President Reuven Rivlin on Wednesday was the lone senior Israeli official to address US President Donald Trump’s assertion that American Jews who vote Democrat would be displaying “great disloyalty.”
In a phone call with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Rivlin maintained that Israel-US ties “are not dependent on the relationship with one particular party.”
Rivlin spoke to Pelosi in a bid to salvage Israel’s ties with the Democratic Party after several days that have seen the Jewish state become a wedge issue in US politics, threatening to upend decades of bipartisan support.
A statement from Rivlin’s office said he made the call “against the backdrop of recent events,” telling the top elected Democrat that “the relationship between the State of Israel and the United States is a link between peoples, which relies on historical ties, deep and strong friendships and shared values that are not dependent on the relationship with one particular party.”
While Rivlin did not specifically mention Trump, his call came a day after the US president said American Jews who vote Democrat in the 2020 elections would be displaying “a total lack of knowledge or great disloyalty.”
The comments drew a sharp rebuke from US Jewish groups, who accused Trump of employing an anti-Semitic trope of dual loyalty.
However in Israel, apart from Rivlin, only the head of a predominantly Arab Israeli political party condemned Trump for his remarks.
“I don’t know what is more repugnant, the anti-Semitic statement of US President Donald Trump or the hypocritical silence of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu,” Joint List chairman Ayman Odeh told The Times of Israel’s Hebrew site Zman Yisrael in a phone interview.
Netanyahu’s office and the heads of the other political parties declined to comment on Trump’s remarks, and the prime minister himself was silent Tuesday and Wednesday.
According to the Reuters news agency, Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz, when asked about Trump’s statement, told Israel Radio: “We must not intervene in the political disagreements in the United States. We keep good relations with both the Democrats and Republicans and we must continue to do so.”
During the phone call, Rivlin thanked Pelosi for her “unqualified commitment to US-Israel relations and for being a true friend,” and also quoted former US president John Kennedy, saying, “Friendship with Israel is not a partisan matter. It is a national commitment.”
He urged the House speaker to help keep Israel “above political disputes and make every effort to ensure that support for Israel does not become a political issue.”
“The elections we hold give voice to the will of our citizens. We agree with the opinions of some, we speak out against the opinions of others, but we respect the wishes of each of our peoples,” he said.
Trump seemed to clarify on Wednesday who he thought Jews were being “disloyal” to when they vote Democrat.
“If you vote for a Democrat, you’re being disloyal to Jewish people and you’re being very disloyal to Israel,” he was quoted as saying by reporters at the White House.
Trump has repeatedly voiced his frustration over his unpopularity among American Jews, despite his close support for Israel and his steps to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and move the US embassy there.
Indeed, more than 75 percent of American Jews voted for Democrats in the 2018 midterms, according to exit polls. That marked a four percentage point increase from the percentage of Jewish voters (71%) who pulled the lever for Hillary Clinton over Trump in 2016.
Trump was commenting on the uproar in Washington over Israel’s barring of Democratic congresswomen Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar from entering the country due to their pro-Palestinian and Israel-boycott activism.
The move sparked widespread anger among top Democrats after Israel appeared to backtrack from a commitment given to the Democrats that they would be allowed in, apparently following pressure from Trump.
Tlaib and Omar, who have sparred with Trump over Israel and a number of other issues, on Monday accused the US president of encouraging Netanyahu to ban them, and called to cut the $3 billion in annual US assistance to Israel until it halts settlement building and ensures equal rights for Palestinians.
Meanwhile, the statement from Rivlin’s office did not quote Pelosi’s earlier response. On Friday she said that the US-Israel relationship can withstand the “weakness” of Trump and Netanyahu.
“We have a deep relationship and long-standing relationship with Israel that can withstand Donald Trump and Benjamin Netanyahu,” Pelosi said. “We cannot let their weaknesses stand in the way of our ongoing relationship.”