President Trump said Tuesday that Jewish people who vote for Democrats are either ignorant or disloyal as he railed against two congresswomen who have been critical of the U.S.-Israel alliance.
“I think Jewish people that vote for a Democrat — I think it shows either a total lack of knowledge or great disloyalty,” Trump told reporters during an Oval Office meeting with the president of Romania.
Trump and the GOP have sought to win over Jewish voters from the Democratic Party by criticizing statements by Reps. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) and Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), the first two Muslim women elected to Congress. Both have criticized Israel’s government.
Trump last week urged Israel to block Tlaib and Omar from visiting the country, saying in a tweet that allowing the visit would show “great weakness.” An hour after Trump’s tweet, Israel denied the congresswomen entry.
But in stating that Jewish people who voted for Democrats were disloyal, Trump appeared to step into the same verbal quagmire about Jewish loyalty to the Israeli state that had drawn criticism to Omar earlier this year.
Omar took heat for remarks that suggested to some that Jewish Americans were more loyal to Israel than the United States.
Trump’s comments came as he accused Tlaib and Omar of hating Israel and the Jewish people, and he complained that Democrats should also be criticizing them.
“The concept of even talking about this … 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,” Trump said in the Oval Office.
“Where has the Democratic Party gone?” he continued. “Where have they gone … where they’re defending these two people over the state of Israel?”
Liberal Jewish groups swiftly condemned the president’s Tuesday remarks.
“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. 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,” said Halie Soifer, executive director of the Jewish Democratic Council of America.
Trump has made unwavering support of Israel one of the pillars of his foreign policy, including moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem and officially recognizing Israel’s claim over the disputed Golan Heights territory.
Tlaib and Omar have supported the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement targeting Israel over its treatment of Palestinians, and have been accused of using anti-Semitic tropes.
Omar drew criticism when she suggested lawmakers support Israel because of money from lobbyists and was rebuked again when she claimed those who back the country harbor “dual loyalty.”
Tlaib, who is Palestinian American, drew backlash from conservatives earlier this year for comments about the Holocaust when she said it gave her a “calming feeling” to think of persecuted Jews finding safe haven in Israel.
The two congresswomen held a joint press conference on Monday denouncing Israel’s decision to bar their entry. Tlaib teared up as she recounted her family’s experiences as Palestinians in the Middle East, while Omar suggested that Congress reconsider the annual U.S. aid allocated to Israel after the international incident.
Trump said Tuesday that he was not involved in the decision to bar Tlaib and Omar entry, but that he supported Israel’s decision and that it would have been “very bad” to have let the congresswomen in. He went on to chastise Tlaib for getting emotional a day earlier, saying he’d seen her be “vicious” while protesting one of his campaign events in 2016.
Trump has hammered Tlaib and Omar with criticism in recent months, seeking to portray them as extreme and cast them as the face of the Democratic Party.
But Trump has stoked accusations of anti-Semitism with his own rhetoric as well.
The president angered Jewish groups and others in 2017 when he said there were “very fine people on both sides” of a deadly white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Va., where marchers carried Nazi banners and chanted anti-Semitic slogans.
Jewish groups called on Trump to more forcefully condemn white nationalism last year after a gunman opened fire in a Pittsburgh synagogue, killing 11 people.
In 2016, Trump tweeted an image of Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton with the phrase “Most Corrupt Candidate Ever” inside a Star of David on top of piles of cash.
Multiple exit polls from the 2016 presidential election showed that more than 70 percent of Jewish Americans voted for Clinton.