As the Israeli government bans US congresswomen Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib from entering the country under pressure from the Trump administration, we are reminded once again how the current American president will shamelessly use Israel as a wedge issue to divide Jews and bolster his base. This president gives lip service to supporting Israel while in practice he has created a cultural atmosphere that spurns the very hate, bigotry, and racial-ethnic violence that threatens Jews. As American-Israeli Jews, and as heads of Democrats Abroad in Israel, we affirm that when it comes to Israel and Jews, this president does not speak for us.
Trump worked hard to convince Israel not to allow the Congresswomen to visit. He tweeted, “It would show great weakness if Israel allowed Rep. Omar and Rep.Tlaib to visit. They hate Israel & all Jewish people, & there is nothing that can be said or done to change their minds….They are a disgrace!”
The Congresswomen are not anti-Semitic. Rather, they are strong critics of some of Israel’s policies, which they have the right to be. But that is besides the point. The Democratic Party fully supports Israel, as it always has, firmly opposes Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions, and promotes a two-state solution to the conflict. These positions have not changed, they are supported by the majority of the American Jewish community, and they represent a clear and cogent vision for American foreign policy on Israel.
Unfortunately, Trump and his minions have been trying very hard to cast the Democratic party as anti-Israel and anti-Semitic in order to fan his base. In March, Trump called the Democratic Party “anti-Israel” and “anti-Jewish” after House leaders condemned all forms of hatred. Similarly, House Republican Conference chairwoman Rep. Liz Cheney (Wyo) accused Democrats of “enabling anti-Semitism.”
The great irony of all this is that Trump is actually the great enabler of hate, even hate against Jews. He regularly uses anti-Semitic tropes and images, which his Jewish supporters shrug off. He even spews anti-Semitic tropes to chuckling Jewish Republicans, like when he told the Republican Jewish Coalitionin December 2015, “I’m a negotiator like you folks, we are negotiators… Is there anybody that doesn’t renegotiate deals in this room?” Even while deriding Congresswoman Omar, he spoke to Jewish Republicans about “your Prime Minister,” shamelessly employing the anti-Semitic “dual loyalty” trope that he was blaming Omar for using. At least three times, Trump retweeted explicitly white nationalist Twitter accounts that had posted a slew of racist and anti-Semitic content. After the neo-Nazi rally at Charlottesville in August 2017, where torch-wielding mobs chanted “Jews will not replace us,” Trump said, there were “some very fine people on both sides.”
Yet, despite Trump’s troubling record on Israel and Jews, he likes to spin himself as the great savior of the Jews because this rhetoric works on his people. He says what they want to hear, so they close their eyes and ears to the truth. Thus, for example, in April, when he told the Republican Jewish Coalition in Las Vegas that Democrats “are advancing by far the most extreme, anti-Semitic agenda in history,” he was giving the audience their perceived purpose – that is, to view themselves as the grandiose protectors of Israel and the Jews – even if it is exactly the opposite of the truth.
The head-spinning vertigo resulting from Republicans calling the Democrats anti-Semitic at that juncture in history – when Democrats are feverishly trying to stem the tide of hatred and violence that Trump’s election has ushered in – reminds us of how mind-numbingly twisted our political culture has become under Trump.
To be clear, Trump is bad for the Jews and bad for Israel. The Anti-Defamation League, which has been tracking anti-Semitism in America since 1979, released a report this year showing a steep rise in anti-Semitic incidents under Trump, jumping 57% in 2017 alone. The FBI also found that hate crimes against Jews grew by 37% in the same period.
Mostly, Trump’s agenda of hate is bad for Jew because it is bad for humanity. His attempts to spin the four freshmen liberal congresswomen as unAmerican by claiming that they are bad for Jews is nothing but a sick ploy. When his crowds chant “send them back”, it doesn’t matter whose heads are on the chopping block or whether the sin they have committed is having the wrong skin color, gender, or religion. When this is the culture, it is bad for everyone.
Trump is using Israel and the Jews for nothing more than his own political gain, weaponizing support for Israel in order to fan hatred and fear – the destructive energies that fuel his victory.
We are not fooled, and we are glad that most of our landsmen and landswomen are not either. Thankfully, most American Jews can see through the charade. According to Gallup, 71% of Jewish respondents disapprove of the president. In 2018, only 16% of American Jews identified as Republicans. In the 2018 midterms, 79% of American Jewish voters supported Democratic candidates.
We know that his racist and sexist tweets and policies are bad for Jews and bad for humanity. We are just sad that in addition to all the hatred Trump has spurred on, now we will also not have the opportunity to meet the new Congresswomen in Israel. One more casualty of life under Trump.
The above was co-authored by Elana Sztokman and Heather Stone