Politics Foreign Affairs Culture Fellows Program

Trump’s Disgraceful ‘Disloyalty’ Rhetoric

Trump's "pro-Israel" posturing and anti-Semitic rhetoric provide a perfect example of what is wrong with how we think about the U.S.-Israel relationship.

The president plumbed new depths of ugliness in his effort to use unfounded accusations of anti-Semitism against Democratic members of Congress and the Democratic Party as a whole:

President Trump on Tuesday said that any Jewish people who vote for Democrats are showing “either a total lack of knowledge or great disloyalty,” prompting an outcry from critics who said the president’s remarks were promoting anti-Semitic stereotypes.

Trump’s insinuation that Jewish Americans are either ignorant or disloyal if they vote for Democratic candidates is explicit anti-Semitism employed for partisan purposes. He seemed to be suggesting that these Americans were being disloyal to America or Israel or both, and no matter what he meant by it he was actually trafficking in the rhetoric that he has falsely accused others of using. The president repeatedly lies about Reps. Tlaib and Omar and attacks them for anti-Semitism that they have never expressed, and while trying to smear them he makes a sweeping statement that the loyalty of Jewish Americans supposedly depends on their political preferences. He has predictably conflated legitimate criticism of Israeli policies with anti-Semitism and simultaneously uses his lockstep support for the current Israeli government as a shield against accusations of the same.

The president’s remarks should be roundly condemned, but we also need to recognize that the false accusations against Reps. Tlaib and Omar have encouraged the president to make these outrageous statements. Trump wants to misrepresent Reps. Tlaib and Omar as being anti-Israel and anti-Semitic, and he has had a lot of help in doing that from the media and some of their own Democratic colleagues, but his obsession with vilifying them has resulted in his doing the very thing he accuses them of doing. Trump doesn’t seem to grasp that he is doing just as much damage to the U.S.-Israel relationship as he has done to the relationship with the Saudis by reflexively supporting the other government in everything. He is using such noxious rhetoric in his attacks on Reps. Tlaib and Omar that he continues to put them in real danger for the sake of scoring cheap political points.

Trump’s “pro-Israel” posturing and anti-Semitic rhetoric provide a perfect example of what is wrong with how we think about the U.S.-Israel relationship and how the charge of anti-Semitism is used to stifle criticism of that relationship. Because Trump indulges hard-line policies of occupation and apartheid, he is deemed to be “pro-Israel” even though these policies are profoundly wrong and ultimately disastrous for Israel. Because Reps. Tlaib and Omar denounce and oppose the same policies and challenge the “pro-Israel” consensus in Washington, they are deemed to be “anti-Israel” when they are speaking up in defense of the rights of an oppressed population that has lived under illegal occupation for more than half a century. Trump has assumed that vilifying Reps. Tlaib and Omar is an obvious political winner, but in his effort to portray them in the worst light he has once again exposed himself for the ugly demagogue that he is.