JNS.org – Jewish and pro-Israel groups largely condemned US President Donald Trump’s attempt on Wednesday to clarify his comments from the previous day, which insinuated that Jews who vote for a Democrat either have a “total lack of knowledge or great disloyalty.”
On Wednesday, Trump sought to clarify his remarks and told reporters, “If you vote for a Democrat, you’re being disloyal to Jewish people and you’re being very disloyal to Israel.”
The statement came after Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) and Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.), who have made past antisemitic remarks, and were barred last week from entering Israel due to their support of the anti-Israel BDS movement, sharply criticized the Jewish state for their decision.
Omar called into question US aid to Israel, while Tlaib expressed grief over not being able to visit her grandmom, who lives in the West Bank. Israel did permit Tlaib to enter the country to see her grandmom as long as she promised not to engage in BDS activity. After initially requesting to enter, she changed her decision and declined to go.
Nevertheless, many mainstream Jewish and pro-Israel groups did not accept Trump’s clarification, despite the president’s view that the Democratic Party hadn’t done enough to confront antisemitism by Omar and Tlaib.
“@POTUS made it clear he thinks Jews have a dual loyalty to Israel. This #antiSemitic trope has been used to persecute Jews for centuries & it’s unacceptable to promote it. He should apologize immediately,” tweeted Anti-Defamation League CEO Jonathan Greenblatt.
American Jewish Committee CEO David Harris told CNN on Wednesday, “Knowingly or unknowingly, he’s pedaling in places and spaces which allow antisemites to believe they have more room to maneuver.”
“@realDonaldTrump verified that he invoked an antisemitic trope, asserting that American Jews should be “loyal” to Israel by supporting him. 90% of American Jews consider themselves “pro-Israel” and about 3/4 of them are Dems because Jews vote their values,” tweeted Jewish Democratic Council of America executive director Halie Soifer.
“We are dismayed by, and unaccepting of, recent comments by the president of the United States on Jews,” wrote Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest New Jersey president Scott Krieger, and CEO and executive vice president Dov Ben-Shimon in an emailed message to community leaders. “Calling American Jews disloyal for voting for Democrats is offensive and antisemitic. Questioning our loyalty to the United States is unacceptable.”
“Such a statement is a resurrection of a centuries-old, exceedingly offensive and equally harmful canard,” they continued. “Presuming that American Jews, by definition, have dual loyalties to Israel, implies that we are ‘less’ American, and less loyal, and is equally unacceptable.”
‘We cherish our freedom’
However, other groups took a more measured tone, focusing on America, Israel and political choice, as opposed to the president.
Simon Wiesenthal Center founder Rabbi Marvin Hier and associate dean Rabbi Abraham Cooper said in a statement, “We believe that since 1948 the overwhelming majority of American Jews, irrespective of party affiliation, unequivocally support the State of Israel. We also affirm that this bipartisan support is absolutely essential to the future well-being and security of the Jewish state. To say otherwise, and depend only on one party, particularly in these turbulent times of increased hate and antisemitism only weakens and divides the most important Jewish community in the Diaspora.”
Without calling out the president by name, B’nai B’rith International tweeted, “In the US, we cherish our freedom to affiliate with whichever political groups we choose. Political disagreements within the Jewish community are a sign of our diversity, not an indication that some of us may be disloyal to Jewish priorities or to the US-Israel relationship.”
Sarah Stern, founder and president of the Endowment for Middle East Truth (EMET), told JNS that Trump’s choice of words may not have been the best.
“This clearly was not the best choice of language; the unfortunate implication was that Jews do not have the same democratic rights to participate in the electoral process as any other American. Without saying who Jews who vote Democrat are disloyal to, it sounded very much like there were charges of dual loyalty until the president later clarified that they were being disloyal to the State of Israel and to Jewish people,” she said.
Stern said that Trump’s statement needed to be put into context; they came after Omar and Tlaib had accused Israel of “outrageous allegations.” She also said that “members of the Democratic Party should have immediately condemned these statements.”
Other groups came to Trump’s defense, arguing that the real focus needs to be on the anti-Israel and antisemitic remarks of Tlaib and Omar.
“We take the president seriously, not literally. President Trump is pointing out the obvious: For those who care about Israel, the position of many elected Democrats has become anti-Israel,” tweeted the Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC). “When Tlaib and Omar talk loyalty, they’re questioning American Jews’ loyalty to the United States. President Trump is talking about caring about the survival of the Jewish state.”
The National Council of Young Israel echoed RJC’s sentiment.
“The comments of President Trump are completely different then the antisemitic comments of Omar and Tlaib,” NCYI president Farley Weiss told JNS. “Trump believes Jews should care about and prioritize in their voting support for the only Jewish state, the State of Israel. He feels that he is a strong supporter of Israel, and as a result, Jewish voters should switch to support him. We look at the intent of his comment and his actions, which speaks louder than people attempting to interpret his words in the most negative light.”
Zionist Organization of America president Mort Klein told i24 News on Wednesday, “I’m worried that we’re not having the strong support in the Democratic Party for Israel that used to be there five years and 10 years ago, and this is of great concern. I know there are many Democrats who are very supportive of Israel, but they become frightened to be overtly supportive because of this far move to the left by these people.”
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