Donald Trump’s inauguration rabbi has become the first leader of a major Jewish organization to criticize the president over his reported leak of Israeli intelligence to Russian officials.
“No president should do that,” said Rabbi Marvin Hier of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, who delivered a benediction at Trump’s inauguration, and who stood beside the president as he signed an executive order on religious issues earlier this month.
“Nobody should ever try to give up invaluable information that the Israelis have supplied,” Hier said.
His comments came Monday afternoon, soon after Trump made an impromptu statement to a gaggle of international press in which he asserted that he had “never mentioned the word or the name Israel” during his conversation conversation with the Russians.
The statement befuddled observers, as no press reports on the closed-door meeting between Trump and Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov claimed that he had mentioned Israel by name. Rather, the New York Times had reported that Trump had repeated information gleaned from Israeli intelligence agencies.
NBC’s Andrea Mitchell noted on Twitter that Trump’s comments appear to have confirmed that Israel was the source of the leaked intelligence.
Until Monday, Jewish and pro-Israel groups had stayed uncharacteristically silent on the reported leak. Hier’s comments broke with that trend.
“I’m sure he regrets it,” Hier said.
Aside from his comments on the reported leak, Hier was full of praise for Trump’s inaugural overseas trip, which has taken him to Saudi Arabia and to Israel, and will take him on to Italy and the Vatican in the coming days.
Hier said that Trump’s address to leaders of Muslim nations in Saudi Arabia hit “exactly the right tone.”
“He told them the truth,” Hier said. “I think it was the right message.”
As for the Israel leg of Trump’s trip, Hier said that he thought Trump had an opening to bring Israelis and Palestinians to agreement. “Most Israelis regard him as very friendly to Israel,” he said. “He has the leverage.”
Hier said that he wasn’t concerned about Trump’s backtracking on a campaign promise to move the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, a promise that’s been made and broken by successive presidents
“His timing is impeccable,” Hier said. “The whole world over the past year since the Iran deal, the world has changed… The balance has shifted. There’s a wakeup call in the Arab world. They’re very concerned.”
Josh Nathan-Kazis is a staff writer for the Forward. He covers charities and politics, and writes investigations and longform.