Yesterday President Trump expanded on his charge that Jews are being disloyal to Israel if they vote Democratic. He said the new face of the party are Democratic Congresswomen Ilhan Omar, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Rashida Tlaib, and they are “anti-semites, they are against Israel.”
In my opinion, the Democrats have gone very far away from Israel. I cannot understand how they can do that. They don’t want to fund Israel, they want to take away foreign aid to Israel; they want to do a lot of bad things to Israel. In my opinion, you vote for a Democrat, you are being very disloyal to Jewish people and you’re being very disloyal to Israel, and only weak people would say anything different from that.
Leaving aside the dual loyalty issue that is roiling the Jewish community, let’s focus on Trump’s crazy-like-a-fox political game. He is selling himself as the “king of Israel” and seizing on Israel dissenters in the Democratic Party to try to drive a wedge among Democrats. The Republican Jewish Coalition defended Trump, saying it’s an existential issue:
President Trump is pointing out the obvious: for those who care about Israel, the position of many elected Democrats has become anti-Israel…. President Trump is talking about caring about the survival of the Jewish state.
The Democratic Israel lobby responds that Trump’s “professed support for Israel is based on personal political calculation, not principled commitment.” Tom Friedman explains that Trump wants Sheldon Adelson to pay for his reelection campaign.
Trump’s only participation in [the peace] process has been to exploit it by being slavishly pro-Bibi [Netanyahu] to win political donations from Sheldon Adelson and votes from Jews in Florida.
Democratic Congresswoman Elissa Slotkin of Michigan has said Trump wants to peel away Jewish donors from the Democratic Party.
[Republicans] are not looking for our votes, because we are a relatively small community, they are looking for our donors, right? They are looking for our donors, and they are trying to sway us
Slotkin and the Democratic establishment are fighting that Republican effort by trying to marginalize Tlaib and Omar. Speaker Nancy Pelosi assured an Israel lobby group, “Pay no attention” to the small group of congresspeople who criticize Israel. And yesterday in a sign of the challenge Trump represents, Pelosi had a call to Israeli president Reuven Rivlin in which Rivlin said, “We must keep the State of Israel above political disputes and make every effort to ensure that support for Israel does not become a political issue.”
But the issue won’t go away. Tom Friedman says Democrats haven’t done enough to sideline Rep. Ilhan Omar:
[A]nytime she is legitimately criticized, Democrats automatically scream “Islamophobia’’ and defend her. That’s as disturbing as Trump.
Abraham Cooper of the Simon Wiesenthal Center makes the same point. He told Jewish Insider the Democrats are facing a crisis because they didn’t quash Omar and Tlaib, and Trump saw a political opportunity.
I think one of the reasons why you see so much commentary coming from Trump when it comes to Omar and Tlaib is because in many ways it has just been lacking from Democratic colleagues. This is a crisis that never had to happen, but that will continue to happen as long as they are treated with a different set of standards.
Trump knows a good wedge issue when he sees one: Dems really are divided on this important issue. And despite President Rivlin’s advice, both Trump and the progressive base of the Democratic Party want this political dispute. Omar and Tlaib may not be the face of the party, but they do represent young progressive Democrats. A survey shows that the grass roots don’t like Israel very much and want to strip U.S. aid from Israel because of the unending occupation. Democrats “are squeezed between a pro-Israel legacy and a donor class that is more supportive of Israel on one side and an activist base that is far more critical of Israel and American support for it on the other,” says liberal Zionist Michael Koplow.
As we’ve pointed out, 41 House Democrats went to Israel earlier this month on an Israel lobby trip, paid for by AIPAC, and they gave Benjamin Netanyahu a standing ovation but didn’t talk about it on twitter because they recognize the political liability back home. AIPAC retweeted just three Democrats tweeting from the trip it paid for. Meanwhile, it retweeted 16 Republicans– of 31 who went on the trip– tweeting proudly from military installations and Netanyahu’s side.
Trump is trying to get the Democrats fighting with one another over Israel in 2020, so that the party is divided when it is taking him on; and so Democratic donors and voters who care about Israel go to him.
As for Trump’s Jewish “disloyalty” angle, it is plainly frightening as it echoes anti-semitic charges against Jews in Europe. But Trump is surely echoing invective he has heard from his friends Netanyahu, Adelson, Alan Dershowitz and David Friedman about American Jews owing some fealty to the Jewish state.
Friedman, now the US ambassador to Israel, called the liberal Zionist group J Street “worse than kapos” because of their mild criticisms of Israel. Alan Dershowitz said that Judge Richard Goldstone was an “evil, evil” man and a “moser,” or traitor to the Jews, because he wrote a report alleging Israeli war crimes in Gaza in 2008-2009.
Netanyahu gave an address to American Jews at the height of the Iran deal push telling them they had an obligation to Israel to oppose the deal:
It wasn’t long ago, certainly not that long ago, that the Jewish people were either incapable or unwilling to speak out in the face of mortal threats, and this had devastating consequences. I’ve been very clear – the days when the Jewish people could not or would not speak up for themselves, those days are over. Today we can speak out. Today we must speak out. And we must do so together.
And in 2012 Sheldon Adelson (raised in Boston, married to an Israeli) spoke of himself as an Israeli “citizen” and said he wished he had served in the Israeli army not the American one.
I am not Israeli. The uniform that I wore in the military, unfortunately, was not an Israeli uniform, it was an American uniform, although my wife was in the IDF and one of my daughters was in the IDF, and [one of my sons]… hopefully he’ll come back… and be a sniper for the IDF…. All we care about is being good Zionists, being good citizens of Israel, because even though I am not Israeli born, Israel is in my heart.
Four of my five children are all Israeli. And the one who is being bar mitzvah’d will volunteer to be a sniper.
Eli Clifton at Lobelog points out that Sheldon Adelson has funded several groups that have slandered Reps. Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar as anti-Semitic, a slander Trump is echoing.
Sheldon and Miriam Adelson, Trump and the GOP’s biggest donors, have generously funded a number of the groups that have spent months publishing smears and demonstrable falsehoods about Tlaib and Omar since their swearing in as freshmen members of Congress in January.
And the Adelsons have shown a remarkable track record of getting what they want from the Trump administration on matters related to U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East.
Clifton names three Adelson-backed organizations that have sought to demonize Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar: the Zionist Organization of America, the Jewish News Service, and Shmuley Boteach’s network.
H/t Yakov Hirsch, Scott Roth, James North.