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Donald Trump thinks he knows what’s good for the Jews. Many Jews disagree

Dan Coleman
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A yarmulke with a picture of Donald Trump, among many other yarmulkes of various colours and designs

Donald Trump portrait on a kippah at the street market in Jerusalem in 2022.(Beata Zawrzel/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Published: 27 March 2024

Last updated: 27 March 2024

Who can best instruct a Jew on how to express their Jewishness? Perhaps it is their rabbi. Perhaps their mother. Maybe it is their best mate at the local cafe.

Yet, it might be none of these. Somehow, in the mind of former President Donald Trump, he himself is well-qualified to give such instruction. At least, so it appeared last week when Trump stated in an interview that “any Jewish person that votes for Democrats hates their religion”.

Trump’s latest outpouring of bile was sparked by an explosive speech last week by the Democratic majority leader Senator Chuck Schumer, who labelled Benjamin Netanyahu “an impediment to peace in the Middle East and called for a new election to replace him after the war winds down,” according to a report in The New York Times.

“At this critical juncture, I believe a new election is the only way to allow for a healthy and open decision-making process about the future of Israel, at a time when so many Israelis have lost their confidence in the vision and direction of their government,” Schumer said.

For Trump, Jewishness is established through blinkered fealty to Israel and support for whatever excesses the Israeli government might foster

“As a democracy, Israel has the right to choose its own leaders, and we should let the chips fall where they may. But the important thing is that Israelis are given a choice. There needs to be a fresh debate about the future of Israel after October 7.”

Conservative American Jewish leaders and Republicans were outraged. And so was Trump, for whom Jewishness is not established through devotion to Torah, or to tradition, or even to Jewish culture and community. No, it is through blinkered fealty to Israel, support for whatever excesses the Israeli government might foster, and, by implication, to Israel’s self-proclaimed best friend ever: Donald J. Trump.

Trump has not been particularly subtle about this point over the years, telling the Orthodox community outlet Ami Magazine in 2021 “You know what really surprised me? I did Jerusalem, and I did Iran — the Iran Deal was a disaster, right? And I also did many other things. Jewish people who live in the United States don’t love Israel enough. Does that make sense to you? I believe we got 25% of the Jewish vote, and it doesn’t make sense. It just seems strange to me.”

The conclusion is clear: if you love Israel, you must love Trump.

Pushback to Trump’s latest outrage came quickly when news of this statement spread beyond the right-wing radio program where it was uttered. As reported in The Forward, Anti-Defamation League CEO Jonathan Greenblatt said “Accusing Jews of hating their religion because they might vote for a particular party is defamatory and patently false.”

Trump was undaunted, with his campaign responding, according to The New York Times, “Trump is right…the Democratic Party has turned into a full-blown anti-Israel, antisemitic, pro-terrorist cabal.”

Democrats were quick to pile on, with White House spokesman Andrew Bates characterising Trump’s remarks as “vile and unhinged antisemitic rhetoric.”

As reported by Axios, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.), a staunch supporter of Israel, said "Trump demonstrates daily his lack of fitness for the presidency by spreading dangerous stereotypes and embracing antisemites."

Rep. Dean Phillips (D-Minn.), the ranking member of the House subcommittee that addresses Israel and the Middle East, told Axios the comments were "revolting, repugnant, and reprehensible."

Meanwhile, The Forward has catalogued Trump’s many accusations of Jewish disloyalty, going back to 2019 when Trump first said “if you vote for a Democrat, you’re being very disloyal to Jewish people and you’re being very disloyal to Israel.”

Luckily, I don't know any Jews who look to Donald Trump for advice on how to be Jewish

Rep. Jamie Raskin

As with so many of Trump’s pronouncements, one wonders what his objective might be in making such charges. As Trump himself points out, the Republicans can count on support from only 25-30% of the Jewish electorate. These are conservatives, often religious conservatives, those who are fully supportive of Netanyahu’s agenda of weakening Israeli democracy, expanding settlements, and further undermining any possibility of a viable two-state solution.

If Trump thinks that his accusation will move some of the 70% of Jewish voters who support the Democrats, he is sorely mistaken. No one woke up the morning after Trump’s comments and said to themself “Gosh, what could I have been thinking by supporting Democrats!”

In fact, Democrat and Democrat-leaning Jews are among the most dependable progressive constituents in the US polity. They believe in full human and political rights for the Palestinian people. They support respectful treatment of minorities and immigrants. And, most assuredly, they are chilled by Trump’s cozying up to antisemites and authoritarian heads of state.

The more likely impact of Trump’s words will be to give a wakeup call to Democrats making protest votes against Biden in the primaries or branding him nonsensically as “genocide Joe.” If an American voter cares about justice for Palestine, they will run from Trump’s extremism straight into the friendlier arms of Biden regardless of what criticisms they might have of the President’s particular policies.

What we do know about Trump is that he has a penchant for extremist rhetoric and that his fan base loves it. The same week that he declared that Democratic Jews hate their religion, he proclaimed that there will be a “bloodbath” if he loses the November election. This from a man already facing multiple charges of inciting an insurrection.

The result of Trump’s vile rhetoric is both well-established and predictable: he lost the election in 2020, led the Republican Party to a historically disappointing mid-term result in 2022, and supported dingbat candidates who lost every special election for Congress in 2023.

This is a man who can only dig his hole deeper, even as it fills with bile, even as the Republican Party crawls in after him.

As for Trump defining what it means to be Jewish, Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) summed it up succinctly: “Luckily, I don't know any Jews who look to Donald Trump for advice on how to be Jewish.” Luckily, neither do I.

About the author

Dan Coleman

Dan Coleman is a former member of the Carrboro, North Carolina Town Council, and a former political columnist for the Durham (NC) Morning Herald. He is the author of Ecopolitics: Building A Green Society. He lives in Melbourne.


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