It was eight years ago this week that Donald Trump was outraged that then-President Barack Obama hosted a Hanukkah celebration at the White House two weeks before the start of the holiday. Nevertheless, Trump hosted a Hanukkah celebration at the White House yesterday, two weeks before the start of the holiday.
But as HuffPost noted, the event itself became notable for entirely different reasons.
President Donald Trump signed an executive order aimed at tackling anti-Semitism on college campuses on Wednesday – but one of the speakers at the event has said that Jews are going to hell.
Trump signed the order at a White House Hanukkah reception, with several prominent Jewish Americans in attendance, including New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft and Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz.
But the president also called upon evangelical Christian leader Robert Jeffress to speak, claiming he’s a “tremendous faith leader.”
The Republican’s executive order is important in its own right, but it’s worth pausing to question the propriety of having Robert Jeffress, of all people, speak at a Hanukkah reception.
Indeed, this comes on the heels of Team Trump’s decision to have Jeffress deliver the opening prayer at the opening of a new U.S. embassy in Israel. It led Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) to explain in a tweet, “Robert Jeffress says ‘you can’t be saved by being a Jew,’ and ‘Mormonism is a heresy from the pit of hell.’ He’s said the same about Islam. Such a religious bigot should not be giving the prayer that opens the United States Embassy in Jerusalem.”
And he probably shouldn’t be speaking at a White House Hanukkah reception, either, but Trump can’t seem to help himself.
Circling back to our earlier coverage, Trump may have forged close ties to the radical pastor – the president included Jeffress in his inaugural festivities, used Twitter to promote Jeffress’ book, and welcomed him into the Oval Office – but it’s a difficult relationship to defend.
As regular readers may recall, Jeffress first rose to national political prominence during the 2012 presidential campaign, when he partnered with then-Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s (R) campaign and had some unkind words for rival Romney. Specifically, Jeffress targeted Romney’s faith, saying the Republican was “a member of a cult.”
A controversy soon followed, and much of the country learned of Jeffress’ record of over-the-top extremism on issues throughout the so-called “culture war,” with the Texan having lashed out at everyone from gays to Mormons to Muslims to Catholics (he’s described Roman Catholicism as a “cult-like pagan religion,” which represents “the genius of Satan.”)
Of particular relevance today, he’s also said “you can’t be saved by being a Jew.” As recently as four years ago, Jeffress even insisted that Christians in the United States are persecuted in ways comparable to Germany’s treatment of Jews before the Holocaust.
Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) once said to associate with Robert Jeffress was “beneath the office of president of the United States.”
Trump, however, doesn’t seem to care.