LAS VEGAS (JTA) — President Donald Trump questioned traditional Jewish support for Democrats in a stem-winding speech to Jewish Republicans.
“How did you support President Obama, how did you support the Democrats?” Trump said Saturday addressing the annual Republican Jewish Coalition conference in Las Vegas. “We didn’t,” the crowd replied, twice.
“You guys didn’t, probably you guys in this room didn’t,” he said.
Jewish voters have for decades favored Democrats in elections, usually by substantial majorities of about 70 percent.
Trump received a hero’s welcome, with speaker after speaker noting his shifts in Israel policy, accommodating the hawkish policies of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Among Trump’s policy changes popular with this crowd: Moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem, pulling the United States out of the Iran nuclear deal, ending U.S. funding for Palestinians and recognizing Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights.
“That the President chose to be with the RJC today proves just how committed he is to the needs of the Jewish community,” CEO Matt Brooks said. “We will reward that commitment with victory in 2020!”
The last time Trump spoke with the RJC, at a candidates’ forum in 2015, it did not go so well. Trump in that forum told Republican Jews he was not popular among them because he could not be bought.
Despite the warm welcome, there were awkward moments on Saturday in Trump’s hour-long speech, which he devoted to noting his differences with Democrats. He mocked asylum seekers and said of refugees, “Our country is full, can’t come, I’m sorry,” earning only mild applause. Jewish groups have generally favored generous refugee allowances.
He also addressed the RJC audience in the second person at odd moments, referring to Netanyahu as “your” prime minister, and noting what he said was the unexpected success of his reimposition of tariffs on major trading partners: “Maybe you could explain that to some of your people who say ‘Oh we don’t like tariffs’.”
It’s not the first time that Trump has called Netanyahu “your” prime minister in addressing American Jews, and the American Jewish Committee scolded Trump on Twitter.
“Mr. President, the Prime Minister of Israel is the leader of his (or her) country, not ours,” the tweet said. “Statements to the contrary, from staunch friends or harsh critics, feed bigotry.”
A Democratic congresswoman, Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn. — whom Trump mocked in his speech — has come under fire from Republicans and fellow Democrats for her perceived invocation of the dual loyalty canard.
On another occasion, Trump said failing to defeat Democrats in 2020 would endanger Israel — again, using “your.” “If implemented, the Democrats’ radical agenda would destroy our economy cripple our country and very well likely leave Israel all by yourselves,” he said.
“The Democrats have even allowed the terrible scourge of anti-Semitism to take root in their party and their country,” he said.
The Jewish Democratic Council of America scoffed at Trump’s claim to the Jewish vote, saying that it was he who was tainted with associations with white nationalists.
“Polling demonstrates that Trump’s presidency has only solidified the fact that the Democratic Party has been — and will remain — the political home of the American Jewish electorate,” said the JDCA director, Halie Soifer. “This is because Trump’s policies and rhetoric are antithetical to Jewish values and because anti-Semitism has increased to unprecedented levels due to Trump’s divisive words, policies, and willful blindness.”
Vice President Mike Pence also addressed the forum, as did a number of leading GOP lawmakers in Congress.