President Donald Trump warned on Saturday that a Democratic victory in 2020 could “leave Israel out there,” as he highlighted his pro-Israel actions in an effort to make the case for Jewish voters to back his re-election.
Speaking at the annual meeting of the Republican Jewish Coalition, Trump touted his precedent-shredding actions to move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv and recognition last month of Israeli sovereignty over the disputed Golan Heights, a strategic plateau that Israel seized from Syria in 1967.
“We got you something that you wanted,” Trump said of the embassy move, adding, “Unlike other presidents, I keep my promises.”
The group, backed by GOP megadonor Sheldon Adelson, supported Trump’s 2016 campaign and is preparing to spend millions on his 2020 effort.
“I know that the Republican Jewish Coalition will help lead our party to another historic victory,” Trump said. “We need more Republicans. Let’s go, so we can win everything.”
Jewish voters in the U.S. have traditionally sided heavily with Democrats — and are often ideologically liberal — but Republicans are hoping to narrow the gap next year, in part as Trump cites actions that he says demonstrate support for Israel.
The Jewish Democratic Council of America on Saturday said American Jews leaving the Democratic Party are a Republican fantasy.
“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,” JDCA Executive Director Halie Soifer said in a statement. “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.”
But at the RJC, Trump earned standing ovations for recounting both the embassy move and the Golan Heights recognition.
Trump noted it had long been a priority for Adelson and his wife, Miriam. “That is the most important thing that’s ever happened in their life,” Trump said. “They love Israel.”
Trump’s speech comes weeks after he suggested Democrats “hate” Jews. His remark followed an internal fight among Democrats over how to respond to comments by Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., that some criticized as anti-Semitic.
Trump mockingly thanked Omar as he began his speech, before adding, “Oh, I forgot. She doesn’t like Israel, I forgot, I’m sorry. No, she doesn’t like Israel, does she? Please, I apologize.”
He also accused Democrats of allowing anti-Semitism to “take root” in their party.
Before Trump’s appearance, people assembled for the event carried signs with “We are Jews for Trump” and “Trump” written in Hebrew. Dozens of men and several women wore red yarmulkes with “Trump” in white that were distributed at the event.
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.
Trump criticized some 2020 Democrats who have suggesting they would re-enter the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, from which Trump withdrew the United States. The agreement was fiercely opposed by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has cheered as Trump re-imposed stringent new sanctions on the country that Israel regards as an existential threat. Trump is closely aligned with Netanayu, who’s seeking to return power in Tuesday’s national election.
Trump predicted that election is “gonna be close,” adding it features “Two good people,” seemingly referring to Netanyahu and his chief threat to Netanyahu’s coalition, former Israeli army chief of staff, Benny Gantz.
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.”
When he addressed the RJC in 2015 he said he didn’t expect to earn their support because he wouldn’t take their money. “You want to control your politicians, that’s fine,” Trump said at the time. Ultimately, the group and many of its donors backed Trump.
Trump met privately with Adelson before speaking, according to an official. Adelson has cancer and has been in poor health, but he and his wife attended Trump’s remarks — receiving a standing ovation when they entered the ballroom.
The Adelsons gave Trump’s campaign $30 million in 2016. They followed that by contributing $100 million to the Republican Party for the 2018 midterm elections.
Introducing Trump, former Sen. Norm Coleman, R-Minn., the chairman of the RJC, led the audience in an adapted version of the Passover reading “Dayenu,” as he recounted what Trump had done for Israel.
Stuart Weil, a Jewish man from Fresno, California, said Americans have traditionally been very supportive of Israel but “the progressive, liberal wing of the Democratic Party” is changing that.
Weil, who wore a blue Trump-style hat that read, “Making Israel & America Great Again,” says he’s a Republican because of the party’s strong stance on Israel.
According to AP Votecast, a survey of more than 115,000 midterm voters and 3,500 Jewish voters nationwide, voters who identified as Jewish broke for Democrats over Republicans by a wide margin, 72 percent to 26 percent, in 2018.
Over the past decade, Jewish voters have shown stability in their partisanship, according to data from Pew Research Center. Jewish voters identify with or lean toward the Democratic Party over the Republican Party by a roughly 2-1 ratio.
Associated Press writer Michelle L. Price contributed to this report.
This story corrects year of AP VoteCast survey to 2018, not 2016.