ contribution to America.

“I want to thank each of you for the ways in which you contribute to our nation. America is stronger because of the many Jewish Americans who bring such life, hope, and resilience to our nation,” he said. “Melania and I wish everyone a sweet, healthy and peaceful New Year.”

Kushner spoke of Trump’s connection to Judaism.

“Anyone that knows the president understands that he takes great pride in having a Jewish daughter and Jewish grandchildren. His love and respect for the Jewish people extends way beyond his family, and into the heart of Jewish American communities,” Kushner said, referring to his wife Ivanka Trump.

President Donald Trump and Jared Kushner, left, at the Western Wall in Jerusalem, May 22, 2017. (Israel Bardugo/via JTA)

The call has revealed a divide within the organized American Jewish community about its overall relationship with Trump, particularly in the wake of the neo-Nazi march in Charlottesville.

And indeed, the day before the call Trump again reiterated that “both sides” were to blame for the white supremacist violence in Charlottesville.

While many of the Jewish leaders felt obliged to take a stand against the president, others have insisted on the need to engage with the man who holds the nation’s highest position of power.

“It’s significant and meaningful when the president of the United States acknowledges the upcoming High Holy Days and conveys a sense of appreciation and support for the Jewish community,” said Nathan Diament, who heads the OU Advocacy Center. “That’s not something we should take for granted.

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