United States President Donald Trump has again turned to dangerous rhetoric to criticize those whose policy positions oppose his own, saying on Tuesday that “any Jewish people that vote for a Democrat … shows either a total lack of knowledge or great disloyalty.” He repeated his claim the next day, making clear that he indeed meant disloyalty to Israel.
Trump’s comments effectively endorse a longstanding anti-Semitic trope of dual loyalty. They echoed comments he made in April when, speaking to the Republican Jewish Coalition’s annual conference, he referred to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as “your prime minister.”
The concept – that Jews are more loyal to their religion than to their country, and pose a risk as a result – dates back centuries and has motivated countless acts of anti-Semitic violence. Trump’s use of the trope furthers anti-Semitic sentiments that American Jews have suspect allegiances.
Trump’s rhetoric raises real-world concerns. Anti-Semitic hate crimes have been on the rise. The Anti-Defamation League’s annual audit of anti-Semitic incidents in the United States reported 2018 as the third highest year since they began tracking incidents in the 1970s. In the past year, there have been mass shootings at two US synagogues, in Poway, California and in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
President Trump is not the only US official to invoke anti-Semitic tropes or use racist language. But he commands a wider audience and assumes a more prominent role on the global stage, putting a spotlight to his words. These latest remarks could put American Jews at greater risk. He has not apologized for his comments nor acknowledged the threats they could pose. Rather, he has doubled down, injecting more ridicule and anger into already dangerous rhetoric.