US President Donald Trump described Jews who vote for Democrats of “great disloyalty”, prompting wide scale condemnation and charges of anti-Semitism. Trump made the comments in the Oval Office yesterday during an exchange with journalists in which he lashed out against Congresswomen Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar.
“I think any Jewish people that vote for a Democrat, I think it shows either a total lack of knowledge or great disloyalty,” said Trump at the tail end of remarks which critics say is intended to drive a partisan wedge over Israel during the 2020 election.
Trump made the comment in response to a question about remarks made by Omar on Monday calling on the US to suspend aid to Israel. “We give Israel more than $3 [billion] in aid every year. This is predicated on them being an important ally in the region and the only democracy in the Middle East. But denying a visit to duly elected members of Congress is not consistent with being an ally, and denying millions of people freedom of movement or expression or self-determination is not consistent with being a democracy,” Omar said at a press conference in her home state.
Trump took the opportunity to launch into a tirade in which he accused Omar and Tlaib – strong critics of Israel – of anti-Semitism. Both also support the right of Americans to support the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, a peaceful global protest against Israel that seeks to replicate the success of the anti-apartheid movement against white South African rule.
Dismissing Tlaib, who recently rejected Israel’s offer to allow her to visit her grandmother in the occupied West Bank, Trump said that the Michigan congresswoman was “violent and vicious and out of control.” He then launched an attack against Omar, describing her as a “disaster for the Jewish people” before rejecting her request to cut aid to Israel.
Trump expressed shock and surprise over how far the discussion on Israel had moved in favour of the Palestinians. He said that three to five years ago discussion on cutting aid to Israel would not have been a consideration for a member of US Congress. Blaming the Democrats for the change he asked “Where has the Democratic Party gone?”
“Where have they gone,” he continued “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.”
The last remark prompted accusations of anti-Semitism. Halie Soifer, executive director of the Jewish Democratic Council of America, called the comments “yet another example of Donald Trump continuing to weaponize and politicize anti-Semitism.” Soifer went on to say that “If this is about Israel, then Trump is repeating a dual loyalty claim, which is a form of anti-Semitism. 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 Republican Party has been halved in the past four years.”
Logan Bayroff, the communications director for J Street, a progressive Jewish organisation, said: “It is dangerous and shameful for President Trump to attack the large majority of the American Jewish community as unintelligent and ‘disloyal’. But it is no surprise that the president’s racist, disingenuous attacks on progressive women of colour in Congress have now transitioned into smears against Jews.”
It’s thought that one of Trump’s main election strategies is to make Omar and Tlaib the face of the Democrats with the hope of turning Jewish voters away from their traditional party, which in 2016 received 72 per cent of the Jewish vote.