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Wednesday, February 1st, 2023

As Trump questions loyalty of US Jews, Netanyahu is quiet

Most recently, Trump has focused these efforts on trying to paint Democratic congresswomen Ilhan Omar of Minnesota and Rashida Tlaib as the face of the Democratic Party.

Ilhan Omar, left, and Rashida Tlaib have voiced support for the pro-Palestinian Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement.Credit:AP

Last week, Netanyahu barred the two women, who are both Muslim and outspoken critics of Israel, from visiting his country after a public appeal by Trump. Democratic leaders, who only days earlier had visited Israel in a show of bipartisan support, criticised the Israeli decision.

“Where has the Democratic Party gone? Where have they gone where they are defending these two people over the state of Israel?” Trump told reporters in the Oval Office on Tuesday. “I think any Jewish people that vote for a Democrat, I think it shows either a total lack of knowledge or great disloyalty.”

The comments triggered an outpouring of condemnations from Jewish American groups and Democratic lawmakers, who accused Trump of invoking anti-Semitic stereotypes by implying American Jews have dual loyalty to the United States and Israel.

At a time of rising anti-Semitism in the US, some expressed fear that Trump’s words could invite new violence against Jewish targets.

Donald Trump.Credit:AP

But Netanyahu remained silent about the latest uproar. His office declined comment, while Yuval Steinitz, a Cabinet minister in Netanyahu’s Likud party who is close to the prime minister, dismissed it as internal US politics.

“We mustn’t intervene in the elections and the political disagreements in the United States,” Steinitz told Israel Radio.

“We have close supporters and friends in both parties, Democrats and Republicans, both Jews and non-Jews, and we embrace everyone and want everyone’s support and friendship.”

Israeli President Reuven Rivlin spoke to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Wednesday, stopping short of directly criticising Trump’s remarks but emphasising the importance of US-Israel ties.


“We must keep the State of Israel above political disputes and make every effort to ensure that support for Israel does not become a political issue,” Rivlin, whose role is largely ceremonial, told Pelosi, according to a statement.

This is not the first time Trump has been accused of making comments seen by some as anti-Semitic.

On the campaign trail, he told Jewish Republicans in 2015 that “you’re not going to support me because I don’t want your money.”

Following a march by neo-Nazis and White supremacists in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017, he said there were “very fine people on both sides” after clashes between protesters and counter-protesters.


On international Holocaust Day in 2017, Trump condemned the “horror inflicted on innocent people by Nazi terror,” without mentioning anti-Semitism or the 6 million Jews killed by the Nazis and their sympathisers.

Netanyahu’s low profile contrasted with his criticism of Omar this year when she suggested Israel’s supporters were motivated by money and not ideology. Omar, accused by Democrats and Republicans of repeating anti-Semitic tropes, later apologised.

For decades, Israel has maintained staunch bipartisan support in Washington, saying that warm relations with both parties is the bedrock of the relationship with its closest ally.

Those ties have frayed under Netanyahu, whose conservative worldview largely mirrors the Republican platform.


Netanyahu appeared to side with Mitt Romney in his race against Barack Obama in 2012. And in 2015, Netanyahu famously delivered a speech to Congress attacking Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran, infuriating the then-president and souring what was already a strained relationship.

Netanyahu’s ambassador to Washington, US-born Ron Dermer, is a former Republican Party operative.

The alliance with Trump, who is popular with the Israeli public, has paid great dividends for Netanyahu.

Over staunch objections from the Palestinians, Trump has recognised Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and moved the US Embassy to the contested city.

With strong Israeli encouragement, he withdrew from the US-led international nuclear deal with Iran, and more recently recognised Israel’s annexation of the Golan Heights, captured from Syria in the 1967 Mideast war. Trump, guided by a team of advisers with close ties to Netanyahu, has cut hundreds of millions of dollars in aid to the Palestinians and closed the Palestinian diplomatic offices in Washington.

But these gains have come at a price. The attention given to Omar and Tlaib has raised their profile at a time when Israel wants to isolate them within the Democratic Party. In addition, Jewish voters continue to overwhelmingly oppose Trump and appear to be linking Netanyahu to the president.