WASHINGTON — US President Donald Trump appeared to suggest again that American Jews are loyal to Israel, as he urged community leaders to get out the vote for him in a brief pre-Rosh Hashanah phone call Wednesday.
Trump signed off the 20-minute call by telling the Jewish leaders, “We really appreciate you… We love your country also.”
The remarks have been criticized for appearing to carry an accusation of dual loyalty, redolent of classic anti-Semitic canards that caused Jews to be regarded with suspicion for centuries.
Introducing his Jewish son-in-law, Jared Kushner, who played a key role in the US brokering of historic deals with the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain signed Tuesday at the White House, Trump called him “an unbelievable leader for Israel.”
“Here I have a son-in-law and a daughter who are Jewish, I have beautiful grandchildren that are Jewish, I have all of these incredible achievements,” he said in a recording of the off-the-record call played for The Times of Israel.
“I can honestly say that there’s been no greater president for the Jewish people in history than Donald Trump,” Kushner chimed in.
Appearing to blur the line between White House events and campaigning, Trump pressed listeners to canvas for him in the upcoming presidential election and asserted that Israel would suffer if he is not reelected this fall.
“I have to say this, whatever you can do in terms of November 3 is going to be very important because if we don’t win, Israel is in big trouble,” Trump said.
Arthur Stark, the chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, asked about Trump’s plans to assist Israel in confronting actors such as Iran and Turkey who back terrorist groups like Hamas and Hezbollah. Trump’s reply: Vote Republican.
“This is really a time that’s very important in the life of Israel and the safety of Israel. And we will do a great job,” he said. “If the other side gets in all bets are off. I think it’ll be a whole different story. I think it’ll be exactly the opposite.”
Trump noted that he exited the Iran nuclear deal and said Obama, who brokered that agreement, “humiliated” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
“I remember Bibi coming over and begging him, begging him to a point of humiliation that please don’t do the Iran deal,” Trump said. “He did it. I broke it, but he did it. And yet the Democrats get 75% sort of like habit. It’s automatic. I hope you can do better with that. I hope you can explain to people what’s going on.”
Jews traditionally vote in large numbers for the Democratic presidential nominee. A poll this week showed Joe Biden getting 67% of the Jewish vote and Trump 30%.
But Jewish voters in swing states, particularly Florida, could shift what may be a close election, and Trump signaled that he was mystified about why he would not command a larger share of the Jewish vote.
“Which really amazes me, and I have to tell you, because I saw a poll that in the last election, I got 25% of the Jewish vote,” Trump said. “I’m amazed that it seems to be almost automatically a Democrat.”
“President Obama [was] the worst president, by far, that Israel has ever had in the United States… Yet the Democrats get 75%.”
“I hope you can do better with that [and] explain to people what’s going on,” Trump said. “We have to get more support from the Jewish people — for Israel… We have to be able, to do well on November 3, and I hope you can get everybody out there. Otherwise, everything that we’ve done, I think, could come undone and we wouldn’t like that.”
The president listed what his administration was doing for Israel, saying it paid $4.2 billion in annual assistance to the country. He appeared to be referring to the figure of $3.8 billion, which stems from a deal brokered by Trump’s predecessor, Barack Obama.
“We’re in the Middle East because of Israel,” Trump said, a position that appeared to be at odds with the myriad interests, including the free flow of oil, that the United States has in the region.
The Biden campaign slammed Trump for his remarks.
“Trump’s inability to prevent himself from engaging in anti-Semitic stereotypes is disturbing and dangerous in its own right, but it is sadly no surprise. From calling Nazis and other racists ‘very fine people’ to repeatedly suggesting that Jewish Americans are somehow less than loyal to the United States of America, what remains astonishing is the silence of his supporters — especially those in our community,” said Aaron Keyak, Jewish Engagement Director at Biden for President.
“When Trump says to us that ‘we love your country also,’ we hear him loud and clear. So do the anti-Semites,” Keyak said.