Vowing to confront Iran, Trump scolds ‘the vile poison of anti-Semitism’
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State of the Union 2019Israel only mentioned once, in praise of embassy move

Vowing to confront Iran, Trump scolds ‘the vile poison of anti-Semitism’

In key address to joint session of Congress, president brings Pittsburgh survivor as guest, says Jerusalem embassy move fueled by ‘pragmatic realism’

Eric Cortellessa covers American politics for The Times of Israel.

US President Donald Trump gives his State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress, February 5, 2019, at the Capitol in Washington, as Vice President Mike Pence, left, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi look on. (Doug Mills/The New York Times via AP, Pool)
US President Donald Trump gives his State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress, February 5, 2019, at the Capitol in Washington, as Vice President Mike Pence, left, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi look on. (Doug Mills/The New York Times via AP, Pool)

WASHINGTON — US President Donald Trump strongly condemned anti-Semitism Tuesday night as he vowed to confront Iran and learn the lessons of the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting, during his 2019 State of the Union address.

In the speech before a joint session of Congress, in which the president laid out his policy agenda for the next year and lambasted the special counsel’s investigation, Trump spent a fair portion of time on the subject of Jew-hatred.

He contextualized his Iran policy by castigating the regime’s rapacious anti-Semitism.

“We will not avert our eyes from a regime that chants, ‘Death to America,’ and threatens genocide against the Jewish people,” Trump said. “We must never ignore the vile poison of anti-Semitism, or those who spread its venomous creed. With one voice, we must confront this hatred anywhere and everywhere it occurs.”

The need to take a strong stance against Tehran, the president implied, was evident in the attack at the Tree of Life Synagogue — believed to be deadliest act of anti-Semitic violence in American history.

“Just months ago, 11 Jewish Americans were viciously murdered in an anti-Semitic attack on the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh,” Trump said, as he introduced SWAT officer Timothy Matson, who responded to the scene, and Judah Samet, a Holocaust survivor who also survived the attack.

A makeshift memorial stands outside the Tree of Life synagogue in the aftermath of a deadly shooting in Pittsburgh, on October 29, 2018 in which eleven Jews were killed while at Shabbat services. (AP/Matt Rourke)

“He arrived at the synagogue as the massacre began,” Trump said of Samet, who was also celebrating his 81st birthday. “But not only did Judah narrowly escape death last fall — more than seven decades ago, he narrowly survived the Nazi concentration camps.”

Trump visited the synagogue shortly after the attack with his Jewish daughter Ivanka and son-in-law Jared Kushner, who is also his senior adviser.

Earlier this year, the president withdrew the United States from the Iran nuclear deal and renewed sanctions on the Islamic Republic, actions that he said in his speech were intended to “ensure this corrupt dictatorship never acquires nuclear weapons.”

Trump made one mention of Israel in his speech, which lasted over an hour. During an extended segment on his Middle East policy, the president suggested he would diverge from the way previous White Houses had tried to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“Our approach is based on principled realism — not discredited theories that have failed for decades to yield progress,” he said. “For this reason, my administration recognized the true capital of Israel — and proudly opened the American embassy in Jerusalem.”

View of the US embassy in Jerusalem’s Arnona neighborhood, May 13, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Trump only briefly mentioned his decision to pull US troops out of Syria, a policy decision to which Jerusalem was deeply opposed. Israel has repeatedly warned in recent years that Iran is seeking to establish a military presence in Syria, where it is fighting alongside its Lebanese proxy Hezbollah and Russia to shore up the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad.

Israeli officials have also warned that America’s absence would open the door for Tehran to create a so-called “land bridge” from Iran, through Iraq and Syria, into Lebanon and to the Mediterranean Sea.

“As a candidate for president, I pledged a new approach.” Trump said. “Great nations do not fight endless war. When I took office, ISIS controlled more than 20,000 square miles in Iraq and Syria. Today, we have liberated virtually all of that territory from the grip of these bloodthirsty killers.”

He continued: “Now, as we work with our allies to destroy the remnants of ISIS, it is time to give our brave warriors in Syria a warm welcome home.”

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