President Donald Trump obviously has no boundaries, let alone any understanding of historical tropes, but he really should not have roped the Jewish state into his latest Twitter tirade against four Democratic congresswomen (or, as he put it in his Joe McCarthy–inflected English, “Democrat Congresswomen”). “When will the Radical Left Congresswomen apologize to our Country, the people of Israel and even to the Office of the President, for the foul language they have used, and the terrible things they have said,” wrote the leader of the free world. “I can tell you that they have made Israel feel abandoned by the U.S.”
Trump’s ire was directed at the “squad,” the quartet of outspoken female Democratic legislators whose ranks include Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts, and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan. For the past two weeks, the women have been embroiled in a very public spat with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, whom they consider insufficiently left-wing and overly solicitous toward the president. Trump, unable to let an intra–Democratic Party tussle play out to his own electoral advantage, chose to intervene, with what can only be described as a racist attack on four ethnic-minority women. The lawmakers, “who originally came from countries whose governments are a complete and total catastrophe,” he wrote, ought to “go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came.”
Had Trump confined his attack to the one immigrant of the group—Omar—he might have been able to dodge the charge of racism. As Charles C. W. Cooke of National Review argues about the Somali-born war refugee, who is often harshly critical of United States policy, “it is absolutely reasonable for [Americans] to wonder aloud how a person who hails from a dysfunctional, dangerous place built atop dysfunctional, dangerous institutions can exhibit the temerity—the sheer gall—to talk about America in the way that she does.”
But Trump immediately forfeited whatever claim he might have had to raising valid questions about Omar’s appalling lack of gratitude when he included her three colleagues, all of them natural-born American citizens, thereby suggesting they are not genuine Americans. His attack was of a piece with the conspiracy theory he propagated to launch his most recent foray into politics: that the country’s first black president is not a natural-born American citizen. It was also of a piece with traditional anti-Semitism. Trump’s line of attack—instructing a group of American citizens to “go back” from where “they came”—is one that can easily be, and often is, deployed against Jews.
The claim that Jews are not loyal to the countries in which they reside is one of the hoariest, most pernicious of anti-Semitic slurs. Malleably affixed to a diasporic people, the accusation oozes from the left and right fringes of the political spectrum. Omar recently attributed her colleagues’ support for Israel to campaign donations and implied that American Jews “push for allegiance to a foreign country.” Long before that, the cantankerous Nixonian Pat Buchanan called Congress the “amen corner” of the “Israeli Defense ministry” and accused prominent Jews of advocating for wars that would be fought by “kids with names like McAllister, Murphy, Gonzales, and Leroy Brown.” Whether emanating from the woke, anti-Zionist left or the reactionary, isolationist right, the charge is basically the same: Jews are an alien presence, always and everywhere unwelcome guests in those lands unfortunate enough to host them.
Which is why Trump’s attempt to implicate American Jews in his bigoted harangue against the Democratic congresswomen is so pernicious. Some Jews, like Senator Brian Schatz of Hawaii, have criticized Trump for citing the women’s views on Israel as justification for his tirade. “You really have to leave us out of your racist talking points,” he tweeted. “You are not helping us, you are not helping society, you are not helping Israel.” As the question of whether Jews are white is seriously debated among left-wing identitarians (so that Jews may be ranked on their intersectionality victim pyramid), Trump’s invocation of Israel to attack four ethnic-minority women is breathtakingly cynical, effectively working to pit Jews and people of color against each other.
Due to anti-Semitism on the left—symbolized by the Democratic Party’s pathetic response to Omar’s repeated outbursts, and the concerted effort by many leading liberal commentators to shield her from criticism—a number of American Jews have become uncomfortable with their traditional political home. The president senses this and is plainly trying to exploit a real and emerging cleavage. Senator Lindsey Graham recently joined in, unhelpfully arguing on Fox & Friends that “AOC and this crowd are a bunch of communists” who hate their own country and Israel. “They’re anti-Semitic. They’re anti-American,” he said.
But if Trump & Co.’s intent is to spark a “Jexodus” from the Democratic Party, it would be hard to find a less effective catalyst, notwithstanding all the positive things this administration has done for the Jewish state. According to a poll commissioned by the American Jewish Committee earlier this year, 71 percent of Jews hold an unfavorable view of Trump, significantly higher than the national average. The president’s decision to deploy a slur redolent of the worst anti-Semitism isn’t likely to bring them over to his side.