By Jacqueline Hyman
Views expressed in opinion columns are the author’s own.
Last Thursday, President Donald Trump held the annual White House Hanukkah Party with a significant change from previous years – he didn’t invite any Democrats.
In the past, the event has always been a bipartisan celebration that emphasizes the importance of recognizing multiple faiths in the U.S. Former President George W. Bush started the tradition in 2001, and former President Barack Obama continued it throughout his presidency. Both invited lawmakers across parties.
Trump’s exclusive move is unfavorable for two main reasons. First, this exclusion kept a majority of Jewish lawmakers away from the party. Only two Jewish Congressmen, Reps. Lee Zeldin,R-NY, and David Kustoff, R-TN, attended. Second, it shows that Trump is too hung up on partisan division to honor the significance of a Jewish holiday in a friendly manner.
According to The New York Times, Trump also didn’t invite Reform Jewish leaders or progressive Jewish activists who have disagreed with him to the celebration. While there were certainly Jews – especially from Trump’s own family – in attendance, it just was not enough. In fact, Trump’s grandchildren, who are Jewish, lit the menorah. The Times reported that there were about 300 invitees for one night, while in the past there have been two parties with about 1,700 guests total.
Trump claims to be a friend of the Jewish people, yet his administration has constantly mishandled official statements in this area. On Holocaust Remembrance Day in January, Trump’s statement failed to mention Jews. In April, former Press Secretary Sean Spicer made an inaccurate comparison between Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Adolf Hitler. Now, declining to invite so many Jews to a party celebrating a Jewish holiday is unacceptable.
When Bush lit the menorah for Hanukkah in 2001, he said that the White House is “the people’s house, and it belongs to people of all faiths.” This is an honorable – and ideally true – statement that embraces diversity of spirituality and opinions. While Trump continued the party tradition, he is not making the White House “the people’s house.” By denying access to Jewish lawmakers, he showed that he cares more about being on top than being accepting of or willing to cooperate with all types of people.
It’s disheartening to see a country so divided that people across parties can’t join together to just have a nice, fun celebration of the Festival of Lights.
“It’s deeply unfortunate that the White House Hanukkah Party — a bipartisan event bringing together Jewish and non-Jewish leaders alike to celebrate the Festival of Lights since 2001 — has turned into a partisan affair under this administration,” Rep. Nita M. Lowey,D-NY, said in a statement to The New York Times.
Furthermore, Trump broke a 20-year-old tradition this summer by not hosting an iftar dinner for Ramadan, which Hillary Clinton resurrected in 1996 as first lady. This and the White House Hanukkah Party shouldn’t be opportunities for the president to flaunt his disagreements with particular people or an entire party. These holidays should be chances to celebrate unity between people of different faiths, not to prove that the U.S. is a Christian-centric nation that doesn’t tolerate other religions.
Jacqueline is a senior journalism and English major. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.