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Trump Again Uses Word Associated With Antisemitism When Talking About Jewish Voters


President Trump is using a term strongly associated with anti-Semitism to argue that Jewish people should not vote for Democrats. That word is loyalty.


PRES DONALD TRUMP: And I think any Jewish people that vote for a Democrat - I think it shows either a total lack of knowledge or great disloyalty.

CHANG: That was Trump speaking yesterday in the Oval Office, and he continued making that argument today. NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith reports.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: It takes a bit of backstory to understand how President Trump came to say what he did in the Oval Office yesterday. Trump has been working hard to label Democratic freshman Congresswomen Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar as the face of the Democratic Party. Israel recently barred them from making an official visit after Trump tweeted about it. They have been vocal critics of Israel and Israeli policy toward Palestinians. Trump put it another way outside the White House this morning.


TRUMP: They are anti-Semites. They are against Israel.

KEITH: Now, having policy disagreements with another country, even the Jewish state of Israel, isn't necessarily the same thing as anti-Semitism. Trump often speaks as though the interests of Israel and Jewish people in America are one and the same. And Trump regularly boasts about actions he's taken as president that are seen as pro-Israel, like moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem.


TRUMP: So I have been responsible for a lot of great things for Israel.

KEITH: On Tuesday in the Oval Office, Trump explicitly said if Jewish people vote for a Democrat, they are disloyal. Today, he changed it slightly.


TRUMP: In my opinion, you vote for a Democrat, you're being very disloyal to Jewish people, and you're being very disloyal to Israel.

KEITH: That word - disloyal - is really problematic says Rabbi Alissa Wise, with the Jewish Voice for Peace, because it taps into the idea of dual loyalty.

ALISSA WISE: It's actually a centuries-old anti-Semitic idea that dates back to European monarchies - right? - of this idea that Jews are somehow disloyal to - or have more loyalty to an entity outside of the state to which they live.

KEITH: She argues it's dangerous for the president to use language like this. And she says he's done it before.

WISE: Some might want to say, oh, he's fumbling over his words, but I don't believe that. You look back in April when he was speaking to the Republican Jewish Coalition. He referred to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel as your prime minister.


TRUMP: But I stood with your Prime Minister at the White House to recognize...

KEITH: The Republican Jewish Coalition is an American Jewish political group. It isn't an Israeli organization. The coalition has backed Trump in this controversy over his loyalty comments, but the reality is the majority of Jewish voters in America oppose Trump and consistently vote Democratic.

JEREMY BEN-AMI: Seventy-plus percent of Jewish Americans vote Democratic in every single election since exit polling began.

KEITH: Jeremy Ben-Ami is president of J Street, a progressive Jewish lobbying group. He says what Trump is doing here is less about persuading Jewish voters and more about exciting his base by highlighting divisions.

BEN-AMI: Israel is an issue not simply for the Jewish community. It is an evangelical issue. It's an issue in many red states. And it's comparable as a cultural divide on things like guns, abortion and other culture war issues.

KEITH: Asked about how this all relates to Trump's re-election strategy, the campaign released a statement from COO Michael Glassner, who pointed out that he is Jewish. It didn't mention loyalty, went after Democrats and highlighted the president's record on Israel.

Tamara Keith, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tamara Keith has been a White House correspondent for NPR since 2014 and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast, the top political news podcast in America. Keith has chronicled the Trump administration from day one, putting this unorthodox presidency in context for NPR listeners, from early morning tweets to executive orders and investigations. She covered the final two years of the Obama presidency, and during the 2016 presidential campaign she was assigned to cover Hillary Clinton. In 2018, Keith was elected to serve on the board of the White House Correspondents' Association.