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Pretty much everyone was pissed at President Donald Trump after he said Tuesday that American Jews who vote for Democrats show “total lack of knowledge or great disloyalty.”
Trump made the anti-Semitic comments in the Oval Office, as he was talking about Israel banning Democratic lawmakers Reps. Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar from entering the country over their support for Palestine.
“Where has the Democratic party gone?” Trump said to press. “Where have they gone where they are defending these two people over the state of Israel? I think any Jewish people that vote for a Democrat, I think it shows a total lack of knowledge or great disloyalty."
Jewish groups in the U.S. were especially quick to condemn the idea that large swaths of Jews — 79% of Jewish voters cast their ballot for Democrats in 2018 — were somehow disloyal to America by not voting for the Republican president.
“It’s unclear who [Trump] is claiming Jews would be ‘disloyal’ to, but charges of disloyalty have long been used to attack Jews,” said Anti-Defamation League CEO Jonathan Greenblatt. “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.”
Halie Soifer, executive director of the Jewish Democratic Council of America, said Trump was “weaponizing” anti-Semitism. “If this is about Israel, then Trump is repeating a dual loyalty claim, which is a form of anti-Semitism,” she said. “If this is about Jews being ‘loyal’ to him, then Trump needs a reality check — we live in a democracy and Jewish support for the [GOP] has been halved in the past four years.”
Trump’s remarks have earned him censure from conservatives and liberals alike. The New York Times reported that the president’s comments were “condemned by diplomats and analysts across the political spectrum,” who worried that he was “endangering bipartisan support for Israel in the United States” in what appeared to be an attempt to win Jewish voters.
For example, Philip Klein, executive editor of the conservative outlet the Washington Examiner, condemned Trump’s comments. In an op-ed, Klein wrote that “no matter which way one wants to interpret this comment, it’s sickening coming from an American president.”
And Bari Weiss, a prominent conservative Jewish writer for the Times, wrote that Trump’s comments invoked a sense of “provisional belonging” for Jews, which is an “idea with a hideous history.”
Some Trump allies did rush to his defense. The Republican Jewish Coalition, for instance, said everything was just fine, and agreed that Jews who vote for Democrats are disloyal — to themselves.
“President Trump is right, it shows a great deal of disloyalty to oneself to defend a party that protects/emboldens people that hate you for your religion,” the group tweeted.
Leaders in Israel, meanwhile, were hesitant to take a stance at all. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office hasn’t commented. And Reuters reported that Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz avoided saying much when asked about the comments in a radio interview.
“We must not intervene in the political disagreements in the United States,” he said. “We keep good relations with both the Democrats and Republicans and we must continue to do so. We have supporters and friends in both parties, among the Democrats and Republicans, Jews and non-Jews and we embrace them all.”
Come Wednesday morning, Trump was showing no signs of slowing his line of attack. He tweeted again about Tlaib and Omar, encouraging his followers to read their supposed “statements on their hatred of Jews and Israel.”
The president also gleefully tweeted out quotes from Newsmax TV host Wayne Allyn Root, a Trump supporter who wrote in a column that Jewish people in Israel “love [Trump] like he is the second coming of God” but that American Jews “don’t even know what they’re doing or saying anymore.”
The president thanked Root for the “very nice words” before concluding a three-tweet thread with a simple: “Wow!”
Cover: President Donald Trump speaks during a meeting with Romanian President Klaus Iohannis in the Oval Office of the White House, Tuesday, Aug. 20, 2019, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)