President Trump on Tuesday said that any Jewish people who vote for Democrats are showing “either a total lack of knowledge or great disloyalty,” prompting an outcry from critics who said the president’s remarks were promoting anti-Semitic stereotypes.
Trump made the comment in an exchange with reporters in the Oval Office ahead of a meeting with Romanian President Klaus Iohannis.
Trump began by lashing out at Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.), questioning the sincerity of her tears at a news conference where she talked about her decision not to travel to Israel to see her elderly grandmother, who lives in the occupied West Bank.
“Yesterday, I noticed for the first time, Tlaib with the tears,” Trump said. “All of the sudden, she starts with tears, tears. . . . I don’t buy it for a second, because I’ve seen her in a very vicious mood at campaign rallies, my campaign rallies, before she was a congresswoman. I said, ‘Who is that?’ And I saw a woman that was violent and vicious and out of control.”
He then went on to attack Democrats more generally over the views of Tlaib and Rep. Ilhan Omar (Minn.). Both women have long been fierce critics of Israel and its treatment of Palestinians. They support the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, a global protest of Israel.
“Where has the Democratic Party gone?” Trump asked. “Where have they gone, where they’re defending these two people over the state of Israel? And I think any Jewish people that vote for a Democrat, I think it shows either a total lack of knowledge or great disloyalty.”
Needless to say, the condemnations were swift and forceful.
Jewish Democrats rushed to condemn Trump’s statement. Halie Soifer, executive director of Jewish Democratic Council of America, said in a statement, “This is yet another example of Donald Trump continuing to weaponize and politicize anti-Semitism.” The president’s “appalling” statement reveals that “his professed support for Israel is based on personal political calculation, not principled commitment,” the Democratic Majority for Israel said on Twitter. Aaron Keyak, former National Jewish Democratic Council head, told JI, “Just because President Trump is deeply unpopular in our community is no reason to slander us with echoes of some of the most insidious attacks against our people.”
The Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC) defended the president. “It shows a great deal of disloyalty to oneself to defend a party that protects/emboldens people that hate you for your religion,” the RJC tweeted.
According to Pew Research Center, 79% of Jewish voters supported Democratic candidates in the 2018 midterm elections.
“Actual LOL,” Ambassador Daniel Shapiro tells JI. “There are lots of uncertainties in American politics. How the Jewish vote will break in the next presidential election is not one of them. Faced with a Democratic candidate who reflects their values and supports a strong, secure, Jewish, democratic Israel and a two-state solution with Palestinians versus Donald Trump’s cruel, divisive politics… and his approach that threatens to help lead Israel into becoming a binational state, you can mark 75 percent as the floor for the Jewish vote for Democrats in 2020. Eighty percent is not out of the question.”
Ann Lewis, who served as White House director of communications for President Bill Clinton and as a senior adviser to Hillary Clinton, said in an email to JI that Trump “has now attacked the more than 70 percent of American Jews who dare to disagree with him politically by using one of the most dangerous, deadly accusations Jews have faced over the years.”
“False charges of disloyalty over the centuries have led to Jews being murdered, jailed and tortured,” Lewis explained. “This is the kind of cruel, careless rhetoric that inflames anti-Jewish passions and leads to violence.”
Matt Brooks, RJC’s executive director, tells JI: “Of course the president was not trafficking in dual loyalty and antisemitism. The reality is that what the president gave voice to is a question that I get all the time in all of my speeches, in large part from folks who aren’t Jewish and want to understand how people in the Jewish community — given the issues that are important to them — can support the policies of individuals like Omar and Tlaib. You know, it’s a question that has a lot of people scratching their heads.”
The American Jewish Committee condemned the president’s comments. AJC CEO David Harris said the president’s comments are “shockingly divisive and unbecoming of the occupant of the highest elected office. American Jews – like all Americans – have a range of political views and policy priorities. His assessment of their knowledge or ‘loyalty,’ based on their party preference, is inappropriate, unwelcome, and downright dangerous.”
Anti-Defamation League CEO Jonathan Greenblatt tweeted, “It’s unclear who POTUS is claiming Jews would be ‘disloyal’ to, but charges of disloyalty have long been used to attack Jews. As we’ve said before, it’s possible to engage in the democratic process without these claims. It’s long overdue to stop using Jews as a political football.”
No matter how you feel about Omar and Tlaib, or the fact that they are black Muslim women who were elected to Congress as proud Democrats, Donald Trump's screaming, blatant anti-Semitism is now America's problem, and it's one we have to fix quickly.
Sadly, it'll take the rest of my lifetime to repair the damage Trump has already wrought. The reason why is simple, watching Jewish Republicans try to defend Trump rather than themselves is both sad and depressing.
There's historical precedent for that and it always ends badly.