The Republican president of the United States, Donald Trump, is playing a very selfish, self-serving and ultimately dangerous game. He is imperilling the bipartisan nature of U.S. support for Israel for personal political gain and creating an environment in which antisemitism could flourish.
In the past few days, Trump has crossed all red lines by claiming that Jewish Americans who vote for the opposition Democratic Party are disloyal. This is an ugly and ridiculous assertion that conjures up the antisemitic trope that Jews are more loyal to Israel than the countries in which they live.
The “dual loyalty” accusation, though baseless and preposterous, feeds directly into despicable anti-Jewish narratives.
Trump, given that his son-in-law and senior advisor Jared Kushner is Jewish, is probably not an antisemite himself. But the foul and reckless comments he has made of late embolden antisemites, of which there are no shortage in the United States.
Trump’s latest foray into this minefield occurred shortly after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu banned two anti-Israel members of the U.S. Congress — Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib, both Muslims and Democrats and both supporters of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement — from visiting the Israeli-occupied West Bank and examining the conditions of its Palestinian Arab inhabitants.
Netanyahu issued the ban just hours after Trump, his ideological ally, tweeted that Israel would show “great weakness” by admitting the two iconoclastic congresswomen.
In the wake of these unsettling developments, a reporter asked Trump to comment on Omar’s suggestion that the United States should consider cutting aid to Israel, one of Washington’s closest allies in the Middle East. During his long-winded answer, he dropped a bombshell: “I think any Jewish people that vote for a Democrat, I think it shows either a total lack of knowledge or great disloyalty.”
The next day, he was at it again. “If you want to vote Democrat, you are being very disloyal to Jewish people and very disloyal to Israel,” Trump said, denying his remarks smacked of antisemitic.
Trump’s game is transparent and cheap. His objective is to peel away Jewish supporters of the Democratic Party and thereby enhance his reelection prospects in 2020. As he well knows, this will be a daunting challenge because 70 percent to 80 percent of Jewish Americans have voted for the Democratic Party since the early 20th century.
With the odds so stacked against him, Trump has launched a volley of unwarranted attacks against the Democratic Party, claiming it hates Israel and Jews. Trump’s outlandish claim is patently false, though it is true that the party’s progressive wing, to which Omar and Tlaib belong, has become increasingly critical of Israel’s counter-productive policies toward the Palestinians and Netanyahu’s rejection of the two-state solution.
Trump’s most recent remarks are extremely troubling because they politicize the United States’ long-standing relationship with Israel, which is based on shared moral, cultural and strategic values.
From Israel’s birth to the present day, U.S. backing for Israel has been non-partisan, with Democrats and Republicans rallying behind the Jewish state in good times and bad times. Much to his discredit, Trump is trying to upend this equation to further his political ambitions. In the process, he has stirred the embers of antisemitism.
The Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, the most influential Jewish group in the United States, has yet to reject Trump’s shameful, divisive and unpresidential rhetoric. But the American Jewish Committee and the Anti-Defamation League have courageously issued condemnations of Trump’s behavior.
David Harris, the chief executive officer of the American Jewish Committee, described his remarks as “shockingly divisive and unbecoming of the occupant of the highest elected office.” Reminding Trump that Jewish Americans “have a range of political views and policy priorities,” Harris urged him to “stop such divisive rhetoric and to retract his disparaging remarks.”
The chief executive officer of the Anti-Defamation League, Jonathan Greenblatt, called on Trump to “stop using Jews as a political football.”
David Halperin, the executive director of the Israel Policy Forum, condemned Trump’s efforts to “leverage Israel as a wedge issue in American politics.”
Daniel Sokatch, the chief executive officer of the New Israel Fund, deplored Trump’s attempt “to weaponize Israel and antisemitism to attract Jewish support, all the while aiding and abetting Israel’s ultranationalist right (and) coddling white nationalists …”
Stosh Cotler, the chief executive officer of Bend the Arc: Jewish Action, compared Trump’s “abhorrent” language with “textbook antisemitism” that should be called out … without hesitation.”
It’s clear beyond any doubt that Trump must cease playing partisan games with Israel’s pivotal relationship with the United States and stop insinuating that Jewish Americans who cast their ballots for the Democrats are intrinsically disloyal.