LAS VEGAS (JTA) — President Donald Trump told a group of American Jews that Benjamin Netanyahu was “your prime minister” Saturday, appearing to conflate Jews and Israelis.
“I stood with your prime minister at the White House to recognize Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights,” Trump told a meeting of the Republican Jewish Coalition in Las Vegas Saturday, referring to Netanyahu, who is the prime minister of Israel.
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 theme was echoed by former Sen. Norm Coleman, R-Minn., the chairman of the RJC, who led the audience in an adapted version of the Passover reading “Dayenu,” as he recounted what Trump had done for Israel.
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.
The group, backed by GOP megadonor Sheldon Adelson, supported Trump’s 2016 campaign and is preparing to spend millions on his 2020 effort.
“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!”
“We got you something that you wanted,” Trump said of the embassy move, adding, “Unlike other presidents, I keep my promises.”
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 antisemitism 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 antisemitism 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.