rabbi irvin brandwein

Rabbi Irvin Brandwein

Beth Sholom Congregation Rabbi Irvin Brandwein wasn't surprised Wednesday to hear President Donald Trump said Jewish Americans are "disloyal" for voting Democrat.

"Campaign season is back in full swing, and for the President, I think it's just another move to jockey for position. For him, I think anyone who votes for the other party is disloyal," Brandwein said, noting that he tries not to pay too much attention to that type of politics, regardless of which party is voicing it. "For President Trump, I think it's just his usual political approach."

What's more concerning in these divisive times, is that politicians are willing to use faith communities for political gain, he said.

"It's sad to see religion being exploited in this way – very tragic spiritually – to see our communities being objects of manipulation like this," Brandwein added.

Trump made headlines after he told reporters Jewish Americans were either guilty of ignorance or "great disloyalty" for voting Democrat – a party that the community has historically supported based on national voter registration trends.

At the time, Trump was responding to the press in the Oval Office about two Democratic congresswomen who are barred from entering Israel over their involvement in the movement to end international support for Israel because of the country's policies toward Palestinians – a move that has also generated national attention in recent days.

"Where has the Democratic Party gone? Where have they gone where they're defending these two people over the State of Israel?" Trump said.

"I think any Jewish people that vote for a Democrat -- it shows either a total lack of knowledge or great disloyalty," the president added.

Thomas Mills resident Bob Horowitz had a different opinion Wednesday.

The 74-year-old Beth Sholom member said he's been voting his entire adult life, and doesn't think anyone has the right to tell him who to vote for.

"Whoever you vote for, it's your right," Horowitz said. "You're exercising your American privilege to vote."

Using the "disloyalty" card on Jews is nothing new, Anti-Defamation League CEO Jonathan Greenblatt tweeted on Tuesday.

"It's long overdue to stop using Jews as a political football," Greenblatt wrote. "As we've said before, it's possible to engage in the democratic process without these claims."

Trump has stirred many in the Jewish community – and locally, Brandwein said that includes those who "passionately" back the president, too.

"A lot of people are talking right now – and that includes the (Jewish) people love and support him," he said.

The president has staunchly backed Israel at a time the simmering Israeli-Palestine conflict has become a regular topic on Capitol Hill.

Minnesota U.S. Rep. Ilhan Abdullahi Omar has been a lightning rod for attention of late for her criticism of what she's described as the harsh realities of Israel's "occupation" over the Palestinian state.

To Brandwein, almost nonstop coverage by the national media is making things worse.

That, too, deserves its share of the blame, he said.

"There's suffering and oppression in Haiti, Venezuela, Yemen and so many other parts of the world, as we speak, yet they seem to be obsessed with every nuance happening in the West Bank," he said. "Why don't we see coverage of that?"

David Hurst is a reporter for The Tribune-Democrat. He can be reached at (814) 532-5053. Follow him on Twitter @TDDavidHurst and Instagram @TDDavidHurst.

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