US President Donald Trump has been hit by a wave of criticism for accusing Jewish Democratic voters of “disloyalty,” but his comment also highlighted the unease of some in the community with its traditional party of choice.
Trump, who has positioned himself as a staunch ally of Israel, made the remark on Tuesday night while criticizing Democratic politicians who support a boycott of the Jewish state.
“Where has the Democratic party gone?” Trump said, adding: “I think any Jewish people that vote for a Democrat, I think it shows either a total lack of knowledge or great disloyalty.”
Asked about the comments before flying to Kentucky the following day, Trump -- in typical fashion -- doubled down: “You vote for a Democrat, you’re being very disloyal to Jewish people and you’re being very disloyal to Israel.”
Members of America’s more than five million-strong Jewish community -- 80 percent of whom voted Democratic in the 2018 mid-term elections, according to the Pew Research Center -- have denounced his notion of loyalty and blamed the president for fuelling anti-Semitism.
“It’s a bit unclear what the president was trying to say in terms of who Jews are disloyal to... While he wasn’t exactly clear about that, I will be exactly clear on what that was: anti-Semitic,” Jonathan Greenblatt, the CEO of the Anti-Defamation League, said on CNN.
The president “has no right to tell Jewish Americans he knows what is best for us or to demand our loyalty,” said Halie Soifer, executive director for the Jewish Democratic Council of America.
Criticism of Trump has multiplied on Twitter under the hashtags #DisloyaltoTrump as well as #KingofIsrael, after the president approvingly tweeted a quote in which he was referred to by that title.
But beyond the latest controversy, some New York Jews say they feel growing unease with certain positions taken by the Democratic Party.
Trump “shouldn’t have said it,” said Ben Mizrachy, a retired 80-year-old. “I don’t like the Jews to be taken into political party discussions.”
“But the truth of the matter is, that some Jews, even those who have always voted Democrat like myself, are being disappointed with the Democratic party” because its leadership is not reacting enough to what seems like anti-Semitism from some of its members, he said.
The gap between Democrats and Israel “has happened over time but it’s been more dramatic over the past four to eight years,” said Shmuel Asher, 35.
Although registered as a Democrat, Asher, who is responsible for financial aid at Baltimore College, said he is ready to support Trump in the 2020 presidential election.
He put that support down in part to two steps taken by Trump: moving the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, and withdrawing from the Iran nuclear deal, which had been criticized by Israel.
At 73 years old, Susan Bardfield remains firmly a Democrat, and more anti-Trump than ever: “He is an idiot, nothing that comes out of his mouth helps.”
But the retiree recognizes that Jews “are not a united bloc,” and, like the rest of the country, are especially divided when it comes to Trump.
“Most of the Jews I know voting for Trump are only doing it for Israel,” she said.
“As they say, if you have five Jews in a room, you will have six opinions.”