President Donald Trump revealed again on Tuesday that he subscribes to the anti-Semitic belief that American Jews harbor a secret dual loyalty to Israel.
Speaking to reporters in the Oval Office, the president first accused Democratic lawmakers of insufficient support for the state of Israel before adding, “I think any Jewish people that vote for a Democrat, I think it shows either a total lack of knowledge or great disloyalty.”
That Trump was accusing the vast majority of American Jews who vote for Democrats in election after election of being disloyal to Israel was clear in the context of his full answer to the question he was asked: Should U.S. aid to Israel be suspended following the Israeli government’s decision to prevent two Democratic congresswomen, Reps. Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar, from visiting the Palestinian territories it occupies?
Trump, who pressed Israel to block the visit by the two Muslim Democrats, responded by falsely smearing Tlaib and Omar as “two people that hate Israel and hate Jewish people,” before calling any Jews who vote for their party ignorant or disloyal. In recent months, the president has repeatedly mischaracterized as anti-Semitic the two lawmakers’ criticism of Israel’s far-right government, and their support for the Palestinian-led campaign of boycotts, divestment, and sanctions against companies that enable the occupation to continue.
On Wednesday, Trump was even more explicit. “In my opinion, the Democrats have gone very far away from Israel,” he told reporters. “In my opinion, you vote for a Democrat, you’re being very disloyal to Jewish people and you’re being very disloyal to Israel.”
“I have been responsible for a lot of great things, for Israel,” Trump also said. “One of them was moving the embassy to Jerusalem, making Jerusalem the capital of Israel.” This was not the first time he has spoken of moving the United States Embassy to Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem as if it made the designation of the city as Israel’s capital official. Trump also mentioned his decision to recognize Israel’s annexation of the Golan Heights and his undermining of Iran by withdrawing from the nuclear deal and imposing sanctions. Weakening Iran has been a longterm foreign policy objective of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Just one in four American Jews voted for Trump in the 2016 election, with 71 percent voting for Hillary Clinton, the Democratic nominee, according to exit polls. In the 2018 midterm elections, 79 percent of American Jews voted for Democratic candidates, with just 17 percent voting for Trump’s Republican party.
Trump also took time out of his meeting on Tuesday with Romania’s president, Klaus Iohannis, to mock Tlaib for crying on Monday as she described her disappointment at not being allowed to visit her Palestinian grandmother in the Israeli-occupied West Bank without surrendering her right to free speech during the trip.
The Romanian president, who comes from the country’s ethnic German minority, made no comment on Trump’s remark, but his presence was a silent reminder of the horrific violence that has resulted from the idea of Jewish dual loyalty. At least 380,000 Romanian Jews were slaughtered between 1940 and 1944 by a fascist government that was allied with Nazi Germany.
Romania has also struggled to respond to a recent surge in anti-Semitic incidents, targeting the small Jewish population that survived the war. Last year, anti-Semitic vandals defaced the childhood home of Elie Wiesel, a Romanian Jew who was deported to Auschwitz and documented the Holocaust. “Nazi Jew lying in hell with Hitler,” was painted on the outside of the house, which is now a museum in Sighetu Marmatiei, Romania.
This was at least the second time this year that Trump invoked the anti-Semitic trope of dual loyalty. Speaking to a group of Jewish Republicans in April, the president referred to Israel’s leader, Benjamin Netanyahu, as “your prime minister.”
That group, the Republican Jewish Coalition, defended Trump on Tuesday, accusing the 79 percent of American Jews who voted for Democratic candidates in the 2018 midterms of defending “a party that protects/emboldens people that hate you for your religion.”
A far larger number of Jewish Americans were appalled by what they saw as the clear anti-Semitic undertone of Trump’s logic.
“This is it, Trump’s antisemitic philosophy exposed,” the progressive Orthodox activist Elad Nehorai wrote. “If Jews don’t agree with him, they aren’t good Jews. This is how he gets us killed. Sides with the ‘good ones’ and spouts hate at the rest, coded or not. Thus the Soros caravan conspiracy that led to the Pittsburgh massacre.”
“This is an explicit dual loyalty charge wielded by the President of the United States against 80% of American Jews who voted against him,” Emily Mayer, a spokesperson for the anti-occupation group IfNotNow said in a statement. “It is not merely an antisemitic dog whistle — it’s a bullhorn to his white nationalist base.”
As Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg explained last year, the ancient dual loyalty charge is what lies beneath Trump’s use of the phrase “globalist” to describe people he sees as insufficiently American. “Globalist — one of Trump’s favorite dogwhistles — implies that someone is not of-this-nation, they’re not tied here, their loyalty is not to *us* of this country but to *each other* internationally,” Ruttenberg wrote. “The idea the Jews’ loyalty is not to France or Germany or Poland or etc. because they are infiltrators, outsiders—that’s one of the oldest tropes in the book. They’re out to get us, to undermine us, not one of us. It’s being used to great effect these days.”
“This is outrageous,” Kenneth Roth, the executive director of Human Rights Watch, wrote on Twitter. “So US Jews’ ‘loyalty’ is mainly to Israel? Or it is supposedly in Israel’s interest to back Netanyahu’s right-wing agenda of creating a discriminatory, repressive one-state reality?”
“Trump is a vile white supremacist,” author and activist Josh Ruebner tweeted. “But every organization, politician (including Dems), and talking head who decided it was a good idea to weaponize anti-semitism by conflating advocacy for Palestinian rights with hatred of Jewish people owns a tiny little piece of his comments.”
Edo Konrad of the Israeli magazine +972 observed: “The Jewish American right has, for the last three years, enabled and supported Donald Trump’s anti-Semitism — not because it particularly loves Trump, but because he is the perfect vessel to realize the right’s hyper-Zionist, anti-Muslim, and anti-immigrant vision.”
Omar, who was accused by the Anti-Defamation League of using “a vile anti-Semitic slur” after she wrote that she “should not be expected to have allegiance/pledge support to a foreign country in order to serve my country in Congress,” had a simpler response to Trump’s dual loyalty comment.
The response to Trump’s remarks on Tuesday made it plain that even some conservative American Jewish organizations have had enough. “Enough, Mr. President,” the American Jewish Committee said in a statement. “American Jews — like all Americans — have a range of political views. Your assessment of their knowledge or loyalty, based on their party preference, is divisive, disrespectful, and unwelcome. Please stop.”
As Bobby Lewis of Media Matters for America noted, Trump’s remark came just hours after one of the hosts of his favorite morning news show, Brian Kilmeade of “Fox and Friends,” complained on-air that “President Trump only got 24 percent” of the Jewish vote in 2016 even though “Barack Obama was in single digits for approval rating inside Israel by Israelis.”
Updated: Wednesday, Aug. 21, 6:00 p.m. EDT
This article was updated on Wednesday to report that President Donald Trump made it clear that he was accusing American Jews who do not vote for his Republican party of failing to show loyalty to the foreign nation of Israel.