by Cnaan Liphshiz
(JTA) — President Donald Trump said that his call for some Democrat congresswomen to “go back” to their countries also was in defense of Israel.
Trump referenced Israel on Twitter Sunday amid an outcry over an earlier tweet he made that critics said was racist.
“So interesting to see ‘Progressive’ Democrat Congresswomen, who originally came from countries whose governments are a complete and total catastrophe, the worst, most corrupt and inept anywhere in the world, now loudly and viciously telling the people of the United States, the greatest and most powerful Nation on earth, how our government is to be run,” he wrote.
”Why don’t they go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came. Then come back and show us how it is done,” Trump added.
Amid the outcry over Trump’s suggestion, he wrote on Twitter: “So sad to see the Democrats sticking up for people who speak so badly of our Country and who, in addition, hate Israel with a true and unbridled passion.”
Jonathan Greenblatt, the national director of the Anti-Defamation League, added his voice to the chorus of critics who called Trump’s initial words racist.
“As Jews, we’re familiar with this kind of prejudice. It has no purpose but to divide us and spread hate,” he wrote. “Whether or not you like their politics, telling people born in the US to ‘go back where they came from’ is flat-out racist and telling naturalized citizens the same is xenophobic.”
Trump was widely understood to be speaking about Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan. All four, who are left-leaning newcomers in their party, are American citizens belonging to ethnic minorities. Only Omar was born abroad, in Somalia.
Ocasio-Cortez was born in the Bronx borough of New York City to parents of Puerto Rican descent. Pressley, who is black, was born in Cincinnati and raised in Chicago. Tlaib was born in Detroit to Palestinian immigrants.
On Monday morning, Trump elaborated on Twitter on his Israel-related tweets the previous day.
“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. So many people are angry at them & their horrible & disgusting actions!” he wrote in a series of tweets. “If Democrats want to unite around the foul language & racist hatred spewed from the mouths and actions of these very unpopular & unrepresentative Congresswomen, it will be interesting to see how it plays out. I can tell you that they have made Israel feel abandoned by the U.S.
“We all know that AOC and this crowd are a bunch of Communists, they hate Israel, they hate our own Country, they’re calling the guards along our Border (the Border Patrol Agents) Concentration Camp Guards, they accuse people who support Israel as doing it for the Benjamin’s [sic],” Trump wrote. AOC is an acronym for Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
Omar in February apologized for saying that supporters of Israel in Washington, D.C., and specifically the pro-Israel lobby AIPAC, is “all about the Benjamins” — a reference to $100 bills featuring a portrait of Benjamin Franklin. Her remark was widely criticized as having anti-Semitic undertones.
“They are Anti-Semitic, they are Anti-America, we don’t need to know anything about them personally, talk about their policies,” Trump wrote about the congresswomen, whom he did not name except for Ocasio-Cortez. “I think they are American citizens who are duly elected that are running on an agenda that is disgusting, that the American people will reject.”
He also wrote: “They talk about Israel like they’re a bunch of thugs, not victims of the entire region.”
Referencing House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a centrist Democrat, Trump added: “Whenever confronted, they call their adversaries, including Nancy Pelosi, ‘RACIST.’ Their disgusting language and the many terrible things they say about the United States must not be allowed to go unchallenged. If the Democrat Party wants to continue to condone such disgraceful behavior, then we look even more forward to seeing you at the ballot box in 2020!”
In reaction, Pelosi said that his election slogan of “Make America Great Again” “has always been about making America white again.”
Ilhan and Tlaib have been especially outspoken in their criticism of Israel, and have been widely criticized by Jewish groups on the right and in the center.
The centrist American Jewish Committee objected to Trump’s comments.
“Our nation was built by people who hailed from every corner of the globe and we are enriched by our diversity to this day. Surely we can have policy debates in this country without resorting to potshots at our opponents’ identities or origins,” it tweeted.
Rabbi Jill Jacobs of the left-leaning rabbis’ human rights group T’ruah said of Trump’s series of tweets, “This has nothing to do with Israel.”
”It’s about your behavior toward American citizens & congresspeople,” she wrote. “Please don’t try to cover up your racism by making Israel a wedge.”