WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump used a speech to the Republican Jewish Coalition Saturday to highlight his administration’s work in the Middle East and policies benefiting Israel while targeting the Democratic Party as one rooted in anti-Semitism.
The president started his nearly hour-long speech in Las Vegas thanking lawmakers and public officials in the room, then joked, “Special thanks to Rep. Omar of Minnesota,” a mention of the freshmen Democrat who sparked controversy for criticizing Israel’s treatment of Palestinians and Israeli lobbying efforts. The comments were criticized as playing into enduring stereotypes about Jewish money controlling politics.
“Oh, I forgot. She doesn’t like Israel,” Trump said sarcastically as the crowd booed. “I forgot. I’m so sorry.”
The president’s joke about freshman Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., came just one day after a New York man was arrested on federal charges of threatening to kill her and accusing her of being a terrorist.
“Do you work for the Muslim Brotherhood? Why are you working for her, she’s an (expletive) terrorist. I’ll put a bullet in her (expletive) skull,” Patrick W. Carlineo, 55, is accused of saying to a member of Omar’s staff after calling her office last week.
More: ‘I’ll put a bullet in her’: Trump supporter charged with threatening to kill Rep. Ilhan Omar
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Throughout Trump’s speech, he touched on his administration moving the U.S. Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, stopping illegal immigration, halting the Iran nuclear deal and his work to restore peace in the Middle East.
“I would like to see peace in the Middle East,” the president said. He added, “If those three can’t do it, you’ll never have it done,” referring to White House advisers Jared Kushner, who is also his son-in-law, Jason Greenblatt, a former Trump Organization employee and adviser on Israel, and David Friedman, the U.S. ambassador to Israel.
Trump also took credit for eliminating hundreds of millions of dollars in aid to the Palestinians and for pulling the U.S. out of several U.N. organizations, the U.N. Human Rights Council and UNESCO, citing anti-Israel bias in their agendas.
He attacked Democrats, painting them as “anti-Israel” and pointing to the controversy surrounding Omar, whose comments spurred a resolution in the House denouncing hate and anti-Semitism.
“Democrats have even allowed the terrible scourge of anti-Semitism to take root in their party and in their country. They have allowed that,” the president said. “Republicans believe that we must never ignore the vile poison of anti-Semitism.”
He pinned Israel’s future to the 2020 elections, saying that “the Democrats’ radical agenda would destroy our country, cripple our agenda and leave Israel all by itself.”
The Jewish Democratic Council of America denounced Trump’s speech as lies and fantasy, saying policy between the United States and Israel should be bipartisan and not pivot parties against one another.
“Trump’s claims of Republicans ‘doing well’ in the 2018 election and of American Jews leaving the Democratic Party are completely false. This is a fantasy of the Republican Party,” said the organization’s executive director Halie Soifer. “What happened today in Las Vegas was a shameful display of lies and arrogance. We hope Trump’s continued assault on decency and truth will stay in Vegas.”
The president spoke to the group in Vegas following a two-day swing through the west that included a visit to newly replaced border barriers in California and a pair of fundraisers.
Trump’s remarks come just weeks after he and others in the White House opened a new line of attack against Democrats by claiming the party had become “anti-Israel” and “anti-Jewish” in the aftermath of Rep. Omar’s comments.
Democrats increased their share of the Jewish vote between the 2016 and 2018 elections, from 71% to 79%. A new Gallup report, based on tracking poll data from 2018, said that “one in six U.S. Jews identify as Republican.” About half described themselves as Democrats.
After a fractious House debate last month over a resolution condemning hate, Trump raised the stakes while speaking with reporters as he left the White House on a weekend trip to Florida, describing the Democrats as an “anti-Israel party.”
“They’ve become an anti-Jewish party and that’s too bad,” he said while traveling to Alabama to review tornado damage.
Despite his criticism of Democrats, Trump has faced his own criticism from the Jewish community. Trump was slow to condemn white supremacists who marched violently in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017. The previous year, he circulated an image of a six-pointed star alongside a photo of Hillary Clinton, a pile of money and the words “most corrupt candidate ever.”
According to exit polling conducted for a consortium of news organizations for the 2016 election, Clinton defeated Trump 71% to 24% among Jewish voters. In last year’s congressional elections, according to those exit polls, Jews broke for Democratic candidates over Republican ones by 79% to 17%.
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Contributing: John Fritze; Associated Press
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