President Donald Trump and Minnesota Rep. Ilhan Omar may stand on opposite sides of the political fence when it comes to U.S. support for Israel. But in his address to the Republican Jewish Coalition on Saturday, Trump evoked precisely the same anti-Semitic tropes for which the Democratic congresswoman has been harshly criticized.
Trump referred to the Omar controversy early in his remarks with a joke. After introducing the Republican congressional representatives in attendance, he said: “A special thanks to Rep. Omar of Minnesota,” earning chuckles from the audience in the Las Vegas Venetian Ballroom. He then corrected himself with effusive mock remorse. “Oh, oh, I forgot! She doesn’t like Israel. I forgot. I’m so sorry … please, I apologize.”
As Trump addressed the supportive crowd, recounting with pride his record on supporting Israel — to a standing ovation and chants of “Four more years!” — he slammed Omar and other Democrats for allowing “the terrible scourge of anti-Semitism to take root in their party and their country.”
Trump himself then proceeded to raise the specter of Jewish dual loyalty and allegiance by repeatedly failing to distinguish between the 1,500 American Jews to whom he was speaking and Jewish Israelis.
The U.S. president proudly described the climactic moment during Benjamin Netanyahu’s recent visit to Washington, recounting how he stood with “your” prime minister at the White House “to recognize … Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights.” Many subsequently took issue with the comment — but that was only the beginning.
Later in the speech, Trump was criticizing the Democrats’ “extreme partisan agenda,” saying it was “shocking” that “large numbers of people in Congress … aren’t fighting for Israel” when, once more, he eliminated the distinction between his American Jewish audience and citizens of the Jewish state.
"If implemented, the Democrats’ radical agenda would destroy our economy, cripple our country, and very well could leave Israel out there all by yourselves,” he said, again equating between his predominantly Jewish audience and the Jewish citizens of Israel. “Can't do that.”
While he didn’t use the term “Benjamins,” Trump did refer to “your people” when discussing his economic policy — which evokes imagery of Jewish tribalism and a cabal, and comes on the heels of previous remarks he has made related to Jews and money.
After advocating strongly for imposing significant tariffs on imports from China, India and other major economic competitors, he looked at his audience and said, “Maybe you could explain that to some of your people who say ‘We don’t like tariffs.’”
While Trump did not name names, his former chief economic adviser, Gary Cohn, resigned in March 2018 after losing a fight within the White House over plans to impose hefty steel and aluminum tariffs.
Following Cohn’s resignation, both Trump and top aide (and now acting White House chief of staff) Mick Mulvaney were criticized for referring to Cohn as a “globalist” — a term the anti-Semitic far right has used interchangeably with the term “Jewish” to promote the belief that Jews put greed and tribe ahead of country.
Trump’s remarks on Jews and money ruffled feathers the last time he addressed an RJC gathering in 2015 as a member of a wide cast of GOP hopefuls at the organization’s presidential forum.
At the time, he told the American Jewish audience: “I know that … you’re not going to support me because I don’t want your money,” adding in a discussion of the Iran nuclear deal that “this room negotiates deals — perhaps more than any room I’ve ever spoken to.”
On Saturday, Trump also bragged of the gratitude shown to him by American Jews after he moved the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem, referencing megadonors Sheldon and Miriam Adelson — who own the casino in which the event took place and are the RJC’s primary backers.
“We got you something that you wanted. I can tell you — Sheldon and Miriam, that is the most important [thing], I think, that’s happened to them in their life. They love Israel.”
Trump also touted his soon-to-be released peace plan, telling the room that “some of you won’t like this, maybe, but I would love to see peace in the Middle East” — a comment that, though it does not identify U.S. Jewry with Israelis, assumes all Republicans Jews hold hawkish views similar to those of Adelson.
He portrayed David Friedman, the U.S. ambassador to Israel, as reacting in a state of childlike awe to another bold move by Trump, comparing him to a “baby” when he heard that Trump was willing to put U.S. recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights on the table.
Recalling the conversation, Trump said he had asked him: “‘David, what do you think about me recognizing Israel and the Golan Heights? … What do you think of it, David?’ And he goes — and this is a very strong, ambitious guy — like a wonderful, beautiful baby he said: ‘Would you really? Would you do that, sir?’”
Recounting his story to the RJC crowd, Trump repeatedly referred to Friedman as “your ambassador.”
With any other president, it would be self-evident that he meant Friedman belonged to the members of his audience because they were Americans.
In the context of the rest of Trump’s speech, however, it was unclear, and entirely possible, that his intention was to describe Friedman as being “theirs” not in his professional capacity but as a pro-Israel Jew — a group Trump clearly believes should be deeply grateful to him.
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