columnJewish & Israeli Holidays

Hanukkah 2019

Happy Hanukkah from Trump and Johnson

Two world leaders convey much more than conventionally sappy, Hallmark card-like messages to Jews celebrating the Festival of Lights.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in London on Sept. 5, 2019. Photo by Chaim Tzach/GPO.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in London on Sept. 5, 2019. Photo by Chaim Tzach/GPO.
Ruthie Blum. Photo by Ariel Jerozolomski.
Ruthie Blum
Ruthie Blum, former adviser at the office of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, is an award-winning columnist and senior contributing editor at JNS, as well as co-host, with Amb. Mark Regev, of "Israel Undiplomatic" on JNS-TV. She writes and lectures on Israeli politics and culture, and on U.S.-Israel relations. Originally from New York City, she moved to Israel in 1977 and is based in Tel Aviv.

Politicians across the globe have been issuing holiday greetings in public statements and on social media. It’s a standard practice every December, particularly when Hanukkah and Christmas actually coincide, as they do now.

This year is exceptional, however, with two world leaders conveying much more than conventionally sappy, Hallmark card-like messages to Jews celebrating the Festival of Lights. Yes, U.S. President Donald Trump and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson each bestowed a gift befitting of the story and celebration of Hanukkah—the defeat of Antiochus and his attempt to Hellenize Jews and wipe out Judaism.

Trump’s present, which he delivered at the annual White House Hanukkah party, was the Executive Order on Combating Anti-Semitism. Its stated aim is to stamp out the growing Jew-hatred on American college campuses by warning educational institutions that tolerating such behavior would result in the withholding of government funding (i.e., taxpayers’ money) from them.

Though the president’s crucial document is under attack by a number of groups, including Never Trumpers, BDS supporters and left-wing Jews with a convoluted view of the E.O.’s contents, it is about as close to a Hanukkah miracle as one can get these days.

Trump’s move came less than a week after the landslide victory of British Prime Minister Boris Johnson over Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, whose fostering of anti-Semitism in his party was so blatant that even longtime Jewish supporters were unable to deny it.

Among Johnson’s first orders of business—aside from Brexit, of course—was to make good on his vow to tackle BDS. Indeed, during the traditional debate that follows the Queen’s Speech at the House of Commons in honor of the opening of each new parliament, Johnson announced that his government would “stop public bodies from taking it upon themselves to boycott goods from other countries to develop their own pseudo-foreign policy, against a country which with nauseating frequency turns out to be Israel.”

The above political gestures gave serious weight to the subsequent sentiments expressed in the Hanukkah blessings of each.

Trump’s message, released by the White House on Dec. 22, reads in part: “Melania and I send our warmest wishes to Jewish people in the United States, Israel, and across the world as you commence the 8-day celebration of Hanukkah.

“More than 2,000 years ago, the Maccabees boldly reclaimed the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, securing a victory for the Jewish people and their faith. They proudly lit the menorah to rededicate the Second Temple. Even though there was only enough olive oil to burn for one day, through divine providence, the flames miraculously burned for eight nights. … Throughout the coming eight days, each candle to be lit on the menorah will signal to the world that freedom and justice will always shine brighter than hate and oppression.

“Today, the relationship between the United States and Israel, one of our most cherished allies and friends, is stronger than ever. We will continue to stand with the Jewish people in defending the God-given right to worship freely and openly … ”

Johnson posted a two-minute video on Twitter, in which he said: “To all our Jewish friends, neighbors and relatives, wherever you are in the world. … [I]t is a time to celebrate not just the miracle of the oil, but also your unique identity, to pop the … menorah in the window and say to the world, just as Judah and his small band of poorly equipped Maccabees said to Antiochus III and his mighty Greek army all those years ago, ‘I am Jewish and I am proud of it.’

“And that’s really important right now, because I know that recent years have not been easy ones for British Jews. In the media, on the streets and particularly online, anti-Semites have, in alarming numbers, been emboldened to crawl out from under their rocks and begin once again to spread their brand of noxious hatred far and wide. But as you kindle the Hanukkah light[s] … in the nights to come, I want you to remember this: When the Maccabees drove the forces of darkness out of Jerusalem, they had to do so on their own. Today, as Britain’s Jews seek to drive back the darkness of resurgent antisemitism, you have every decent person in this country fighting by your side. Because Britain would not be Britain without its Jewish community. And we will stand with you and celebrate with you at Hanukkah and all year round.”

Trump’s and Johnson’s words are especially apt in light of the assault against Israel launched on Friday by the International Criminal Court. Responding to a petition by the Palestinian Authority, ICC chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda announced the opening of an investigation into Israeli “war crimes” allegedly committed by the Israel Defense Forces during “Operation Protective Edge” in Gaza in 2014. The absurd probe is the latest in a long line of discriminatory measures taken against the Jewish state by the so-called “international community.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addressed this very issue when he lit the first Hanukkah candle at the Western Wall in Jerusalem on Sunday with U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman.

“2,200 years ago, the Maccabees fought the war of liberation for the Jewish people and the Jewish faith against the anti-Semitic Greeks,” said Netanyahu. “They wanted to extinguish our faith, to stamp on our freedom, to drive us out of this land, to say that we have no right to exist.”

He went on: “We have fought against immeasurable odds, as no people has fought in history. We crossed the abyss from extinction to survival, independence and now a thriving democracy. And yet, we find ourselves now, in the beginning of the 21st century—in the year 2019—where the International Criminal Court, that should know otherwise, has set forth decrees that are just as anti-Semitic as the decrees of the Greeks.”

Trump and Johnson couldn’t have said it better themselves.

Ruthie Blum is an Israel-based journalist and author of “To Hell in a Handbasket: Carter, Obama, and the ‘Arab Spring.’ ”  

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