'We’ve seen where this road has led before'

Jewish groups: Trump spreads anti-Semitic trope by accusing Jews of ‘disloyalty’

AJC head pleads, ‘Please keep loyalty out of it,’ after president accuses Jews who vote for Democrats of being disloyal or ignorant, in latest round of his feud with Tlaib and Omar

President Donald Trump speaks during a meeting with Romanian President Klaus Iohannis in the Oval Office of the White House, Tuesday, Aug. 20, 2019, in Washington.  (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
President Donald Trump speaks during a meeting with Romanian President Klaus Iohannis in the Oval Office of the White House, Tuesday, Aug. 20, 2019, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

WASHINGTON — American Jewish leaders on Tuesday condemned US President Donald Trump after he accused Jews who support Democrats of “great disloyalty,” saying he was employing a dangerous anti-Semitic trope.

“It’s unclear who @POTUS is claiming Jews would be “disloyal” to, but charges of disloyalty have long been used to attack Jews,” tweeted Jonathan Greenblatt of the Anti-Defamation League, calling on the president to stop “using Jews as a political football.”

American Jewish Committee CEO David Harris called his comments “outrageous.”

“This is a free country. Jews aren’t a monolithic bloc, nor single-issue voters. Some will vote Democratic, others Republican. As Americans, that’s their right. Please keep loyalty out of it,” he said.

On Tuesday, Trump 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.

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 support for boycotting Israel.

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.

And Jewish Democrats said Trump’s words, amounted to perpetuating an anti-Semitic notion that Jews have dual loyalty to America and Israel.

“This is yet another example of Donald Trump continuing to weaponize and politicize anti-Semitism,” said Halie Soifer, executive director of the Jewish Democratic Council of America.

“At a time when anti-Semitic incidents have increased — due to the president’s emboldening of white nationalism — Trump is repeating an anti-Semitic trope,” she continued. “If this is about Israel, then Trump is repeating a dual loyalty claim, which is a form of anti-Semitism. If this is about Jews being ‘loyal’ to him, then Trump needs a reality check. We live in a democracy, and Jewish support for the Republican Party has been halved in the past four years.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks at the ceremony for a new town named for US President Donald Trump, in Kela Alon in the northwestern Golan, on June 16, 2019. (David Cohen/Flash90)

Other Jewish Democratic operatives said that Trump’s latest comments were part of a long and pernicious pattern of anti-Semitic political leaders accusing Jews of lacking in loyalty.

“Jews have had a long history of being in countries where we are accused of being disloyal,” said Aaron Keyak, former head of the National Jewish Democratic Council and a veteran political operative.

“These sort of attacks are dangerous, reckless, and wrong. Just because President Trump is deeply unpopular in our community is no reason to slander us with echos of some of the most insidious attacks against our people. We’ve seen where this road has led before.”

Ann Lewis and Mark Mellman of Democratic Majority for Israel called it “one of the most dangerous, deadly accusations Jews have faced over the years. False charges of disloyalty over the centuries have led to Jews being murdered, jailed and tortured.”

Non-Jews, too, noted the connotations of Trump’s remarks. The former CBS anchor Dan Rather tweeted that they were bigoted. “Let’s be crystal clear,” he said. “When Pres. Trump says that Jews who vote for Democrats show ‘either a total lack of knowledge or great disloyalty,’ he is summoning the forces of bigotry and anti-Semitism with all of its blood-stained history.”

Trump’s comments came after much of the US Jewish community and virtually all of Democratic Party has expressed outrage over Israel’s barring of Tlaib and  Omar.

Omar and Tlaib, who have sparred with Trump over Israel and a number of other issues, said Monday that the US president pressured Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to ban them. They followed by calling for the United States to cut aid to Israel until it halts settlement building and ensures equal rights for Palestinians.

While criticism of Trump’s “disloyalty” remarks were widespread within the US Jewish community, at least one Jewish group came to his defense.

“President Trump is right,” the Republican Jewish Coalition tweeted, “it shows a great deal of disloyalty to oneself to defend a party that protects/emboldens people that hate you for your religion.”

The liberal Mideast advocacy organization J Street, however, said it was the logical next step after the president’s bigoted attacks on other racial and ethnic minorities.

“It is dangerous and shameful for President Trump to attack the large majority of the American Jewish community as unintelligent and ‘disloyal,” said Logan Bayroff, the group’s director of communications. “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.”

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