Trump Administration: Remarks on Rosh Hashanah
Press Call With Jewish Leaders
(September 6, 2018)
12:18 P.M. EDT
MR. KUSHNER: Thank you very much. I want to welcome everybody. And thank you for joining us today to celebrate the High Holidays. And it's my honor to introduce in a few minutes the President.
As we enter the final days of the month of Elul on the Jewish calendar, the Jewish tradition calls for the month leading into Rosh Hashanah to be one of introspection and reflection. Over the past year, we have accomplished a lot, and President Trump has proven himself to be a tremendous advocate for all American citizens, but particularly for the Jewish people.
It is my great honor to introduce the 45th President of the United States, Donald J. Trump.
THE PRESIDENT: Good afternoon. And thank you for joining this call. It's a great honor.
To many rabbis, the Jewish leaders, and friends who are on the line, I am delighted to wish you Shana Tova, a sweet new year. And you'll have many others. We really enjoy being with you. It's something I enjoy each year. May you be inscribed in the Book of Life.
I send my warmest wishes to the Jewish people in the United States and around the world as we approach the High Holy Days.
The Jewish practice of reflection, atonement, and remembrance during this holy period not only strengthens Jewish communities, but inspires all Americans.
This afternoon, I want to express my deep admiration and gratitude for the extraordinary contributions of the Jewish people to the United States and to the world.
Over the centuries, the Jewish people have suffered unthinkable persecution, yet you have not only endured, you have thrived and flourished as an example of humankind.
My connection to Judaism is also personal. I am the very proud father of a Jewish daughter, Ivanka, and my son-in-law, who I'm very proud of also -- I will say that very loudly -- Jared, and my several Jewish grandchildren, namely three beautiful Jewish grandchild that I love.
As we hear the sound of Shofar’s call this year, we have much to celebrate as a nation. Opportunities for all Americans are soaring. Record numbers of Americans are working; the highest number of people working in the United States is literally, today. We have never had more people working, and we have never had better unemployment numbers. We're setting records for unemployment -- the lowest unemployment we've ever had in almost every category. And it's a great honor to see that, and the people of our country greatly appreciate it.
Last year, I kept my promise to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, as we have since moved our embassy to Tel Aviv to its rightful home in the Holy City. In a moment, Ambassador Friedman will provide an update on our progress, but it's something that I'm very, very proud of. Other Presidents have promised it. Actually, I should say, to be more accurate, many other Presidents have promised it and all have failed to secure their promise.
In June, Secretary Pompeo and Ambassador Haley announced that the United States would withdraw from the anti-Israel United Nations Human Rights Council. We have already acknowledged that and will continue to defend Israel’s sovereign rights in all international forums.
Ambassador Friedman, Jason, Jared, and others are working hard to reach a peace agreement between the Israelis and the Palestinians. All my life I've heard that's the hardest deal to make, and I'm starting to believe that maybe it is. But I will say that if it can be delivered, we will deliver it. Jason will actually be talking about that shortly. And we have made progress, believe it or not.
Finally, a few weeks ago, my administration was proud to remove the last known Nazi criminal from the United States. I understand that Assemblyman Hikind, who has been very kind to me, and very nice -- I know he's a very strong Democrat but he was extremely nice when he did an interview in particular, as to what we did. But we worked tirelessly and we helped to make it possible. I know he and many others have been working on it for decades.
We're also deeply honored to be joined by several Holocaust survivors. It is a true privilege to be graced by your presence. And it marks the 5,779th in the Jewish calendar, so we renew our pledge to confront anti-Semitism and hatred in all of its forms.
I want to thank each and every one of you for your contributions to our communities and to our nation. Melania and I wish everyone a sweet and peaceful New Year. And it's really been a great honor.
I will now take a moment to ask Ambassador Friedman to say a few words. He's done a fantastic job as your ambassador. And, David, please say a few words.
AMBASSADOR FRIEDMAN: Thank you, Mr. President. It's a great honor to be on this call. Sorry, can everyone hear me?
THE PRESIDENT: I can. Yes.
AMBASSADOR FRIEDMAN: Okay, good. All right, well, again, thank you very much, Mr. President. It's a great honor to be on this call with you. And thank you for your kind words to the Jewish community.
As everyone knows, we opened the embassy on May 14th of this past year at exactly 4:00 p.m. It was not just the date, but actually even the time that David Ben-Gurion declared Israel's independence 70 years ago.
We opened the embassy, as President Trump likes to say, well ahead of time and well under budget. As he has said many times, hundreds of millions of dollars under budget. But we have a beautiful campus. We have continuously operated our embassy since May 14th. We have about 150 people working there already. We're beginning phase two of the construction period, which is beginning in a week or two. And we will roughly double the size by June of 2019. After that, we'll consider what final steps to make to complete the transition.
We are looking for a site, and we have -- we think we have that site located for the Ambassador's Residence -- something near and dear to my heart. And we'll have further announcements on that.
But I would tell you that the embassy in Jerusalem has become a major tourist site in Israel. People -- I'm there almost every day, and people just pull up their cars to the front of the embassy, they get out, they take pictures. I've seen some people praying there. I've actually seen many people crying there.
Many Cabinet members have come to visit. Many members of Congress have come to visit. I urge all of you to please come to visit. I’d love to see you all there. It's a very special place. It's a beautiful embassy that we're proud of it.
We're there, of course, because of the extraordinarily courageous decision of the President to move our embassy there. As he has said, it's something that has been a mandate from Congress for more than 25 years. It's been the will of the American people for longer than that. It's been tried and failed by so many predecessors.
And so I want to thank the President publicly, as I've done before, for this incredibly important and courageous decision. And to all those on the call, I'd like to say to you: [Speaks in Hebrew]. Happy [speaks in Hebrew]. May all of you be inscribed in the book of life and have a successful, peaceful, and joyous New Year. Thank you.
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you very much, David. And I believe Alan Dershowitz -- a terrific gentleman and a great lawyer -- is going to be asking me a couple of questions. And, Alan, do you want to start? Go ahead.
MR. DERSHOWITZ: Sure. Thank you, Mr. President. It's an honor to be asking you a question. I want to thank you for doing what previous Presidents promised to do, and that is recognizing the reality that Jerusalem is the eternal capital of Israel and moving the embassy there. I was honored to be at the opening.
I also want to congratulate you for correctly predicting that this move, which takes contentious issues off the table, would not be strongly opposed by Sunni Arab nations. But the Palestinian Authority has used it as yet another excuse to refuse to negotiate with Israel.
So, Mr. President, should the Jewish community be optimistic that you can help bring about a peaceful resolution of the conflict that we all pray for all the time?
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you, Alan. I think the answer to that is a very strong yes -- you should be. It is, as I said before, really considered to be one of the toughest deals to make of any kind. I don't kind what kind of a deal you're talking about. If you look at Israel and the Palestinians, it's always top of everybody's list in terms of levels of difficulty.
But we're going to be able to get it done. We did something that I now understand why so many Presidents before me didn't do. They would campaign and they were always going to talk. They were always talking about Jerusalem and the embassy, and it was all very beautiful and everybody was happy. And then they never did it.
I can tell you -- and I don't say it often, but I should say it to this very special group of people -- and you're very special, Alan: The fact that people heard that I was going to do it about two weeks out, I have never received so many phone calls from foreign leaders as I did, asking me not to do it. And it was one after another, "Please don't do it. Please don't do it." And some were very strong on it. Really -- "We really implore you, Mr. President. Please do not do it. It will be…" You know, I don't want to go into great detail, but some said it would be massive, massive problems. It would be weeks in hell.
And I said, "You know what? Thank you very much." And then it got to a point where about three or four days out, Alan, I wouldn't take phone calls. I'd say, "Let me tell them I'll call them back after Monday. I'll call them back after I do the announcement." So -- which is what I did. And then they, sort of, lost a lot of enthusiasm, because the announcement was made. A good way to do it.
But the fact is that I took something off the table. If you go back and look at your negotiations with the Palestinians over the years, the first thing was Jerusalem and moving the embassy to Jerusalem, thereby making it the capital.
And I will tell you, we've taken that off the table. You never got by. If you look at the negotiations, nobody got by that first point. You never got it. That's why the negotiations would normally end very quickly. Because the first question was that -- and you couldn't get by. So I've taken it off the table.
Now, does that mean Israel is going to do something that will (inaudible) for the Palestinians? Yes. What is it going to be? I can't tell you. But I can tell you that by doing what I did, Alan, we took the biggest bone of contention, a point that nobody ever got beyond for the second dilemma -- for the second problem -- they never got beyond it. We took it off the table. And I think it's actually going to help a lot in making a deal, as we say, with the Palestinians.
Now, most people think just the opposite. They said, "Oh, you did a mistake." Well, I disagree. I disagree. So I think that we have a very good chance of doing it.
And the other thing I did, Alan, I will tell you, is I stopped massive amounts of money that we were paying to the Palestinians and the Palestinian leaders. We were -- the United States was paying them tremendous amounts of money. And I'd say, you'll get money, but we're not paying you until we make a deal. If we don't make a deal, we're not paying. And that's going to have a little impact.
I said, "By the way, did you ever do that before?" I said to some of the past negotiators. "Did you ever do that before? Did you ever use the money angle?" They said, "No, sir. We thought it would be disrespectful." I said, "I don't think it's disrespectful at all. I think it's disrespectful when people don't come to the table."
So we're doing that. And I really do believe we're going to make a deal, Alan. I hope so. It would be a great thing to do.
Q Thank you so much, Mr. President. We all (inaudible).
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you. Thank you, Alan.
Q We all are there to help you if we can do anything. Thank you.
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you very much, Alan. You've been fantastic. Norm Coleman is here. And he's a man that's highly respected by a lot of people.
Norm, are you there?
Q Thank you, Mr. President. Mr. President, in the spirit of introspection and reflection that we as Jews are called upon to do this time of year, and on behalf of over 50,000 members of the Republican Jewish Coalition that I chair, please allow me to thank you for the courage and wisdom you've demonstrated, and the promises made and promises kept this year that have really strengthened the U.S.-Israel relationship.
And I'm just going to mention in three areas. And, by the way, this all follows the disastrous policies of your predecessor. And we talked about --
THE PRESIDENT: I agree with that.
Q -- in face of global opposition, Mr. President, you moved the U.S. Embassy to Israel's capital. I was there in May of 2000 [sic], last year, when you were the first sitting President, last May, to pray at the Western Wall, and then delivered a powerful speech side by side with Prime Minister Netanyahu.
Again, in face of global opposition, you cancelled an Iran deal that had guaranteed Iran a path to a nuclear weapon. You re-imposed sanctions in an Iranian regime that has been at the core of destabilizing the Gulf region through its nefarious activities in Yemen, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, and Gaza.
Two other areas, briefly, Mr. President. Thank you for -- and, by the way, and those of us who grew up in the '60s would say, having the courage and wisdom to speak truth to power by calling out the U.N.'s ongoing anti-Israel bias. You withdrew us from the Human Rights Council. You withdrew funding from UNRWA, with his anti-Semitic, anti-Israel agenda. And finally, Mr. President, let me thank you for the people you've surrounded yourself with. We've heard Jared, we've heard Ambassador Friedman. These folks, on a daily basis, are strengthening the U.S.-Israel relationship.
And Jason Greenblatt needs to be mentioned. John Bolton needs to be mentioned. A team you have at the State Department with a new sheriff in town at the U.N., Nikki Haley, with Secretary of State Pompeo. They demonstrate daily that we have Israel’s back and that Israel's security is central to U.S. security. And so, Mr. President, I thank you for the A team. Thank you for all you’ve done.
And now my question, Mr. President. And it is: Where do we go from here with Iran? What more can we do to neutralize Iran’s ongoing efforts to destabilize the Gulf region and continually threaten Israel’s existence?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, thank you very much, Norm. And I do have a good team. And, you know, I think probably -- not probably; without question -- and David can say this better than anybody -- that if somebody else were President, you wouldn’t have the embassy built for 20 years. It may never get built and it would have cost billions of dollars.
And people are talking about how great the site is. I know that when I originally did it, they were all out looking for land. And David and I said, “What do we have to get new land for? We have the best site already.” People are saying it’s like the best site; we already own it. So we’ve ended a renovation and it took -- we saved about a billion dollars, let’s put it that way. And you’ll add on, and you’ll make it more and more beautiful with time, but you have the best site and you have a great facility already. And we did it in four months instead of 25 years. So that wasn’t so bad.
Iran was something that I was against the deal from the first day I heard about it. I thought it was a horror show. It should never have happened. It was Obama -- President Obama. But the Congress was certainly complicit because they could have stopped it. It got done. They actually became worse; they became more hostile. You would’ve thought -- I always said, “They should thank us profusely for what we did.” We gave them $150 billion. Even crazier sounding to me is that we gave them $1.8 billion in cash. If anybody knows what $1.8 billion in cash looks like, I’m still trying to figure it out. They took the money out of banks from three major states and they didn’t have enough, so they ended using banks from other countries to get them the money. It was the craziest deal.
And, I said, if I get in, I'm going to consider, after studying it, terminating the deal. I had a Secretary of State that didn’t like terminating it. I played the game for a while; I wish I did it sooner. But I played that little game for a while, and then ultimately I decided I’m just doing it. And I did it.
And it’s had a tremendously positive impact on, I think really, world security -- because Iran is no longer the same country. From the day I did it, they’ve lost their mojo. And I will tell you that if you look at Iran now, when I -- if you go a day before I took over -- I don’t want to say the same day -- the day before I took over as President, Iran -- it was not a question of how big and how strong they were; it was a question of when will they take over the entire Middle East. And that probably includes Israel, in the mind of a lot of people.
And if you look at them today, they’re not looking at the Mediterranean any longer. They’re not looking at places that they were going to routinely take over. And I think Israel feels a lot safer than they’ve felt in many, many years.
Iran is fighting for their own survival. They’ve got demonstrations in every city. This is far worse than it was years ago when President Obama could’ve maybe crushed Iran if all they needed was a positive statement -- the people that were demonstrating. Well, these demonstrations are larger, but they’re more widespread. They’re all over the country.
So Iran is no longer the same country. I would imagine that they’ll be calling in the not-too-distant future to try and make a deal. If we can make a real deal, we’ll do it. If they don’t call, that’s okay too. Eventually, they’re going to have no choice. But we’ll see what happens.
I can only say from the standpoint of Israel, what I did was a great thing for Israel. And what I did was also a very good thing for world peace, because everywhere we went -- especially in the Middle East -- where there was a problem, Iran stood behind that problem.
So I cancelled the deal. I terminated the deal, like I said I would during the campaign. It turned out to have a much bigger impact than I thought. I did it primarily because of nuclear, but I knew it wouldn’t be great for their economy. I had no idea how devastating it would be.
As you know also, now the Europeans are finally leaving. They’re finally saying, “All right, look, this is just not working.” You know, they tried to play hardball for a little while but they’re now leaving and they’re doing the right thing. And the relationships I have with them are very good.
But it’s had a huge impact, Norm, on the country. And they are now really looking to survive and to -- I can’t use the word "prosper" because that’s not the right word -- but they are certainly looking to survive. And we’ll see what happens down the road. But that is not the same country that was in existence when I took over as President of the United States.
Thank you, Norm.
MR. COLEMAN: And, Mr. President, we thank you for your courage and wisdom and the impact -- positive effects it's had on the U.S.-Israel relationship.
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you, Norm, very much. Thank you.
MR. KUSHNER: Thank you everybody for taking the time to do this. Best wishes to all of you for Shana Tovah, and happy and healthy New Year. And we look forward to seeing a lot of you soon. All the best.