“No president has done more for Israel than I have,” Donald Trump posted on his social media platform, Truth Social, on Sunday. “Somewhat surprisingly, however, our wonderful Evangelicals are far more appreciative of this than the people of the Jewish faith, especially those living in the US.” Trump also claimed that he was so popular he could be elected prime minister of Israel and said, “US Jews have to get their act together and appreciate what they have in Israel – Before it is too late!”
Once pictures of Trump’s post were shared on more popular social media platforms such as Twitter it went viral. His words were condemned by prominent American Jewish groups, including those that regularly assert that anti-Zionism (which Trump appeared to be at least gesturing at) and anti-Semitism are one and the same. Many of these establishment, mainstream Jewish organisations were criticised during Trump’s presidency by those who felt that they supported his administration in an attempt to bolster their own ties with Israel and appear bipartisan rather than calling out anti-Semitism and defending human rights.
“We don’t need the former president, who curries favour with extremists and anti-Semites, to lecture us about the US-Israel relationship. It is not about a quid pro quo; it rests on shared values and security interests. This ‘Jewsplaining’ is insulting and disgusting,” tweeted Jonathan Greenblatt, head of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), a Jewish NGO dedicated to “stopping defamation of the Jewish people” – and one of the groups that was criticised during Trump’s presidency.
“Support for the Jewish state never gives one license to lecture American Jews, nor does it ever give the right to draw baseless judgements about the ties between US Jews and Israel. And to be clear, those ties are strong and enduring,” read a tweet from the American Jewish Committee, a prominent advocacy group that was similarly criticised.
Though Trump’s post drew a lot of anger, it is hardly the first time he’s said something like this. In an interview with the news website Axios last year he said roughly the same thing. “People in this country that are Jewish no longer love Israel,” he said. “I’ll tell you, the evangelical Christians love Israel more than the Jews in this country… The Jewish people in the United States either don’t like Israel or don’t care about Israel… When you look at the New York Times, the New York Times hates Israel, hates them, and they’re Jewish people that run the New York Times – I mean the Sulzberger family.”
He also made similar comments in 2019 while still in office. Speaking to reporters outside the White House, he said: “In my opinion, if you vote for a Democrat, you’re being very disloyal to Jewish people and you’re being very disloyal to Israel. And only weak people would say anything other than that.” The day before he had said: “I think any Jewish people that vote for a Democrat, I think it shows either a total lack of knowledge or great disloyalty.”
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Most American Jews do indeed vote for Democrats and most are not voting based on a candidate’s given position on Israel. In fact a 2020 poll by the Ruderman Foundation found that only 4 per cent of American Jews believe that Israel is the most important issue. Most American Jews do indeed profess an attachment to Israel: six in ten say they are very or somewhat emotionally attached, though less than half have actually been there, according to a 2020 study by the Pew Research Centre. But according to the same study, younger American Jews both feel less attached to and are more critical of the country. These are facts of American life. It is not up to the former president or anyone else to say that that makes American Jews disloyal, or to demand our political support.
Another fact of American political life is that many Republican candidates traffic in anti-Semitic tropes and then defend themselves against charges of bigotry by touting their support for Israel. And another fact of American life is that Republicans often do this with cover from like-minded Jewish people: Trump is set to receive an honour from the right-wing Zionist Organization of America next month for such achievements as moving the US embassy to Jerusalem and cutting funding to Palestinians.
All of this is to say that one of our two major political parties regularly treats “Israel” and “American Jews” as though they should be interchangeable, and Trump regularly chastises us for the fact that we don’t see things the same way. All of this is happening at a time when most American Jews feel that anti-Semitism on the rise. This is the state of American Jewish politics and Trump is but one of the loudest voices sharing the Republican Party line.