To hear President Trump tell it, the group of four Democratic representatives who have been an ongoing focus of his criticism for the past month are anti-Semites.
Asked about the four last month — Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (N.Y.), Rashida Tlaib (Mich.), Ayanna Pressley (Mass.) and Ilhan Omar (Minn.) — Trump insisted that they collectively harbored anti-Jewish sentiments.
“I think they’ve said horrible things, and they’re anti-Semitic,” Trump said. “And if you look at the kind of statements they’ve made about Israel, it’s a disgrace.”
Calling their purported rhetoric “a very dangerous thing,” Trump later reiterated his claim.
“I think these four congressmen — and I could say some worse than others — but if you look at the statements they’ve made … when they hit Israel the way they’ve hit Israel so hard, so horrible,” he said, “I think, to me, that’s a disgrace.”
On Tuesday, he referred to the four as “AOC” — Ocasio-Cortez — “plus three."
“You should see the things that the four of them have said about Israel over the last couple of years,” he reiterated. He went on to criticize Jewish Americans who voted for Democrats as displaying either “a total lack of knowledge or great disloyalty.”
Given how long Trump has made these claims about the group’s anti-Semitism, we reached out to the White House to do exactly what Trump wanted: to see the things that the four of them have said about Israel. White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham sent the following, reordered for clarity but without other edits.
The White House’s list
- Rep. Rashida Tlaib attacked those in Congress that stood up against the anti-Israel BDS movement, claiming “they forgot what country they represent.”
- Rep. Ilhan Omar questioned the patriotism of Americans who support pro-Israel policies, asking why “it is okay to push for allegiance to a foreign country.”
- Omar revived this horrible anti-Semitic thinking when confronted over her comments.
- Omar has claimed that support for Israel is “all about the Benjamins.”
- Omar once tweeted that “Israel has hypnotized the world” and prayed that people would see the “evil doings of Israel.”
- Omar and Tlaib have both declared support for the BDS movement that demonizes Israel.
You’ll notice first that Omar is the primary focus of the list. Tlaib is mentioned twice; Ocasio-Cortez and Pressley not at all.
Let’s start with Tlaib. This is her tweet:
Tlaib says that her point was that American elected officials represent the United States, where boycotts and protests are constitutionally protected. In its response cited by the White House, the Anti-Defamation League even gave her the benefit of the doubt.
The tweet “has been interpreted by some as suggesting that Jews or Members of Congress, such as the sponsors of the bill, are more loyal to Israel than to their own country,” it reads. “Whether or not this was her intent, this type of language is deeply problematic.”
Tlaib is also criticized for supporting BDS, the “Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions” movement aimed at putting economic pressure on Israel to change that country’s policies for dealing with Palestinians. The movement has been criticized as threatening the state of Israel and as being inherently anti-Semitic. It’s worth noting, though, that there’s a line between criticism of Israel and hostility toward Jews that is often blurred in this discussion.
The criticisms of Omar — who, like Tlaib, is Muslim — include BDS but go further, focusing on three particular incidents.
The first is Omar’s comment at an event this year which is quoted, her comment about there being “political influence in this country that says it is okay to push for allegiance to a foreign country"; namely, Israel. Coincidentally, the context for the comment was Omar’s concern that the arguments being made by herself and Tlaib (who was sitting next to her) were seen as anti-Semitic in part because of their religion.
Omar went on to tie pro-Israel lobbying to other prominent lobbying efforts.
“I want to ask why is it okay for me to talk about the influence of the NRA, of fossil fuel industries or Big Pharma, and not talk about a powerful lobbying group that is influencing policies?” she said.
The “push for allegiance” comment led to an exchange with Rep. Nita M. Lowey (D-N.Y.) over the same “dual loyalty” issue for which Tlaib was criticized. The isolated “have allegiance/pledge support” line comes from that exchange.
In her exchange with Lowey, Omar said she was focusing on criticism of the country, not the people.
“Being opposed to Netanyahu and the occupation,” she wrote, “is not the same as being anti-Semitic.”
The other examples used against Omar are a tweet suggesting that legislators support Israel because of “Benjamins” — money. She apologized for using the line, while continuing to argue that she was concerned about the influence of lobbying money. The White House also points to that 2012 tweet by Omar in which she stated that Israel had “hypnotized the world.” Omar apologized for that this year, as well.
What’s not included in the White House’s list, we’ll note, are some of the charges that Trump made during a campaign rally in North Carolina last month. At that point, Trump claimed that Omar had offered sympathies to al-Qaeda and had downplayed the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. These are both claims that went viral in conservative media that stem from interpretations — or misinterpretations — of comments Omar made during an interview and in a speech. The White House didn’t include them.
Instead, we learn that Trump’s designation of the four Democrats as anti-Semites officially stems from:
- Two of them supporting a heavily criticized political effort focused on Israel’s policies.
- A nebulous tweet by one of the two.
- Two problematic tweets from the other for which she has apologized.
- Comments about lawmakers having an allegiance to Israel.
On Wednesday, Trump clarified his “disloyalty” assertion about Jews who vote Democratic by saying that they were “being disloyal to Jewish people and you’re being very disloyal to Israel.” That, of course, is an explicit assertion that American Jews have some sort of dual loyalty.
The ADL’s response to Tlaib, shared by the White House, notes that this is a charge that “has been leveled as a smear against many kinds of Americans — including against Americans of Japanese descent during World War II.” The group wrote that it would reach out to Tlaib to “discuss concerns about the history and context of the allegations of dual loyalty that have been leveled at Jewish Americans at various times in our history.”
As of writing, it has not offered a statement about Trump’s comments.