(February 5, 2020 / JNS) In the annual State of the Union address in front of a joint session of Congress on Tuesday night, U.S. President Donald Trump touted, albeit briefly, his policies on Iran and other areas of the Middle East.
In what was a 78-minute speech in the U.S. House of Representatives that mostly focused on domestic policy, Trump called out Tehran’s nuclear program and sponsorship of terrorism. He touted what the administration has called a “maximum pressure” campaign on the regime that has mainly consisted of imposing sanctions, both those that were lifted under the 2015 nuclear deal, which the United States withdrew from in May 2018, along with new ones put in place.
Nonetheless, Trump said Tehran can change its economic destiny were it to change direction.
“We can help them make it very good in a short period of time, but perhaps they are too proud or too foolish to ask for that help,” he said. “We are here. Let’s see which road they choose. It is totally up to them.”
The president also expressed support for Iranian protesters, as well as mentioned the killing last month of Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani, commander of the Quds Force in Iran.
“At my direction, the U.S. military executed a precision strike that eliminated Soleimani and ended his evil reign of terror forever,” he said.
Additionally, Trump briefly mentioned rolling out his long-awaited Israeli-Palestinian peace plan and the death of Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who detonated a suicide vest and killed himself after being detected in a U.S. special forces’ operation in Syria in October.
He also called for U.S. troops to be brought home from the Middle East, including Afghanistan, in which his administration has had on-and-off talks with the Taliban to end the nearly 20-year war.
The “designated survivor” during the course of the address—a member of the president’s Cabinet selected to stay at an undisclosed location in case of an attack or instance of the president and line of presidential succession being deceased—was U.S. Interior Secretary David Bernhardt, who helped light the National Menorah the first night of Hanukkah this past December in Washington, D.C.
‘A celebration of American exceptionalism and economic renewal’
Jewish groups immediately issued mixed reactions to Trump’s remarks.
Jewish Democratic Council of America executive director Halie Soifer denounced the president’s speech.
“Tonight, we witnessed a State of the Union address delivered by a president whose egregious wrongdoings are clear to the American people, and whose policies, rhetoric and behavior are antithetical to Jewish and American values,” she said in a statement.
“Instead of dissecting President Trump’s State of the Union address, we are putting the pieces of our country back together by electing Democrats who share our values,” she continued. “We don’t accept the state of the union as President Trump outlined tonight, and instead are focused on changing the state of our union by laying the groundwork for Democratic victories in November.”
Democratic Majority for Israel CEO Mark Mellman concurred, echoing his inner Mark Twain.
“Larded with lies, damn lies and statistics, the State of the Union address was an extraordinary display of Trumpian narcissism, bigotry and demagoguery,” said Mellman in a statement. “Even the beautiful moments scripted by his aides could not hide the chaos, divisiveness and impropriety that has marked the Trump presidency. His vision for America needs to be repudiated in November.”
On the other side of the aisle, Republican Jewish Coalition executive director Matt Brooks praised Trump’s address.
“This was the greatest speech of President Trump’s presidency,” he told JNS. “It was a celebration of American exceptionalism and economic renewal.”
“The speech not only outlined the historic accomplishments of his administration that have made us stronger, more secure and ignited a ‘blue collar’ economic boom,” he continued. “The president was compassionate, strong and instilled confidence in his leadership and commitment to leading America to even higher heights.”
B’nai B’rith CEO and executive vice president Dan Mariaschin applauded the parts relevant to the Jewish and pro-Israel community.
“The president’s strong statement on fighting terrorism, particularly Iran’s role in fomenting it, was especially noted,” he told JNS. “We laud the administration’s use of sanctions to curb Iran’s malign behavior, and financial and logistical support of terrorism. And the mention of the recently announced Israeli-Palestinian peace proposal speaks to the rightful priority that is being placed on that important initiative that takes into account Israel’s current and future security needs.”
However, he noted disappointment that the president did not acknowledge “the alarming rise of anti-Semitism in the United States. With Jews under attack, physically as well as through relentless social-media assaults, a plan to combat anti-Semitism would have fit in well with his overall themes of security and equality.”