By Julie Hirschfeld Davis – The New York Times
WASHINGTON — President Trump said on Tuesday that any Jewish person who votes for a Democrat is guilty of ignorance or “great disloyalty,” intensifying his efforts to drive in a partisan wedge over religion and support for Israel even as he appeared to draw on an anti-Semitic trope.
Mr. Trump did not go into specifics about what he considered to be Jews’ disloyalty, but his language was reminiscent of the anti-Semitic smear that Jews have a “dual loyalty” and are more devoted to Israel than they are to their own countries.
Mr. Trump’s comments were the latest turn in a controversy over religion and politics that erupted last week after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel, at the president’s urging, barred an official visit to Israel by the first two Muslim women in Congress. The congresswomen, Representatives Ilhan Omar of Minnesota and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan, both Democrats, have been harshly critical of Israel’s policies toward Palestinians.
The president’s comments were condemned by diplomats and analysts across the political spectrum. They accused him of endangering bipartisan support for Israel in the United States, the country’s most reliable ally, in his zeal to curry favor with some Jewish voters and tighten his alliance with Mr. Netanyahu.
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“It’s unclear who @POTUS is claiming Jews would be ‘disloyal’ to,” Jonathan Greenblatt, the chief executive of the Anti-Defamation League, said on Twitter, using a common acronym to refer to the president of the United States, “but charges of disloyalty have long been used to attack Jews.”
Logan Bayroff, the communications director for J Street, a progressive Jewish organization, said: “It is dangerous and shameful for President Trump to attack the large majority of the American Jewish community as unintelligent and ‘disloyal.’ But it is no surprise that the president’s racist, disingenuous attacks on progressive women of color in Congress have now transitioned into smears against Jews.”
In his comments on Tuesday, the president lashed out anew at Ms. Omar and Ms. Tlaib for suggesting on Monday that the United States cut off aid to Israel. The two are vocal supporters of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, known as B.D.S., which advocates cutting ties with Israel until it ends its occupation of the West Bank. The movement is often condemned as inherently anti-Semitic.
“Where has the Democratic Party gone?” Mr. Trump said at the tail end of freewheeling comments during a visit on Tuesday by the Romanian president. “Where have they gone where they are 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.”
The accusation that Jews have dual loyalty is nothing new, but it has become a toxic element of white nationalist philosophy.
The remark was the latest from a president who has a history of using language that stokes racial and religious divisions. That language has been echoed in recent statements and writings of deranged people bent on violence.
On Tuesday, the F.B.I. said it had arrested a Nazi sympathizer who had threatened to butcher a Hispanic woman and had boasted that Mr. Trump would wipe out nonwhites in a “racial war and crusade.” This month, the 21-year-old man accused in the El Paso Walmart massacre wrote a manifesto echoing Mr. Trump’s language that calls migrants crossing the southwestern border as part of “an invasion.”
“This attack is a response to the Hispanic invasion of Texas,” the manifesto said.
The president’s “disloyalty” comment was met by outrage from many Jewish leaders, who called it divisive and dangerous.
Representative Ted Deutch, Democrat of Florida, said Mr. Trump should apologize for using “the kind of language that ends up fueling the anger of white nationalists.”
“What the president is doing is creating an environment in which anti-Semitism can flourish,” Mr. Deutch said on CNN.
Mr. Trump’s remarks had broad implications: According to the Pew Research Center, 79 percent of Jews voted for Democrats in last year’s midterm congressional elections. The president’s comments were in keeping with his strategy of trying to make Ms. Omar, Ms. Tlaib and two other progressive congresswomen of color the faces of the Democratic Party.
“A.O.C. plus three,” Mr. Trump said, referring to Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, whom he has repeatedly attacked in explicitly racial terms along with Ms. Tlaib, Ms. Omar and Representative Ayanna S. Pressley of Massachusetts. “That’s what I call it: Just take A.O.C. plus three. And you should see the things that the four of them have said about Israel over the last couple of years.”
Some of Mr. Trump’s Jewish allies sprang to his defense, arguing that the president was giving voice to a sense of befuddlement among many American Jews that too many Democrats appeared to be tolerating extreme views about Israel within their ranks. Matt Brooks, the executive director of the Republican Jewish Coalition, said the views of Ms. Omar and Ms. Tlaib, both of whom have made remarks condemned as anti-Semitic, were far outside the mainstream of their party and the country as a whole.
“There is a growing cancer within the Democratic Party right now of people who are supportive of B.D.S., who are advocating a shift in the U.S.-Israel relationship away from the strong bond that exists now between this administration and the government in Israel,” Mr. Brooks said. “As the center of gravity in the Democratic Party moves further and further to the left, this problem becomes clearer and more acute. It’s certainly not an indictment of the entire Democratic Party, but the unfortunate part is that none of them are speaking up and speaking out.”
In fact, the Democrat-led House voted overwhelmingly last month to condemn the boycott-Israel movement. During the debate, Ms. Tlaib, who is Palestinian-American, passionately defended the movement as a legitimate economic protest to advance human rights, calling Israel’s policies toward Palestinians “racist” and comparing the campaign to American boycotts of Nazi Germany.
On Monday in St. Paul, Ms. Omar raised the prospect of cutting off aid to Israel, arguing that a central purpose of the Israel visit that she and Ms. Tlaib had hoped to make was to conduct oversight over the $3 billion in funding that United States provides.
“We must be asking, as Israel’s ally, the Netanyahu government stop the expansion of settlements on Palestinian land and ensure full rights for Palestinians if we are to give them aid,” Ms. Omar said. “We know Donald Trump would love nothing more than to use this issue to pit Muslims and Jewish Americans against each other. The Muslim community and the Jewish community are being othered and made into the boogeyman by this administration.”
During the news conference, Ms. Tlaib broke down in tears when discussing why she turned down a last-minute offer by Mr. Netanyahu’s government to allow her to visit her 90-year-old grandmother in the West Bank if she promised not to speak out about the boycott during her stay.
“I’m her free bird, so why would I come back and be caged and bow down when my election rose her head up high, gave her dignity for the first time?” Ms. Tlaib said of her grandmother. “You don’t let anybody tell you that you’re less than or humiliate you.”
Mr. Trump ridiculed the congresswoman for the display, saying her grief was not genuine.
“All of a sudden, she starts with tears, tears — I don’t buy it,” Mr. Trump said. “I don’t buy it for a second because I’ve seen her in a very vicious mood at campaign rallies.”
“I saw a woman who was violent and vicious and out of control,” Mr. Trump added, without elaborating on what violence he was referring to.