President Donald Trump, speaking to nearly 1,000 Jewish leaders on a call 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.
The conference call included over 1,500 Jewish leaders.
Several guests, like Managing Director at the Coalition for Jewish Values Chief Rabbi Yaakov Menken, were surprised by the statement.
In the 13-minute call, held two days ahead of Rosh Hashanah, Trump recounted how he asked an Israeli citizen what the nicest thing he’s done for Israel is, and that they told him it was pulling out of the Iran deal.
“The point is if he were planning to reverse it — that is, if he were planning a second Iran deal — he wouldn’t have mentioned that on a call with Jewish leaders,” Menken, from Upper Park Heights, said. “One thing people do not accuse Trump of is subtlety.”
Rabbi Rory Katz of the Congregation of Chevrei Tzedek in Cheswolde was not surprised, though.
“I think it unfortunately represents his misunderstanding of the Jewish community.” Katz was not among the clergy who participated in the call, but she pointed out that for Trump to mention this in a neutral holiday greeting insinuated that he thinks all Jews have the same political stance.
“A lot of American Jews supported the Iran deal. It is a conflation between Israel and American Jewish people,” Katz said.
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 deadliest enemy.
Trump recently parted ways with John Bolton, his national security adviser, who had counseled increasing the threat of military engagement as a means of forcing Iran to end its nuclear programs.
“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.”