OPN 191004 Trump-1570190263987
US president Donald Trump gestures towards members of the media on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, Thursday, Oct. 3, 2019, after his return from Florida Image Credit: AP

Israel has declined to comment on recent accusations of treason by US President Donald Trump against American Jews who vote for the Democratic Party. His accusations came in comments about the two Democratic members of Congress, Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib, who were refused entry into Israel.

On their side, the Jewish groups in the US were outraged by Trump’s comments. Some considered the remarks anti-Semitic, while others saw hidden narrow electoral interests. ‘Disloyalty’ as seen by Trump is taboo for American Jews who accuse those who use it against them of anti-Semitism.

American Jews, like other Americans, have different political opinions and priorities, but to see such a position from the highest elected office in the US is something that has implications for the Jewish community. Loyalty is a concept promoted mainly by white nationalists and is a manifestation of anti-Semitism that Jews are more loyal to Israel than the countries in which they reside.

This was not the first time Trump had referred to ‘disloyalty’. In May, when he met with members of the Jewish Republican Alliance, the American Jewish establishment advocating US-Israeli relations, he openly said, “I spoke to your prime minister, Netanyahu.” In other words, it is an explicit declaration that he might not recognise US Jews as American.

Many experts on American affairs point out that Jews have penetrated the Democratic Party as a party of immigrants, largely identifying with its democratic vision and its treatment of rights and minorities, unlike the Republican Party, which has a more hardcore attitude towards immigrants in general.

According to the Pew Research Centre, “71 per cent of American Jews voted for Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential election and their voting percentage for Democratic candidates for the 2018 congressional elections — two years after Trump’s rule — rose to 79 per cent.” A recent study by the Centre found that “Protestant evangelicals are more supportive of Trump’s policies than American Jews.

42 per cent of American Jews believe that Washington supports Israel too much. Among evangelical Protestants, 72 per cent say they think Trump strikes the right balance between the Israelis and Palestinians, and just 15 per cent say Trump favours the Israelis too much.“

Racist attacks

Moreover, is to be remembered that Trump received 58 per cent of Protestant votes against 39 per cent for his rival, and Trump’s support rose to 81 per cent among Evangelicals, compared to 16 per cent for Clinton.”

Many have attacked Trump’s remarks, since many Jews see them as the phrase used by all anti-Semites since the Middle Ages to question the loyalty of Jewish nationals to the state in which they live. “It is dangerous and a shame that President Trump attacks the vast majority of the American Jewish community and calls them stupid and betraying,” said J Street, a liberal Jewish lobby.

“But it is not surprising that the president’s deceptive racist attacks on progressive, colourful women in Congress now move into a distortion that targets Jews,” the group added.

In more criticism, Senator Bernie Sanders noted in recent weeks: “My message to Trump is: I am a Jew, I am proud and I have no worries about voting for Democrats.”

Joe Biden, former US vice-president and favourite candidate to beat Trump in the presidential election, described the remarks as “degrading and unjustified”, and urged him to stop the division between the Americans. Democratic candidate Beto O’Rourke said: “The Jewish people don’t need to prove their loyalty to you [Trump] or anyone else,” while The American Jewish Committee called on the president to “stop such a divisive speech and to retract his disgruntled remarks.”

More by the writer

Serious consequences

In a further reaction, the Israel Policy Forum announced: “We reject President Trump’s comments about ignorance and betrayal among American Jews. The president’s words are appalling, but not surprising given his record of indecent statements, as well as his efforts to benefit from Israel as a decisive issue in American politics.”

Rabbi Jonah Pesner, director of the Action Centre Reform Judaism, wrote: “Claiming that Jews are not faithful to the exercise of the right to vote is irresponsible and dangerous. Political and religious freedom is a hallmark of this nation and protects people of all faiths”. The Rabbi addressed President Trump: “Stop using the Jewish community to score political points.”

Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer said: “When Trump uses a description that has been used against the Jewish people for centuries and has had serious consequences, he intentionally or unintentionally encourages anti-Semitism throughout the country and the world, enough!”

When Trump says that any Jews who vote for Democrats are showing “either a total lack of knowledge or great disloyalty,” he strengthens the forces of intolerance. All the racist practices and crimes that have occurred since he took office in more than a state, have become an irresolvable problem based on total racism against minorities with cultural diversity.

The American society is undergoing transformations that touch on the essence of the future of the US and the path that its society will proceed on, while its populist president is indifferent with racism that fuels hatred among Americans.

— Professor As’ad Abdul Rahman is the chairman of the Palestinian Encyclopaedia.