On Tuesday, Trump had criticized Democrats over the views of Reps. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) and Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.). Both women have long been fierce critics of Israel and its treatment of Palestinians. They support the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, a global protest of Israel.
He had accused Jewish people of “great disloyalty” if they vote for Democrats, although he did not say at the time disloyalty to whom.
“Where has the Democratic Party gone?” Trump asked reporters Tuesday at the White House. “Where have they gone, 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.”
Asked by a reporter Wednesday to clarify his remarks, Trump pointed to his own record, including moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem and withdrawing from the Iran nuclear deal.
“I will tell you this: In my opinion, the Democrats have gone very far away from Israel,” he said. “I cannot understand how they can do that … In my opinion, if you vote for a Democrat, you’re being very disloyal to Jewish people and you’re being very disloyal to Israel. And only weak people would say anything other than that.”
After Trump’s initial remarks Tuesday, critics on both sides of the aisle as well as Jewish organizations immediately pointed out that Trump’s use of the word “disloyalty” echoed anti-Semitic tropes accusing Jews of dual allegiance.
“American Jews — like all Americans — have a range of political views and policy priorities,” David Harris, chief executive of the nonpartisan American Jewish Committee, said in a statement. “His assessment of their knowledge or ‘loyalty,’ based on their party preference, is inappropriate, unwelcome, and downright dangerous.”
Some of Trump’s defenders, meanwhile, argued that he was speaking about Jewish people being disloyal to themselves rather than to Israel.
Matt Brooks, executive director of the Republican Jewish Coalition, said in an interview Tuesday that the president was talking about “being true to yourself.”
“I don’t think it invokes those [anti-Semitic] tropes,” Brooks said, describing Trump’s message to Jewish people as, “You’re being disloyal to yourself to say, ‘Hey, I support somebody who is known to espouse anti-Semitic comments.’ ”
Brooks declined to comment Wednesday. The RJC, which tweeted Tuesday that Trump was “right” that it “shows a great deal of disloyalty to oneself to defend a party that protects/emboldens people that hate you for your religion,” continued to defend Trump on Wednesday even after he clarified that he meant that Jewish Democrats are disloyal to Israel.
“We take the President seriously, not literally,” the group said in a tweet. “President Trump is pointing out the obvious: for those who care about Israel, the position of many elected Democrats has become anti-Israel.”
While Omar and Tlaib are “questioning American Jews’ loyalty to the United States,” the RJC claimed, Trump is “talking about caring about the survival of the Jewish state.”
Trump’s 2020 campaign also rallied to his defense. Michael Glassner, chief operating officer of Trump’s presidential campaign, said in a statement that “there is no bigger ally to the Jewish community at home and around the world than President Trump.”
“As a Jew myself, I strongly believe that President Trump is right to highlight that there is only one party — the Democrats — excusing and permitting such anti-Jewish venom to be spewed so freely,” he said.
Tuesday was not the first time that Trump’s remarks about Jewish people have prompted criticism that he is invoking dual-loyalty tropes. During an April speech to the RJC, the president told the crowd that he “stood with your prime minister at the White House.” At another point, Trump warned that Democrats’ “radical agenda” in Congress “very well could leave Israel out there all by yourselves.”
And while Trump has condemned Omar for evoking offensive stereotypes about Jews and money, the president had expressed similar sentiments to the RJC in 2015, when he was running for the GOP presidential nomination.
“You’re not going to support me because I don’t want your money,” Trump said then. “But that’s okay. You want to control your own politician.”