Donald Trump said Saturday that President Joe Biden has not done enough to combat antisemitism across the United States in the face of Israel’s war with Hamas as the former president reaffirmed his staunch support for Israel and Jewish Americans following backlash over his recent criticism of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Speaking here at the influential Republican Jewish Coalition’s leadership summit, Trump, the front-runner for the 2024 GOP presidential nomination, refrained from repeating his critical comments from earlier this month about Netanyahu being caught unprepared by Hamas’ attack. He instead focused his speech on bashing Biden as he argued the president was to blame for the current Israel-Hamas conflict and that Americans were less safe under his leadership.
The former president accused Biden of having “turned a blind eye to the greatest outbreak of antisemitism in American history.” He also condemned pro-Palestinian demonstrations that have been taking place across the country, including on college campuses. Trump singled out Democratic Reps. Rashida Tlaib of Michigan and Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, who have been critical of Israeli military action and have called for a ceasefire as the death toll from the war continues to rise.
“As president, I will absolutely protect our Jewish citizens from these maniacs, lunatics, radical left thugs. Threats or crimes of violence against Jews will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law,” he said.
Trump continued to claim that his White House successor was not respected on the world stage, saying, “Joe Biden’s weakness caused the attack on Israel.”
Trump and his team faced enormous backlash when the former president criticized Netanyahu earlier this month.
“(Netanyahu) has been hurt very badly because of what’s happened here. He was not prepared. He was not prepared, and Israel was not prepared,” Trump told Fox News’ Brian Kilmeade in an interview October 11.
Trump went further at a campaign event in West Palm Beach, Florida, the same night.
“You talk about the intelligence, or you talk about some of the things that went wrong over the last week, they’ve got to straighten it out because they’re fighting potentially a very big force,” said the former president, who also referred to the Lebanese militia group Hezbollah as “very smart.”
His campaign soon began damage control, putting out a series of statements praising the Trump administration’s work in the Middle East. “#IstandWithIsrael #IstandWithBibi,” the former president posted on his Truth Social platform.
Trump, who has a history of playing into antisemitic tropes, last month drew condemnation, including from the Anti-Defamation League, after sharing a flyer on Truth Social asserting that liberal Jews who did not support him “voted to destroy America & Israel.” Trump has long criticized Jewish American voters who do not back him.
On Saturday, the former president continued to stoke fears about a potential terrorist attack in the US as he pushed for hard-line immigration policies, including reinstating his contentious travel ban, which targeted certain Muslim-majority countries.
Trump, who previously said he would revoke the student visas of “radical anti-American and antisemitic foreigners” and deport them if he’s elected president, appeared to expand on that proposal at a later campaign event in Las Vegas.
“We’ll terminate the visas of all of Hamas’ sympathizers, and we’ll get them off our college campuses, out of our cities and get them the hell out of our country, if that’s OK with you,” he said.
The White House on Saturday issued a statement bashing Trump’s travel ban as “vile” and “un-American,” saying, “The need to come together against rancid hate is more pressing now than ever, as American Muslims and Arab Americans increasingly find themselves the targets of appalling smears and heartbreaking violence.”
Trump’s speech at the summit Saturday did not address his former running mate Mike Pence’s unexpected announcement an hour earlier from the same stage that he was dropping out of the 2024 GOP race. But later at the campaign event, Trump called on the former vice president to endorse him.
“Because I had a great successful presidency, and he was the vice president, he should endorse me,” Trump said. “I chose him, made him vice president. But people, people in politics can be very disloyal. I’ve never seen anything like it.”
Trump and Pence fell out after Pence rejected his boss’s entreaties to overturn the 2020 election results in his capacity as vice president overseeing Congress’ certification of Biden’s victory.
Trump continues to falsely claim that Pence had the power to overturn the results.
Other 2024 presidential candidates at the Republican Jewish Coalition gathering Saturday also sought to position themselves as strong allies of Israel, condemning calls for a ceasefire in Gaza and also vouching support for canceling the visas of foreign students in the US who participate in pro-Palestinian protests.
Former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley said calling for a ceasefire in Gaza was an “insult of the worst kind.” Haley, who served as the US ambassador to the United Nations under Trump, also took aim at her former boss over his Netanyahu criticism and Hezbollah remarks.
“As president, I will not compliment Hezbollah. Nor will I criticize Israel’s prime minister in the middle of tragedy and war. We have no time for personal vendettas,” she said.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis touted the fact he was the first GOP candidate to call for revoking the student visas of those who sympathize with Hamas.
“I don’t care what imbeciles on college campuses say. I don’t care what liars in the media say. I don’t care what reprobates at the United Nations say. We stand with Israel. We stand with the people of Israel,” DeSantis said.
South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott accused Democrats of embracing antisemitism and called for expelling “any member of Congress who gives an ounce of aid, comfort, or support to terrorist killers — through their words, their actions or their affiliations with groups like the [Democratic Socialists of America].”
Several attendees at the summit told CNN that Haley was their first choice for the Republican nomination because they believed she was more electable than Trump. However, they also said they were resigned to the notion that, barring any significant shake-up in the race, Trump would likely capture the GOP nod next year.
“I think she’s reasonable and she’s electable,” said Michael Trager, an attendee at the summit. He said he liked some of the things Trump accomplished as president but “I’d like a little less drama, and a little bit more action.”
Nancy Berdon described the former South Carolina governor as “more moderate,” “respectable” and “the sort of candidate a lot of people could get behind.”
“Obviously, Trump is the front-runner, and he’s got all the brand name. I am personally loving Nikki Haley. I think she’s a straight shooter, she’s a straight talker, and I think that Republican voters really need to think about the end game,” Berdon said.
Another attendee, Allan Herman, said he wanted to see the US elect its first female president.
“I just think it’s time to move on, and no more election denial and I think it’s time for somebody new and I think a woman president would be great,” Herman said. But, like many others, he also said he thought Trump would probably win the nomination.
CNN’s Veronica Stracqualursi, Ebony Davis, Kit Maher and Kevin Liptak contributed to this report.