OP-ED: Trump smears Democrats, again, as the ‘anti-Jewish’ party

Jon Healey
Los Angeles Times
From left, Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., and Rep. Joe Neguse, D-Colo., listen to remarks by Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and other Democrats as they prepare to introduce new legislation to reduce what Americans pay for prescription drugs, especially brand-name drugs deemed "excessively priced," during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Jan. 10, 2019. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Republicans had a field day criticizing Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) when her remarks crossed the line between legitimately criticizing Israel and engaging in anti-Semitic tropes. But will they say anything about President Donald Trump crossing the line between legitimately criticizing anti-Semitism and painting all Democrats as anti-Semites?

Of course not.

Trump has criticized Democrats often in the weeks since Omar first came under the heat lamp. On Friday he made the point again to reporters, saying: “The Democrats have very much proven to be anti-Israel. There’s no question about that. And it’s a disgrace. I mean, I don’t know what’s happened to them but they are totally anti-Israel. Frankly, I think they’re anti-Jewish.”

“Anti-Jewish.” That would be “anti-Semitic,” and it’s a heck of an assertion. You might even call it calumny. And it’s typically Trumpian in its disregard for relevant evidence. Of the 34 Jewish members of Congress, 94 percent are Democrats, and 70 percent to 80 percent of Jewish voters back Democratic candidates.

Trump may simply be trying to give himself some cover for the latest jaw-dropping gift to Israel’s right-wing president, Benjamin Netanyahu. Seemingly unbidden, the president declared on Twitter on Thursday that the United States should recognize the Golan Heights in Syria as officially part of Israel now.

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In an interview on the Fox Business Network on Thursday, Trump likened his recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights to his decision to move the U.S. Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem. “Every president has said, ‘Do that,’” Trump told interviewer Maria Bartiromo. “I’m the one that gets it done.”

Actually, no president said “Do that” about the Golan Heights. In fact, up to the Trump administration, the United States routinely joined United Nations resolutions criticizing Israel’s ongoing occupation of the Golan Heights, which it seized from Syria during the Six-Day War in 1967 and annexed in 1981.

There’s no mystery about why Israel wants to keep the high ground overlooking Israel, Syria and Lebanon. But one principle that the U.S. and other Western democracies have tried to enforce in the wake of World War II is that countries should not expand through military conquest. That’s why we helped push Iraq out of Kuwait and slapped sanctions on Russia after it annexed Crimea, to pick just a couple of examples.

Previous administrations viewed the status of the Golan Heights, like other occupied territories and divided Jerusalem, as bargaining chips in an overall regional peace deal. The area was also a key negotiating point in a more narrow peace deal the U.S. had sought to broker between Israel and Syria. But as the New York Times noted, Syria has other issues to work through, to put it mildly, before it can focus on resolving the status of the Golan Heights. Several Arab leaders blasted Trump’s pronouncement, but the damage the Assad regime inflicted on Syria may quite simply have settled the disputed area’s fate in Israel’s favor.

Yet you’d think the United States wouldn’t break from past policy and its principle regarding forcible annexations unless it had a very good reason to do so — something real it would get in return. Sadly, our dealmaker in chief appears to equate helping the embattled Netanyahu get reelected with advancing U.S. interests, even if doing so further diminishes the prospect of a U.S.-brokered peace deal in the Middle East and makes it harder to push back against the Crimean-style land grabs by aggressive foreign governments.

Of course, Trump has something to gain from the gesture too. Many evangelical Christians, who are a key part of his base of supporters, are strongly pro-Israel and its current government. The Golan Heights move is a nod to them, as well as a potential lure to the many Jewish Americans who have been voting Democratic. The latter also helps explain the repeated efforts by Trump to cast Democrats as the “anti-Israel” party.

Although foreign policy is the president’s prerogative, Congress should give a thorough airing to the pros and cons of recognizing Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights. And lawmakers shouldn’t let Trump’s bluster about who is and isn’t “anti-Jewish” impede them from asking how his foreign policy via Twitter is affecting the long-term interests of this country and that region.