HOLLYWOOD, Fla. (AP) — President Donald Trump said Saturday that Israel has never had a better friend in the White House than him because, unlike his predecessors, “I kept my promises.”
Trump energized an audience that numbered in the hundreds at the Israeli American Council National Summit in Florida by recounting his record on issues of importance to Jews, including an extensive riff on his promise to recognize Jerusalem as the Israeli capital and relocate the U.S. Embassy there from Tel Aviv.
Trump said his predecessors only paid lip service to the issue.
“They never had any intention of doing it, in my opinion,” Trump said. “But unlike other presidents, I kept my promises.”
Trump also highlighted his decision to reverse more than a half-century of U.S. policy in the Middle East by recognizing Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights, the strategic highlands on the border with Syria.
Israel captured the Golan Heights from Syria in the 1967 Mideast war but its sovereignty over the territory had not been recognized by the international community.
In his speech, the president also claimed there are some Jewish people in America who don’t love Israel enough.
“We have to get the people of our country, of this country, to love Israel more, I have to tell you that. We have to do it. We have to get them to love Israel more,” Trump said, to some applause. “Because you have Jewish people that are great people — they don’t love Israel enough.”
Aaron Keyak, the former head of the National Jewish Democratic Council, denounced Trump’s remarks as anti-Semitic.
“Trump’s insistence on using anti-Semitic tropes when addressing Jewish audiences is dangerous and should concern every member of the Jewish community — even Jewish Republicans,” Keyak said.
Trump has been accused of trafficking in anti-Semitic stereotypes before, including in August, when he said American Jews who vote for Democrats show “either a total lack of knowledge or great disloyalty.” A number of Jewish groups noted at the time that accusations of disloyalty have long been made against Jews.
The Israeli American Council is financially backed by one of Trump’s top supporters, the husband-and-wife duo of Miriam and Sheldon Adelson, a Las Vegas casino magnate.
Both Adelsons appeared on stage to introduce Trump, with Miriam Adelson asserting that Trump “has already gone down in the annals of Jewish history, and that is before he’s even completed his first term in office.”
The Adelsons donated $30 million to Trump’s campaign in the final months of the 2016 race. They followed up by donating $100 million to the Republican Party for the 2018 congressional elections.
Trump’s entourage at the event included Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson, along with Republican Reps. Jim Jordan and Michael Waltz, whom he described as “two warriors” defending him against “oppression” in the impeachment inquiry.
Trump criticized Israel’s sworn enemy, Iran, saying he withdrew the U.S. from the Iran nuclear deal with other world powers because Tehran must never be allowed to obtain a nuclear weapon
But Trump voiced support for Iranian citizens who have been protesting a decision by their government to withdraw fuel subsidies, which sent prices skyrocketing.
Trump said he believes thousands of Iranians have been killed in the protests and that thousands more have been arrested.
“America will always stand with the Iranian people in their righteous struggle for freedom,” he said.
The president introduced his son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner, who has played a leading role in helping the administration craft its Mideast peace plan.
A self-described deal-maker, Trump said he had long been told that achieving peace between Israel and the Palestinians would be the hardest deal of all.
But ”ïf Jared Kushner can’t do it, it can’t be done,” Trump said.
The White House has said its Mideast peace plan is complete and had promised to release it after Israeli elections in September. The long-delayed plan remains under wraps, and Israel appears headed for its third round of elections this year.
The plan also is facing rejection by Palestinian officials, who object to the pro-Israel leanings of the Trump administration.
During his speech, Trump also name-dropped Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., criticizing her for supporting the “BDS” movement against Israel: boycott, divest and sanction. In August, at Trump’s urging, Israel denied Omar and Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., entry to the country over their support for the BDS movement. Omar and Tlaib are the first two Muslim women elected to Congress and outspoken critics of Israel over its treatment of Palestinians.
“My administration strongly opposes this despicable rhetoric,” Trump said. “As long as I am your president, it makes no difference. It’s not happening.”
Before addressing the Israeli American Council summit, Trump spoke at the Florida Republican Party’s Statesman’s Dinner in nearby Aventura. The state GOP closed the event to media coverage.
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This story has been corrected to show that the name of the group is the Israeli American Council, not the American Israeli Council.