WASHINGTON – Showing a fresh willingness to play politics along religious and racial lines, President Donald Trump said Tuesday that American Jewish people who vote for Democrats show “either a total lack of knowledge or great disloyalty.”
Trump's claim triggered a quick uproar from critics who said the president was trading in anti-Semitic stereotypes. It came amid his ongoing feud with Democratic congresswomen Ilhan Omar of Minnesota and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan, both Muslim.
Trump has closely aligned himself with Israel, including its conservative prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, while the Muslim lawmakers have been outspoken critics of Israel's treatment of the Palestinians.
“Where has the Democratic Party gone? Where have they gone where they are defending these two people over the state of Israel?” Trump told reporters in the Oval Office. “I think any Jewish people that vote for a Democrat, I think it shows either a total lack of knowledge or great disloyalty.”
At Trump's urging, Israel last week blocked Omar and Tlaib from entering the country. Israel later agreed to a humanitarian visit for Tlaib to visit her grandmother, who lives in the West Bank. Tlaib declined, saying her grandmother had ultimately urged her not to come under what they considered to be humiliating circumstances.
Trump called Omar a “disaster” for Jews and said he didn't “buy” the tears that Tlaib shed Monday as she discussed the situation. Both congresswomen support the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, a global protest of Israel.
Trump's comments were denounced swiftly by Jewish American organizations.
“This is yet another example of Donald Trump continuing to weaponize and politicize anti-Semitism,” said Halie Soifer, executive director of the Jewish Democratic Council of America. 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.”
Ann Lewis and Mark Mellman of Democratic Majority for Israel called it “one of the most dangerous, deadly accusations Jews have faced over the years.”
The Republican Jewish Coalition defended 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 group said in a tweet.
According to AP VoteCast, a survey of the 2018 electorate, 72% of Jewish voters supported Democratic House candidates in 2018. Similarly, 74% said they disapprove of how Trump is handling his job.
A Pew Research Center poll conducted in April found that among Jewish Americans, 42% said Trump is favoring the Israelis too much, 6% said he's favoring the Palestinians too much and 47% said he's striking the right balance.