White House Hanukkah Party Spawns Anger

(AP)
UPDATED

At the White House, as the Obama administration is learning all too well, a party is never a simple affair. (Just ask the Salahi-stricken Secret Service.)

The latest kerfuffle, the New York Times reports, involves the Obama administration's first Hanukkah party, to be held Wednesday.

One bone of contention has been the guest list: Administration officials told the Times they are inviting 550 people, just 50 less than President Bush invited to his White House Hanukkah parties. But the Israeli press reported that the Obama White House was only inviting 400 people (they may have expanded the guest list since those reports) – and Bush White House officials told reporters they had actually invited twice that number.

It was, some suggested, a snub – and one that critics said should not come as a surprise.

The rumors appear to have been touched off in part by an opinion piece by Tevi Troy, who was a liaison to Jewish groups in the Bush administration. As the Times reports, Troy suggested the Obama administration was taking Jewish votes for granted, citing as evidence the administration's call for a freeze on Jewish settlements in the West Bank. The guest list issue, Troy said, created "a nagging sense that there may be a studied callousness at work here."

(Clarification: Troy writes in to say that he wrote his piece in response to an article in the Jerusalem Post that said the guest list would be cut in half. "My piece was about what the implications of that decision would be," he said. "The White House has now increased the guest list, which is all to the good, but I did not start the story that they cut it in half.")

Soon there were a number of news stories and rumors proliferating about the Obama administration's alleged "callousness," as exemplified by the handling of the party. There were also complaints that the invitation to the event, which draws elite members of the Jewish community, called it a "holiday reception" instead of specifically mentioning Hanukkah.

Jews at home and abroad have been slow to warm to Mr. Obama – a recent poll found nearly 40 percent of Israelis believe he is Muslim – and it seems the distrust within the community is at least partly driving the anger.

After all, Mr. Bush's White House last year sent an invitation to its Hannukah party that included a Christmas tree. Yet his administration's handling of the party is being compared favorably to the performance of Mr. Obama's administration.

According to the Jewish Virtual Library, Jews in the Obama administration include David Axelrod, Rahm Emanuel, Peter Orszag and Larry Summers.

As for the party itself: The Times reports that it will feature a Jewish student choir, children of a soldier deployed in Iraq lighting a menorah, and the presence of the president and first lady.

And, hopefully, enough potato latkes to win over the skeptics.

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