Jewish Democrats decry Trump's 'loyalty' remarks

President TrumpDonald TrumpTrump hails Arizona Senate for audit at Phoenix rally, slams governor Arkansas governor says it's 'disappointing' vaccinations have become 'political' Watch live: Trump attends rally in Phoenix MORE has adopted a curious strategy for courting Jewish Democrats to the Republican side: He's attacking them.

Over the past 48 hours, Trump has suggested Jewish Americans are ill informed on policy for siding overwhelmingly with Democrats and “disloyal” to Israel for opposing his presidency.

"In my opinion, if you vote for a Democrat you’re being very disloyal to Jewish people and you're being very disloyal to Israel,” he said Wednesday at the White House, amplifying similar remarks he made a day earlier. “And only weak people would say anything other than that.”

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Yet prominent Jewish Democrats say Trump’s criticism of the very bloc he’s seeking to woo — and his invocation of anti-Semitic tropes as part of that message — will only alienate Jewish voters heading into 2020.

“He's totally blown away that all his pandering to the hard right of American Jewish politics on Israel is not winning him any support among American Jews. In fact, it's backfiring,” Joel Rubin, a deputy assistant secretary of State during the Obama administration, said Wednesday by phone.

“His broader social agenda and economic agenda and world view is never popular [among Jewish Americans] to begin with,” Rubin added, citing abortion rights and steps to tackle income inequality as two such issues. “But now he's just lashing out because he thinks that he's providing gifts and he should get rewards.”

Trump has fought throughout his presidency to position himself as a champion of Israel, siding squarely with the policies of conservative Prime Minister Benjamin NetanyahuBenjamin (Bibi) NetanyahuMORE while going after Israel’s critics, most recently in his attacks on a pair of Muslim Democrats — Reps. Ilhan OmarIlhan OmarOvernight Defense: US launches another airstrike in Somalia | Amendment to expand Pentagon recusal period added to NDAA | No. 2 State Dept. official to lead nuclear talks with Russia US launches second Somalia strike in week Omar reflects on personal experiences with hate in making case for new envoy MORE (Minn.) and Rashida TlaibRashida Harbi TlaibOmar reflects on personal experiences with hate in making case for new envoy House passes bill requiring EPA to regulate 'forever chemicals' in drinking water Ohio becomes battleground for rival Democratic factions MORE (Mich.) — who have been fiercely critical of Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians.

A month after his election, Trump tapped conservative hard-liner David Friedman to head the U.S. Embassy, which the president subsequently moved from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, bucking a longstanding U.S. policy maintained by Republican and Democratic administrations alike. 

Trump also backed out of the Obama-era Iran nuclear deal, which Netanyahu opposed, and was the first U.S. president to formally recognize Israel’s sovereignty over the disputed Golan Heights region.

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"I have been responsible for a lot of great things for Israel," Trump said Wednesday.

Rep. Lee ZeldinLee ZeldinSunday shows preview: Biden defends troop withdrawal in Afghanistan; COVID-19 impacting unvaccinated pockets Misled condemnation of the Lebanese Armed Forces will help Hezbollah New York GOP backs Zeldin for governor MORE (R-N.Y.), a staunch Trump ally and one of only two Jewish Republicans in Congress, issued a strong defense of the president’s Israel policies, even as he sought to explain that Jewish voters “don’t universally vote the same way” because they prioritize different issues.

“The President loves the Jewish people & the US-Israel alliance. He opposes BDS, moved the embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, signed the Taylor Force Act into law, withdrew from the fatally flawed Iran Nuclear Deal, recognized Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights & much more,” Zeldin said in a series of tweets.

“It’s POTUS’ belief Jews shouldn’t be voting Dem & he articulated it in a way that stirred debate, controversy & criticism,” he added. “POTUS has prioritized delivering important victories for the Jewish people & the US-Israel alliance as well as pushing back on the Omar/Tlaib wing of the Dem party that views these issues very differently.”

“He’s a fighter & wont back down. On these policy priorities, he’s correct,” Zeldin said.

Trump and Republicans have their work cut out for them in seeking to win over more Jewish voters. Roughly 71 percent of Jewish voters sided with Democratic presidential nominee Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonBiden flexes presidential muscle on campaign trail with Virginia's McAuliffe Shontel Brown gaining ground against Nina Turner in Ohio: poll Biden hits trail for McAuliffe in test of his political brand MORE over Trump in 2016, and the Democrats’ advantage among that bloc jumped to 79 percent in last year’s midterms.

Trump’s recent comments are only prompting more backlash from Jewish Democrats. Aside from questioning the loyalty of those voters — bearing echoes of the historic “dual loyalty” slur, which holds that Jews everywhere are first faithful to Israel — the president this week also embraced praise from a right-wing conspiracy theorist equating him to “the king of Israel” for his popularity among Israelis.

Critics quickly accused Trump of trying to lionize his role in the long-running Israeli-Palestinian conflict — at the expense of building the bridges needed to resolve the dispute.

“The issue, once again, revolves around loyalty to him in a country that was meant to be a nation of laws and not men,” said former Rep. Mark SanfordMark SanfordTop cyber Pentagon official overseeing defense contractor project placed on leave Cheney set to be face of anti-Trump GOP GOP braces for wild week with momentous vote MORE (R-S.C.), who is considering launching a primary challenge against Trump in 2020. “Ultimately our loyalty in politics should be to ideas and ideals and not to any courier or messenger to those ideas.”

The uproar arrives less than a week after Netanyahu, under pressure from Trump, denied Omar and Tlaib a visit to Israel, citing their support for an international boycott campaign designed to press the Israeli government on Palestinian human rights in the occupied territories of Gaza and the West Bank.

Omar’s remarks earlier in the year that some viewed as anti-Semitic prompted Democratic leaders to vote on a resolution condemning hate in all forms. And Republicans have sought to paint her and Tlaib — along with the other minority congresswomen in “the squad” — as the face of the Democratic Party heading into the 2020 elections.

But Trump’s move to question the loyalty of Jewish Americans has led to more immediate concerns within the Jewish community: Namely, they fear the president’s rhetoric will incite hate groups to attack Jews around the country.

"To my fellow American Jews, particularly those who support ⁦@realDonaldTrump⁩: When he uses a trope that’s been used against the Jewish people for centuries with dire consequences, he is encouraging—wittingly or unwittingly—anti-Semites throughout the country and world. Enough," Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerMcConnell pushes vaccines, but GOP muddles his message Biden administration stokes frustration over Canada Schumer blasts McCarthy for picking people who 'supported the big lie' for Jan. 6 panel MORE (D-N.Y.) tweeted Wednesday.

Fueling those fears was last year’s attack on a Pittsburgh synagogue, where 11 people were killed by a suspect with ties to white supremacists. More recently, authorities detained a Nevada man said to be eyeing an attack on a Las Vegas synagogue. He was arrested for possessing bomb-making materials in his home.

Rubin, a founding board member of the Jewish Democratic Council of America, said Trump’s efforts to attract Jewish voters by focusing on Israeli policy — without toning down his attacks on his political adversaries — is a recipe for failure.

“It's a complete misreading of the American Jewish attitude on these issues,” Rubin said. 

“The primary concern right now in the American Jewish community is the rise of hate groups and white supremacists,” he added. “Any gain he may have gotten from a certain initiative here and there is completely destroyed by his rhetoric.”