Trump seeks to capitalize on Biden’s frustration with Israel’s Netanyahu

2 months ago

Former President Donald Trump sent shockwaves through the Jewish American community and Washington when he said Jews who vote Democrat “hate Israel.”

It’s not the first time Trump has dabbled in what critics say areanti-Semitictropes, but the extreme rhetoric reflects how Trump is trying to drive a wedge between Jewish American voters and Democrats.

“The idea is that if Jews care about Israel, they’re going to want to go for the strongest supporter,” said Norman Ornstein, a senior fellow at the conservative American Enterprise Institute. But Republicans “failed in those efforts before. They haven’t really cracked the nut that they wanted to.”

A large majority of American Jews are Democrats or tend to vote for Democrats, but Trump has repeatedly questioned their loyalty to Israel. His recent criticism dovetails with Israel’s war with Hamas in Gaza that has killed more than 31,000 people.

The Biden administration, initially a strong supporter of the Israeli action that followed the Oct. 7 Hamas attack that killed some 1,200 people, has recently become more critical of the Israeli leadership.

Republicans see this as a potential wedge issue to appeal to Jewish voters.

During his administration, Trump often cited the work he did on behalf of Israel, including moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem.

“Unlike other presidents, I keep my promises,” he told Jewish American supporters at the Republican Jewish Coalition’s Annual Leadership Meeting in 2019, adding: “We got you something that you wanted.”

Under Trump, the U.S. also recognized Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights and declared international law does not prohibit civilian settlements in the West Bank.

Trump created a kind of “sugar high” for Israelis, said Aaron David Miller, who has advised both Democratic and Republican presidents on the Middle East.

“There’s probably only one country in the world — no, maybe Russia — whose citizens thought that Donald Trump was just extraordinary — and that was Israel,” said Miller, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

It’s for this reason that Miller and others say Trump feels he has the right to question Jewish American allegiances – as he did last week when speaking to Sebastian Gorka, a former adviser, on Gorka’s podcast.

“Any Jewish person that votes for the Democrats, hates their religion,” Trump said. “They hate everything about Israel, and they should be ashamed of themselves.”

Several Jewish American groups condemned Trump for trying to tie religion to their vote.

Halie Soifer, who leads the Jewish Democratic Council of America, said Trump’s only solidifying opposition to him among Jewish voters “with these deeply offensive and anti-Semitic comments.”

“He simply cannot get his head around the fact that the vast majority of Jewish Americans didn’t vote for him in 2016, didn’t vote for him in 2020,” she said, “and absolutely will not be voting for him in 2024.”

The Biden campaign says the only person who should be ashamed is Trump and blasted the former president for openly demeaning Jewish Americans while dining with white nationalists.

“Trump is going to lose again this November because Americans are sick of his hateful resentment, personal attacks, and extreme agenda,” said James Singer, a spokesman for the Biden-Harris campaign.

But that hasn’t stopped Trump and the Republicans from trying to capitalize on some of President Biden’s perceived weaknesses on Israel.

Biden strongly supported Israel’s initial response to the Oct. 7 Hamas attack, but has since grown frustrated with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the civilian death toll from Israel’s military response.

Biden told a Democratic senator that he and Netanyahu were heading toward a “come-to-Jesus meeting,” comments which were caught on a hot mic after the Biden’s State of the Union address.

“President Trump is right — the Democrat Party has turned into a full-blown anti-Israel, anti-Semitic, pro-terrorist cabal,” Leavitt said in a statement, citing the Biden administration’s aid to Gaza and the speech in which Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., who is Jewish, called for new elections in Israel.

She added, “When President Trump is back in the Oval Office, Israel will once again be protected, Iran will go back to being broke, terrorists will be hunted down, and the bloodshed will end.”

To be clear, Trump’s relationship with Netanyahu isn’t great, either.

While they worked closely together during his administration, Trump was angry when Netanyahu congratulated Bidenafter winning the 2020 election.

And Trump lashed out at Netanyahufor not being “prepared” for the Hamas attack — and praised the Lebanese militant group, Hezbollah, when it stepped up attacks against Israel.

“You know, Hezbollah is very smart,” Trump said at a campaign event in Florida. “They’re all very smart.”

But since then Republicans have embraced Netanyahu. Last week, the House speaker invited him to speak to Congress.

Republican pollster Jon McHenry says there may be an opportunity for Trump to president a more vigorous foreign policy with an ally – and win back some more traditional Republican voters he lost during the primaries.

“That may actually be an entre for him to get them to say, ‘OK, maybe I don’t agree with him on Ukraine, but I do agree with him on Israel,’ said McHenry of North Star Opinion Research. “And that’s better than what I’m seeing out of Joe Biden.”

But Dan Siegel is having none of it.

Siegel was in charge of Jewish outreach for the Biden campaign four years ago in Pennsylvania, and remains in touch with the campaign.

He says what Trump fails to understand is that “American Jews are first Americans and then Jews” and therefore care about the same things that “everybody else cares about.”

He mentioned health care, the economy and education.

“At the end of the day, those are the things that we care about,” he said. “Those are the things we’re going to vote on.”

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