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Jewish Republicans rebuke Trump for ‘inflammatory’ criticism of Israel and its leaders amid war

‘Criticizing someone that’s fighting for their life is is pretty naive,’ said a prominent Jewish Republican

Though most American Jews vote for Democrats and take a dim opinion of former President Donald Trump, Republican Jews often explain their support for him by pointing to his support for Israel. But when Trump denigrated Israel’s leaders and called its enemies “smart” in a speech on Wednesday, Jewish Republicans noticed — and some called him out.

“Criticizing someone that’s fighting for their life is pretty naive and not the least bit productive,” said Fred Zeidman, a Republican Jewish Committee board member who voted for Trump’s reelection in 2020.  

To a few thousand supporters in Palm Beach, Florida, Trump questioned Israel’s readiness to fight. “Say what you want, Israel was not ready,” he said. “This was a big surprise. This was a terrible thing that happened. They weren’t ready.” 

The frontrunner for the Republican presidential nomination in 2024 described Hamas and Hezbollah as “smart” and called Israel’s defense minister, Yoav Gallant, a “jerk” for warning Hezbollah in Lebanon about striking Israel. “Whoever heard of an official saying on television that they hope the enemy doesn’t attack in a certain area?” he said.

Sheya Landa, a Republican activist from New York and a Trump supporter, said Trump should apologize for remarks that “only cause more frustration.”

“When so many lives are lost, it’s beyond ridiculous to make such comments,” said Landa, who currently serves as a staffer for Nassau County Executive Bruce Blakeman. He added, though, that he agrees with the former president that the only solution is to totally destroy Hamas and that Netanyahu must show full force in the Gaza offensive. Thousands of Israelis and Palestinians have been killed in Hamas’ assault on Israel Saturday and the Jewish state’s response.

Zeidman, who supports former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley in the 2024 GOP presidential primary, credited Trump for his Israel policies while in office. “What he did for Israel far surpassed anybody else,” he said. But on Wednesday, Trump was not speaking as a president or a former president,” Zeidman continued. “He’s speaking as a candidate again and he’s giving all of us a clear reason not to support him.”

Trump has a strong lead in the primary. The Republican Jewish Coalition declined to comment on his remarks, saying it is their policy not to say anything that appears to favor or oppose a Republican primary candidate. Other former Trump officials and supporters, reached for comment, also declined to comment.

Trump’s grudge against Netanyahu

In his two-hour speech, Trump also scolded Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, saying that the Israeli leader declined to assist the U.S. in the January 2020 drone strike that killed Qasem Suleimani, the leader of the Quds Force of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps.  “I’ll never forget that Bibi Netanyahu let us down,” he said. “That was a very terrible thing.”

According to a report in Rolling Stone Wednesday, Trump has told allies and donors in recent days that Netanyahu should be “impeached” by the Israeli parliament, and “has also asked multiple longtime advisers if he should now publicly call for Netanyahu to step down as prime minister immediately.”

Trump has groused about Netanyahu since he lost to President Joe Biden in 2020, an election he falsely claims was rigged. But Wednesday’s speech marked the first time Trump publicly criticized Israeli leaders for decisions related to national security. Jonathan Lemire, a journalist and an MSNBC host, said Thursday morning that he was told by “someone close to the former president” that Trump’s criticism of Netanyahu is driven by personal grievances.

“Netanyahu had praised President Biden” for his strong support of Israel in recent days, Lemire said, “and Trump simply couldn’t stand for that.”

DeSantis scolds Trump

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who is polling second in the GOP presidential primary, but still far behind Trump, was quick to rebuke the former president for his comments.

Lisa Spies, the DeSantis campaign’s Jewish outreach director, said, “No responsible leader should ever praise Hezbollah terrorists as smart without adding context regarding their evil nature.” Spies, a Republican fundraiser who also served as the Jewish outreach director for Mitt Romney’s and Jeb Bush’s presidential campaigns added that “anyone who wants to have a conversation about that is nothing short of delusional.”

Spies said her criticism of Trump’s remarks has nothing to do with politics. “You just don’t say anything like that,” she said. “Hezbollah is not ‘smart.’ That sounds like the anti-Israel Democrat Squad, not a Republican.”

Criticism from Israel

Even in the midst of war, Trump’s comments were noted in Israel, where he has enjoyed the public’s favor. A 2019 Pew Research Center poll showed 71% of Israelis had faith in Trump’s leadership and 55% approved of his policies.

But this week, commentators expressed dismay over his Palm Beach speech.

An Israeli cabinet minister, Shlomo Karhi, called out Trump for abetting “propaganda” that would “wound the spirit of Israel’s fighters and its citizens.”

“We don’t have to bother with him and the nonsense he spouts,” said Karhi, a member of the ruling Likud Party and the minister of communications.

The White House called Trump’s remarks “dangerous and unhinged.”

“It’s completely lost on us why any American would ever praise an Iran-backed terrorist organization as ‘smart’ or have any objection to the United States warning terrorists not to attack Israel,” Andrew Bates, a White House spokesperson, said in a statement. “Especially now as Israel is fighting back against one of the worst acts of mass murder in the country’s history. This is a time for all of us to stand shoulder to shoulder with Israel against ‘unadulterated evil.’”

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