US President Donald Trump on Tuesday lashed out at Democrats over what he claimed was their lack of support for Israel, suggesting that American Jews who intend to vote for his rival party in the 2020 elections would be displaying “great disloyalty.”
“I think any Jewish people who would vote for a Democrat, I think it shows either a total lack of knowledge or great disloyalty,” Trump said during an Oval Office meeting with President Klaus Iohannis of Romania.
Polls found that 76-79 percent of Jews voted for Democrats in November’s midterm elections, mirroring a long history of backing the party.
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.
Tlaib and Omar, who have sparred with Trump over Israel and a number of other issues, on Monday accused the US president of encouraging Prime Minister Benjamin 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.
“I would not cut off aid to Israel,” Trump said. “I can’t even believe we’re having this conversation. Five years ago, the concept of even talking about this, even three years ago, of cutting off aid to Israel because of two people that hate Israel and hate Jewish people, I can’t believe we’re even having this conversation.”
“Where has the Democratic party gone…. where they’re defending these two people over the State of Israel?” Trump asked. “I think any Jewish people who would vote for a Democrat, I think it shows either a total lack of knowledge or great disloyalty.”
Israel granted Omar and Tlaib permission to enter in principle last month, but backtracked last week and banned them from visiting under a 2017 law allowing it to expel or deny entry to anyone who backs the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel.
The decision was made less than two hours after Trump tweeted that it would “show great weakness” if Israel gave them permission to come, and the reversal was widely seen as the result of pressure from the US president.
Banning the lawmakers fueled a partisan fire over the Jewish state that has been raging in the United States, and Trump has appeared eager to fan the flames.
After the ban was announced, Trump celebrated the decision on Twitter, framing the issue in decidedly political terms: “Representatives Omar and Tlaib are the face of the Democrat Party, and they HATE Israel!”
Trump has hit back at opponents of some of his decisions by accusing them of anti-Semitism and of being insufficiently pro-Israel. White House aides say Trump is expecting that his firm support for Israel will attract more Jewish and evangelical Christian supporters in 2020.
His latest attacks on Omar, Tlaib and the Democrats echoed the “dual loyalty” slur that has been consistently called out by the Jewish community as anti-Semitic.
Aaron Keyak, the former head of the National Jewish Democratic Council, immediately criticized Trump’s “disloyalty” comment.
“Jews have had a long history of being in countries where we are accused of being disloyal,” he said in a statement. “These sort of attacks are dangerous, reckless, and wrong.”
Earlier on Tuesday, Trump attacked Tlaib after she got visibly emotional during a Monday press conference discussing the travel ban.
“Sorry, I don’t buy Rep. Tlaib’s tears. I have watched her violence, craziness and, most importantly, WORDS, for far too long. Now tears?” Trump tweeted.
“She hates Israel and all Jewish people. She is an anti-Semite. She and her 3 friends are the new face of the Democrat Party. Live with it!”
Tlaib, a US-born Palestinian-American from Michigan, had also planned to visit her aging grandmother in the West Bank. Israeli officials later relented and said she could visit her 90-year-old grandmother if she did not engage in politics, but Tlaib then declined.
Speaking alongside Omar at a Monday press conference, Tlaib got emotional as she told how her “Sitty” — an Arabic term of endearment for grandmother — urged her during a tearful late-night family phone call not to come under what they considered such humiliating circumstances.
“She said I’m her dream manifested. I’m her free bird,” Tlaib recalled. “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?”
Tlaib and Omar are known as supporters of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel, a campaign that seeks to force Israel through economic pressure and social and cultural ostracism to dismantle its military presence in the West Bank. Supporters say the movement is a nonviolent way of protesting Israel’s 52-year military rule over the Palestinians, but Israel says it aims to delegitimize the state’s existence.
Tlaib and Omar are part of the “squad” of four liberal House newcomers — all women of color — whom Trump has labeled as the face of the Democratic Party as he runs for reelection. The Republican president subjected them to a series of racist tweets last month in which he called on them to “go back” to their “broken” countries. They are US citizens — Tlaib was born in the US and Omar became a citizen after moving to the US as a refugee from war-torn Somalia.
Omar earlier this year claimed Congressional support for Israel was “all about the Benjamins” and accused pro-Israel activists and lawmakers of disloyalty: “I want to talk about the political influence in this country that says it is okay to push for allegiance to a foreign country,” Omar said. Her remarks drew accusations of anti-Semitism and she later apologized.
The Associated Press, JTA contributed to this report.