President Donald Trump sought to drive a wedge between Jewish voters and the Democratic Party on Saturday by reigniting allegations of anti-Semitism against Rep. Ilhan Omar — just hours after one of his supporters was charged for threatening to kill her.
Speaking before the Republican Jewish Coalition’s annual convention in Las Vegas on Saturday, Trump referenced a weeks-old controversy involving Omar, a first-term Democrat from Minnesota and one of the first Muslim women to serve in Congress.
In February, Omar alleged on Twitter that pro-Israel sentiment in Washington was being bought by pro-Israel lobbyists. Her remarks prompted politicians from both parties to condemn her remarks, with some labeling them as anti-Semitic. The Congress member later apologized for her tweets.
On Saturday, Trump gave Omar a back-handed compliment about the dust-up.
“Special thanks to Rep. Omar of Minnesota,” the president said. “Oh, I almost forgot. She doesn’t like Israel ... I’m so sorry!”
On the same day that one of his fans was charged with plotting to murder her, President Trump gratuitously attacks Ilhan Omar pic.twitter.com/rPbC7BYNnu— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) April 6, 2019
Trump delivered his disparaging remarks against Omar just hours after police in New York charged a man for threatening to assault and murder her.
Patrick Carlineo Jr., an avowed Trump supporter, was arrested Friday for calling Omar’s office and delivering an expletive-filled rant that included violent threats against the elected official.
“Do you work for the Muslim Brotherhood? Why are you working for her, she’s a fucking terrorist? I’ll put a bullet in her fucking skull,” Carlineo allegedly told staffers, according to the criminal complaint filed by the US Attorney’s Office in the Western District of New York.
The 55-year-old suspect reportedly later told investigators that he “loves the president and that he hates radical Muslims in our government.”
Trump wants to drive a wedge between Democrats and Jewish voters
Trump’s speech on Saturday fits into a larger effort by the president to end the support Democrats have had from many Jewish voters for decades.
“Democrats are advancing by far the most extreme, anti-Semitic agenda in history,” Trump said Saturday, adding that if implemented, “the Democrats’ radical agenda could very well leave Israel out there all by yourselves.”
Trump has also taken to promoting “Jexodus,” a supposed wave of Jewish voters leaving the Democratic Party for the GOP. He has for weeks advanced the idea that Democrats are alienating Jewish voters and that the Democratic Party tolerates anti-Semitism.
“Jewish people are leaving the Democratic Party. We saw a lot of anti Israel policies start under the Obama Administration, and it got worsts & worse. There is anti-Semitism in the Democratic Party. They don’t care about Israel or the Jewish people.” Elizabeth Pipko, Jexodus.— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 12, 2019
The ‘Jexodus’ movement encourages Jewish people to leave the Democrat Party. Total disrespect! Republicans are waiting with open arms. Remember Jerusalem (U.S. Embassy) and the horrible Iran Nuclear Deal! @OANN @foxandfriends— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 15, 2019
Trump has worked to position himself as a friend of Israel, moving the US embassy to Jerusalem and recently announcing the US will now recognize the contested Golan Heights as a part of Israel. And the Republican Jewish Coalition has an ambitious plan to invest $10 million into efforts to win Trump new Jewish supporters, according to Politico.
But as Vox’s Matt Yglesias explained, Jexodus doesn’t really exist. American Jews have a long-standing allegiance to the Democratic Party stretching back to the turn of the 20th century.
And while the party does have growing internal divisions over how to address America’s relationship with Israel — the stance taken by Omar and some other progressives contrasts with “the Democratic establishment’s generically pro-Israel view,” as Vox’s Zack Beauchamp notes — it’s worth noting American Jews are hardly universally united on the issue either. So Omar drawing criticism for her tweets doesn’t mean Jewish Democrats will be fleeing the party en masse.
That probably won’t stop Republicans from trying to make significant electoral gains with Israel as a driving issue — as evidenced by Trump’s speech Saturday. So far, however, these efforts it has yet to bear fruit. And as Yglesias explains, they may never:
While American Jews are largely (though by no means unanimously) supportive of Israel, most do not see political support for Israel to be an adequate substitute for supporting a pluralistic vision of the United States of America, which, after all, is where American Jews live. The contention that Jews should vote Republican because Republicans are stronger backers of the Israeli government isn’t identical to the “dual loyalties” issue that got Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) in trouble earlier this months, but it’s not entirely unrelated either. The reality is that American Jews are Americans, not Israelis, and while elements of GOP social conservatism appeal strongly to Orthodox Jews, for most Jewish Americans, Jewish values and Jewish identity are tied up with openness and pluralism in a way that makes the GOP a very hard sell.
Trump himself makes efforts to convert Jewish voters to the GOP even more of an uphill climb. The president has been accused of perpetuating anti-Semitic tropes before (like when he referred to Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) as being “shifty”), and as Schiff noted on Sunday, Trump doesn’t have the greatest track record on forcefully condemning far-right extremism.
“If there’s anything that is likely to cement the relationship between the Democratic Party and the Jewish community, it’s the presidency of Donald Trump,” Schiff told CNN’s Jake Tapper on State of the Union.