President Trump criticized Jewish Americans who support Democrats, saying Tuesday that it “shows either a total lack of knowledge or great disloyalty.” Leaders in the Jewish community were outraged and said the president was promoting anti-Semitic stereotypes.
Speaking to the press in the Oval Office, Mr. Trump fueled his ongoing feud with Representatives Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar. The Democratic congresswomen were recently barred from entering Israel after calling for an end to the international support of the country and voicing support for Palestinians.
Tlaib and Omar, the first Muslim women to serve in Congress, planned to travel to Israel to visit the occupied Palestinian territories and meet with activists there. But under public pressure by President Trump, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government said it would not allow the two lawmakers to enter the country.
The Israeli government did offer to let Tlaib in on humanitarian grounds to visit her 90-year-old Palestinian grandmother on the condition that she did not promote a boycott of Israel. Tlaib initially agreed, but later rejected the offer, saying she would not make the visit under “oppressive conditions.”
“I can’t even believe that we’re having this conversation,” Mr. Trump said Tuesday. “Five years ago, the concept of even talking about this — even three years ago — of cutting off aid to Israel because of two people that hate Israel and hate Jewish people — I can’t believe we’re even having this conversation.”
Both Tlaib and Omar have criticized Israel’s treatment of Palestinians, while Mr. Trump has closely aligned himself with conservative Netanyahu.
“Where has the Democratic Party gone?” Mr. Trump continued in the Oval Office gathering. “Where have they gone where they’re defending these two people over the State of Israel?”
“I think any Jewish people that vote for a Democrat — I think it shows either a total lack of knowledge or great disloyalty,” Mr. Trump added.
Critics and Jewish organizations immediately called attention to Mr. Trump’s use of the world “disloyalty,” which echoed anti-Semitic sentiments that question the “dual loyalty” of Jewish citizens. Accusations of disloyalty have long been made against Jews throughout history, said Jonathan Greenblatt, chief executive of the Anti-Defamation League.
“If this is about Israel, then Trump is repeating a dual loyalty claim, which is a form of anti-Semitism,” Halie Soifer, executive director of the Jewish Democratic Council of America, tweeted. “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.”
Democratic American Jews have long stated they don’t necessarily support the treatment of Palestinians in Israel. Recent polling shows that a majority of Jews identify as Democrats and did not vote for Mr. Trump in 2016.
“American Jews — like all Americans — have a range of political views and policy priorities,” David Harris, CEO of the nonpartisan American Jewish Committee, said in a statement. “His assessment of their knowledge or ‘loyalty,’ based on their party preference, is inappropriate, unwelcome, and downright dangerous.”
Ann Lewis and Mark Mellman of Democratic Majority for Israel called Mr. Trump’s statement “one of the most dangerous, deadly accusations Jews have faced over the years.”
Logan Bayroff of the liberal J Street pro-Israel group said it was “no surprise that the president’s racist, disingenuous attacks on progressive women of color in Congress have now transitioned into smears against Jews.”
The Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC) defended Mr. Trump, arguing that the president was speaking about people being disloyal to themselves rather than to Israel.
“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 organization tweeted. “The @GOP, when rarely confronted w/anti-Semitism of elected members always acts swiftly and decisively to punish and remove.”
Mr. Trump has invoked the dual-loyalty trope before. Speaking to the RJC in April, he reiterated the sentiment that Netanyahu was “your prime minister” and the Democratic agenda “very well could leave Israel out there all by yourselves.”