Israeli officials on Wednesday offered a muted response to remarks by US President Donald Trump who said American Jews who vote for the Democratic Party were “disloyal.”
Referring to Democrat Congresswomen Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib, who under pressure from Trump were denied entry to Israel last week, the president told reporters on Tuesday at the Oval Office:
“Where has the Democratic Party gone? Where have they gone where they’re defending these two people over the state of Israel. And I think any Jewish people that vote for a Democrat, I think it shows either a total lack of knowledge or great disloyalty.”
Jewish groups in the United States were outraged by Trump’s comment, some noting that accusations of disloyalty have long been made against Jews, including in Europe during the 1930s.
Ann Lewis and Mark Mellman of Democratic Majority for Israel called it “one of the most dangerous, deadly accusations Jews have faced over the years. False charges of disloyalty over the centuries have led to Jews being murdered, jailed and tortured.”
But the Israeli government, which has particularly close ties with the Trump administration, appeared to hold back on criticism of a key ally.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office declined to comment on Trump’s remarks. Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz, when asked about Trump’s statement, told Reshet Bet Radio:
“We must not intervene in the political disagreements in the United States. We keep good relations with both the Democrats and Republicans and we must continue to do so.
We have supporters and friends in both parties, among the Democrats and Republicans, Jews and non Jews and we embrace them all,” he said.
The Republican Jewish Coalition argued that Trump was speaking about people being disloyal to themselves rather than to Israel.
“President Trump is right, it shows a great deal of disloyalty to oneself to defend a party that protects/emboldens people that hate you for your religion,” the group said in a tweet.
The US president delighted many Israelis – while appalling Palestinians and other world powers – by recognizing occupied Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, moving the US Embassy there, withdrawing from the 2015 Iran nuclear deal and recognizing Israeli sovereignty over the occupied Golan Heights.
The current US administration’s stance on Israel is also widely supported by evangelical Christians, who are a key voter base for Trump as the country heads into the 2020 elections.
On Wednesday, Trump responded to criticism of his comments in a series of tweets, quoting praise from conservative radio host Wayne Allyn Root who referred to him as the “King of Israel”.