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US PRESIDENT Donald Trump takes on US Representatives Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar. Are American Jews stuck between a rock and hard place?.(Photo by: REUTERS)
Bipartisan support
“If this is about Israel, then Trump is repeating a dual-loyalty claim, which is a form of antisemitism, If this is about Jews being ‘loyal’ to him, then Trump needs a reality check.”
Until this week, it was taken for granted that American Jews could vote either Republican or Democrat without being accused of being disloyal to the United States.

That changed on Tuesday, when President Donald Trump told reporters, “I think any Jewish people that vote for a Democrat, I think it shows either a total lack of knowledge or great disloyalty.”

The remark, which brought to mind one of the oldest antisemitic tropes in history – disloyal Jews – was roundly condemned by most Jewish American organizations.

On Wednesday, Trump strongly denied that his comment was antisemitic but insisted, “If you vote for a Democrat, you’re being disloyal to Jewish people and you’re being very disloyal to Israel.”

Even with that clarification, what Trump said this week is completely unacceptable. The president’s supporters claim he was responding to Monday’s press conference by Reps. Ilhan Omar (D-Minnesota) and Rashida Tlaib (D-Michigan), whom Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu barred from entering Israel. But that is no excuse.

It is true that Omar and Tlaib fueled the flames of hatred for Trump and Netanyahu, blasted Israel’s decision to bar their entry as being unacceptable for a US ally and a democracy, and called for a halt in financial aid to the Jewish state.

With his comment, Trump was not that different from Omar, who first raised the notion of dual loyalty and questioned “the political influence in this country that says it is OK for people to push for allegiance to a foreign country.”

It was certainly not OK for Omar to make this malicious charge, and it was not OK for Trump to follow suit by responding the way he did.

“If this is about Israel, then Trump is repeating a dual-loyalty claim, which is a form of antisemitism,” Jewish Democratic Council of America executive director Halie Soifer correctly observed. “If this is about Jews being ‘loyal’ to him, then Trump needs a reality check.”

Jonathan Greenblatt, the Anti-Defamation League’s national director and CEO, noted that: “Charges of disloyalty have long been used to attack Jews,” while the American Jewish Committee described the president’s remarks as “inappropriate, unwelcome and downright dangerous.”

The Republican Jewish Committee, on the other hand, squarely backed Trump.

“It shows a great deal of disloyalty to oneself to defend a party that protects/emboldens people that hate you for your religion,” it declared.

According to polls, some 75% of American Jews vote Democrat. Even so, there has consistently been bipartisan support in
Congress for Israel since the establishment of the Jewish state in 1948. Trump is using Israel as a political football to attack the Democratic Party. He wants to highlight the anti-Israel positions of Tlaib and Omar in order to move support away from the Democrats. He is not defending Israel; he is using it to get his point across.

Israel, however, cannot allow itself to become a wedge issue in the US, its main ally.

This was best evidenced in the trip to Israel earlier this month by the largest-ever bipartisan delegation of 41 Democrats and 31 Republicans. As House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said during the visit, “We are like Israel, and you are like us – a very vibrant democracy that welcomes and accepts different points of view.”

While we understand why Netanyahu has been quiet – to avoid a fight with Trump – the time has come for him to speak out. He conceded to Trump’s request to bar Omar and Tlaib from entering Israel, and is now silent again on the latest presidential scandal involving Israel.

President Reuven Rivlin did his best to control the damage in a telephone call on Wednesday to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat from California.

“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,” Rivlin told her.

Rivlin’s message was clear and accurate. Let’s hope that Trump and all Americans, Jews and non-Jews, Republicans and Democrats – including representatives Omar and Tlaib – are listening.
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