With President Donald Trump meeting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the White House on Wednesday, members of the Florida delegation divided on party lines about the new administration’s policies for peace in the Middle East.
U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., who sits on the U.S. Senate Foreign Affairs Committee, praised Netanyahu and urged the U.S. continue to support Israel.
“As the forces of terrorism and tyranny further destabilize the Middle East, America’s special relationship with the Jewish state of Israel remains more important than ever,” Rubio said. “Israel is a fellow democracy and our closest ally in the region, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s visit to Washington offers our two nations the opportunity to revitalize our indispensable bond—especially after the Obama administration underestimated the threat posed by ISIS, shamefully let the U.N. Security Council pass the anti-Israel and anti-Semitic Resolution 2334, and gave Iran a dangerously flawed nuclear deal that empowered and enriched the world’s foremost state sponsor of terrorism. I look forward to working with President Trump and my colleagues in Congress to make it clear that Israel is not the obstacle to peace and security in the Middle East. We must do all we can to turn a new page in our historic alliance with the Jewish state and make it even stronger in the 21st century.”
But two Florida Democrats pointed to Trump’s answer responding to a question about the increasing number of anti-Semitic incidents across the nation.
“Mr. President, since your election campaign and even after your victory, we’ve seen a sharp rise in anti-Semitic incidents across the United States,” a member of the media said. “And I wonder what you say to those among the Jewish community in the States, and in Israel, and maybe around the world who believe and feel that your administration is playing with xenophobia and maybe racist tones.”
Trump started his answer by talking about his win in November.
“Well, I just want to say that we are very honored by the victory that we had -- 306 Electoral College votes,” Trump said. “We were not supposed to crack 220. You know that, right? There was no way to 221, but then they said there’s no way to 270. And there’s tremendous enthusiasm out there.
“I will say that we are going to have peace in this country,” Trump continued. “We are going to stop crime in this country. We are going to do everything within our power to stop long-simmering racism and every other thing that’s going on, because lot of bad things have been taking place over a long period of time.
“I think one of the reasons I won the election is we have a very, very divided nation,” Trump added. “Very divided. And, hopefully, I’ll be able to do something about that. And, you know, it was something that was very important to me.
“As far as people -- Jewish people -- so many friends, a daughter who happens to be here right now, a son-in-law, and three beautiful grandchildren,” Trump concluded. “I think that you’re going to see a lot different United States of America over the next three, four, or eight years. I think a lot of good things are happening, and you’re going to see a lot of love. You’re going to see a lot of love. Okay? Thank you.”
That wasn’t enough for U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., who slammed Trump’s response.
“I was extremely disappointed that President Trump did not explicitly denounce the rise in anti-Semitic attacks around the country, or the equally troubling statements that have come from his own administration,” Wasserman Schultz said before jabbing Trump backing away from a two-state solution to end the conflict between Israel and Palestine. “It was also disheartening to hear what appears to be a diminishing of the United States’ commitment to a two-state solution, which has been U.S. policy for decades and I believe is the most viable way to reach a lasting peace and safeguard Israel as a homeland for the Jewish people. In both cases, the president missed prime opportunities to advance the cause of Middle East peace as well as speak out against discrimination against Jews here and abroad.”
U.S. Rep. Ted Deutch, D-Fla., the ranking Democrat on the U.S. House Middle East and North Africa Subcommittee, who broke with the Obama administration on its nuclear deal with Iran, said he was glad to see the new administration stand with Israel against Iran.
"I am pleased to see the commitment from President Trump and Prime Minister Netanyahu to continue to crack down on Iran for its dangerous support of terrorism and illegal ballistic missile tests,” Deutch said. “These hostile activities, which are well outside the scope of the nuclear deal, must be met with tough sanctions.
"President Trump made clear today that a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians can only come through direct negotiations, and he is correct,” Deutch added. “The goal of this process must continue to be two states for two peoples living side by side in peace and security – a Jewish democratic state of Israel and a demilitarized Palestinian state.”
Like Wasserman Schultz, Deutch gave Trump’s answer to the question about anti-Semitic incidents low marks.
“I am appalled that when asked about the rise in anti-Semitic attacks in this country, President Trump responded by recounting his vote count in the Electoral College,” Deutch said. “The president not only refused to directly condemn anti-Semitism, but he couldn’t even bring himself to utter the word 'anti-Semitism.' This continues an alarming trend in this White House, following the refusal to acknowledge that Hitler’s Final Solution was aimed at wiping Jews from the face of the earth, and the complete omission on a list of terror attacks of any acts of terrorism in Israel."