US President Donald Trump skipped the first of two White House Hanukkah parties held Wednesday, but stopped by the second and wished guests a Happy Hanukkah before going on to lament the “stolen” election he insisted he had won.
The two parties were held indoors even as coronavirus cases have surged throughout the United States, leading many of those invited to refrain from attending. Footage from the receptions posted on social media showed guests wearing masks, but not always social distancing, particularly when they crowded toward the East Room stairs to listen to Trump speak.
While Trump was a no-show at the earlier event, which was headlined by Treasury chief Steve Mnuchin, those who attended the second party had better fortune as the president popped in toward the end.
“Let me just wish everybody a happy Hanukkah, and to about three of you here a merry Christmas,” the president joked to laughter from the crowd, filled largely with supporters along with some Jewish community leaders.
“This is the one that everyone wants tickets to… I see the faces [of] a lot of friends [here], a lot of talent here,” Trump told the crowd.
He then segued into a speech he has made regularly in the past month, falsely insisting he had defeated Joe Biden and that the election had been “stolen” from him, two attendees said.
In footage posted to social media, Trump can be heard saying he was “2-0” in elections and that he had “tremendous cases” seeking to challenge the results of the vote, which saw Biden defeat him 306 to 232 in the electoral college.
He went on to assert that with the help of “certain very important people, if they have wisdom and if they have courage, we are going to win this election,” he said, apparently referring to the Supreme Court justices.
The president was repeatedly interrupted by chants of “We love you” and “Four more years” by supporters in the crowd.
Over 100 people attended each party, the first held in the afternoon and the second in the evening. One attendee speaking on the condition of anonymity said he had purposefully attended the first party as that had been the “main event,” supposed to be graced by senior officials. At the earlier reception in 2019, Trump signed an executive order targeting anti-Semitism on college campuses.
“I was hoping he’d sign an order in support of Israeli sovereignty in the West Bank, but unfortunately he didn’t make an appearance,” the attendee said, while noting that Mnuchin and White House peace envoy Avi Berkowitz stopped by.
Unlike previous years, there was no ceremonial lighting of the hanukkiah either. However, the White House band did play “Hava Nagila.”
Zionist Organization of America board chairman Mark Levenson, who attended the first reception, said that while he understood why some were hesitant to attend, it was important for him to show up in order to demonstrate “hakarat hatov,” or gratitude, to the president.
Others condemned Trump and those who attended for the indoor events. Several previous events hosted by Trump, who has largely scorned mask-wearing and social distancing, have been branded superspreader events and dozens among Trump’s inner circle have caught COVID-19.
Rabbi Jill Jacobs, who heads T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights, called the event a “hillul Hashem,” or desecration of God’s name.
Trump has gained rockstar status among some conservative supporters of the Jewish state for a slew of pro-Israel moves, including recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, moving the US embassy there, recognizing Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights and introducing a peace plan that envisions Israel annexing all West Bank settlements.