President Donald Trump led his first address to Congress by condemning the recent bomb threats on Jewish institutions and vandalism of cemeteries.
“Tonight, as we mark the conclusion of our celebration of Black History Month, we are reminded of our nation’s path toward civil rights and the work that still remains,” Trump said at the opening of his speech Tuesday night. “Recent threats targeting Jewish Community Centres and vandalism of Jewish cemeteries, as well as last week’s shooting in Kansas City, remind us that while we may be a nation divided on policies, we are a country that stands united in condemning hate and evil in all its forms.”
Close to a hundred Jewish institutions have been targeted with bomb threats since the beginning of the year.
Trump has come under fire for delayed responses. In the case of the threats on Jewish establishments, Trump at first deflected questions – and in one instance shouted abuse at a reporter – before calling the threats “horrible” last week.
Jewish leaders who had criticised the president for his fumbled responses praised the inclusion of the reference in his speech.
“Powerful for @POTUS to note anti-Semitism at top of speech,” Rabbi Rick Jacobs, the president of the Union for Reform Judaism, said on Twitter. “Key now is to investigate and end terror campaign.”
Jonathan Greenblatt, the Anti-Defamation League CEO, sounded a similar note.
“Thanks @POTUS for condemning #hate against Jews & immigrants,” Greenblatt said on Twitter. “Now let’s fight it. See our plan. Let’s do it together.”
Much of Trump’s speech was focused on his plans to restrict current immigration practices, impose law and order, repeal the Affordable Care Act, the Obama administration’s signature law, and reform trade agreements with other countries.
Trump also alluded to his efforts to improve ties with Israel, which were beset by tensions between President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. He noted that – like Obama had – he imposed sanctions on Iran individuals and entities after the country tested a ballistic missile.
“I have also imposed new sanctions on entities and individuals who support Iran’s ballistic missile program, and reaffirmed our unbreakable alliance with the State of Israel,” he said.
Greenblatt in a tweet called on Trump to reaffirm the U.S. commitment to a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict; Trump earlier this month retreated from 15 years of U.S. commitment to the two-state outcome.
“POTUS reaffirmed unbreakable alliance w #Israel & threat posed by #Iran,” Greenblatt said. “Hope he also will reaffirm commitment to 2 state solution & true peace in region.”
Democrats sat silent through much of the speech, refraining from applause and making thumbs down movements when they disagreed. All the women in the Democratic caucus in the U.S. House of Representatives wore white, an initiative of Rep. Lois Frankel, D-Fla., who is Jewish.
Frankel told People Magazine that the white hearkened back to the Suffragettes, and was meant to protest Trump rollbacks of reproductive rights and other protections for women.