(JTA) — President Trump said that his call for some Democratic congresswomen to “go back” to “crime infested” [sic] their countries was also in defense of Israel.
Trump referenced Israel on Twitter Monday morning and Sunday, amid an outcry over the earlier tweet he made, which was racist and anti-immigrant because it implied that the politicians, all women of color, aren’t truly American.
Amid an 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.”
Trump has a track record of using Israel to rally his evangelical Christian base, which sees the establishment of the state in the context of Biblical prophecy. One of the congresswoman is the Muslim daughter of Palestinian refugees and is critical of Israel.
“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.
Trump was widely understood to be speaking about 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 one, Omar, was born abroad, in Somalia.
Ocasio-Cortez was born in the Bronx 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.
Ilhan and Tlaib have been especially outspoken in their criticism of Israel, and have been widely criticized by Jewish groups on the right and center. Many Republicans, including Trump, have cited their Israel stances when calling them out on social media and in speeches. Trump has also periodically referenced Israel in other contexts to support his political agenda, such as when he cited Israeli walls to defend his proposed wall on the Mexican border.
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,” Greenblatt also wrote.
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.