President Donald Trump offered harsh words for American Jewish voters who support the Democratic Party.
“I think any Jewish people that vote for a Democrat, I think it shows either a total lack of knowledge or great disloyalty,” the president told reporters on Tuesday, Aug. 20, during an Oval Office meeting with Romanian President Klaus Iohannis.
Polls found that 76 to 79 percent of Jews voted for Democrats in last November’s midterm elections, mirroring a long history of backing the party.
According to 2016 exit polls, 71 percent of voters who identified as Jewish voted for Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton, while 23 percent voted for Trump.
A reporter asked Trump about remarks by Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., that the United States should reconsider its aid to Israel after the Jewish state denied entry to her and Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich.
“You should see the things the four of them have said about Israel over the last couple of years,” the president said, referring to the group of four congresswomen that call themselves “The Squad” — Omar, Tlaib, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y, and Rep. Ayanna Pressley, D-Mass.
Israel’s government last week denied entry to the two Muslim congresswomen for a scheduled visit on Aug. 18 because both have declared support for the Israel boycott movement. A 2017 law entitles the state to deny entry to boycott activists.
Trump backed the decision to bar Omar and Tlaib but denied any role in the action.
“I have nothing to do with it,” Trump said, “but I don’t blame them for doing what they did. I think it would’ve been very bad to let them in. …
“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,” he said. “Where has the Democratic Party gone? Where have they gone where they’re defending these two people over the State of Israel?”
While Trump is considering foreign aid cuts, he said he would not reduce aid to Israel.
Still, national Jewish organizations were largely critical of Trump’s remarks.
David Harris, CEO of the American Jewish Committee, called on the president to “stop such divisive rhetoric and to retract his disparaging remarks.” He called Trump’s remarks “shockingly divisive and unbecoming of the occupant of the highest elected office,” and said American Jews “have a range of political views and policy priorities.”
Halie Soifer, executive director of the Jewish Democratic Council of America, slammed the president’s “disloyalty” comments.
“If this is about Israel, then Trump is repeating a dual loyalty claim, which is a form of anti-Semitism,” she said in a statement. “If this is about Jews being ‘loyal’ to him, then Trump needs a reality check.”
Jonathan Greenblatt, CEO of the Anti-Defamattion League, 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.”
Trump’s comments were “unsurprising given his record of abhorrent and dangerous remarks, as well as his efforts to leverage Israel as a wedge issue in U.S. politics,” David Halperin, executive director of the Israel Policy Forum, said in a statement that called on Republicans to join Democrats in condemning the comments.
The comments showed a “total lack of knowledge about Jewish people,” Daniel Sokatch, CEO of the New Israel Fund, said in a statement.
“Trump wants to weaponize Israel and anti-Semitism to attract Jewish support, all while aiding and abetting Israel’s ultranationalist right, coddling white nationalists, fawning over dictators, and engaging in the worst kind of divisive racial politics at home. But it won’t work. In fact, it is a sure-fire way to alienate the American Jewish community even further … SAD!”
Stosh Cotler, CEO of Bend the Arc: Jewish Action, said that “President Trump’s abhorrent statement today accusing the vast majority of Jewish Americans who oppose him of ‘disloyalty’ is textbook antisemitism and should be called out as such, without hesitation.”
In addition, the J Street advocacy group said in a statement, “It is dangerous and shameful for President Trump to attack the large majority of the American Jewish community as unintelligent and ‘disloyal.'”
Meanwhile, the Republican Jewish Coalition defended Trump’s comments.
“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 said on Twitter. “The @GOP, when rarely confronted w/anti-Semitism of elected members always acts swiftly and decisively to punish and remove.”
Josefin Dolsten writes for the JTA international news agency and wire service.