The controversy over the size of the White House Hanukkah party story made the Drudge Report today, and the New York Times thought it merited coverage in the front section on Friday. But the Times story also tried to downplay the difference in size between the last Bush party, and the Obama’s initial plan for this year’s party. The implication from this is that the charge that the Obama team was cutting the party in half is inaccurate, and therefore so is the notion of any larger message to be derived from this.
Salon jumped on this apparent discrepancy, writing that “the Times found little evidence that the Bush Hanukkah parties were as well-attended as Troy recalls.” I took the cut-in-half figure in my JTA piece not from memory but from the original Jerusalem Post story: “White House Hanukka Party Guest List to be Cut in Half.” This story was written by Hilary Krieger, who is a good reporter and had solid, if off-the-record, sources.
My piece made two points. First, based on my experience, the White House would face a lot of clamoring to get in, especially given that there are three times as many Jewish Democrats as Republicans. Second, given that the Obama administration has had some policy disagreements with the Jewish community, a decision to cut the party in half could be seen in the context of those disagreements.
The Obama administration has now increased the size of the party, but that doesn’t mean that they didn’t at some point intend to shrink the party. Krieger makes this point in a new Jerusalem Post article defending her initial story. According to Krieger, “Local Jewish leaders told the Post, though, that Obama White House officials had previously told them the numbers were being reduced from last year, citing reasons including the economic situation and high cost involved with providing kosher food.”
It seems to me that the White House has taken my message to heart and increased the number of invitees in order to alleviate the clamoring to get in and to diminish the criticism on what is a symbolic and not a substantive issue. Credit to them for changing their tune, but that does not change the accuracy of the initial analysis. As this story comes to an end with the party on Wednesday, the folks who should be happiest are the new invitees. They are beneficiaries of a modern Hanukkah miracle — 150 more invitations to the White House.