Fox News hosts’ responses to President Donald Trump’s comment questioning the loyalties of Jewish voters have ranged from a blanket denial that Trump derided Jewish Americans for insufficient loyalty to another country to a seeming embrace of the charge itself.
On Tuesday, Trump said: “I think any Jewish people that vote for a Democrat, I think it shows either a total lack of knowledge or great disloyalty.” (Trump would clarify on Wednesday that “If you vote for a Democrat, you’re being disloyal to Jewish people, and you’re being very disloyal to Israel.”)
In the immediate wake of Trump’s comments, the hosts initially tried to downplay or deny that Trump was questioning Jewish American voters’ patriotism. On the August 20 edition of Fox News’ The Story, Fox contributor Juan Williams raised the issue, only for anchor Martha MacCallum to try to compare it to the relationship between Democrats and Catholic voters on key issues, saying Trump was “just pointing out how that voting bloc has voted before.”
Later that night, on The Ingraham Angle, liberal guest and talk radio host Ethan Bearman expressed his own outrage (as a Jewish person himself) at Trump’s remarks while mentioning Trump’s pattern of supporting white nationalism: “Today, he did the loyalty charge to … Jews in America. If you vote Democrat, your loyalty is in question?”
Bearman was then interrupted by the duo of host Laura Ingraham and Turning Point USA’s Charlie Kirk.
“That’s not what he said,” Kirk insisted. “Oh, he’s not talking about that,” Ingraham exclaimed, talking over Bearman’s continued protest. “Nice try. You guys have the anti-Semitism problem, not us.”
But by Wednesday morning, a different tack started to appear: actively pushing the smear itself as a normative value upon Jewish Americans.
On the August 21 edition of Fox & Friends, co-host Brian Kilmeade mounted a full-throated defense of Trump’s remarks, with Kilmeade even reading back Trump’s statement — and declaring, “If you compared the two administrations and their allegiance to Israel and their alliance, I think that by far this president has shown more of an allegiance to Israel than President Obama has. So he thinks that somehow that doesn't turn up in the ballot box where President Trump only got 24% of the American Jewish vote.” Kilmeade then speculated that Jewish Americans “could be voting on other things.”
It’s remarkable how Trump’s comments and the reaction of right-wing media figures compare to the controversy this past March, when Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) accused pro-Israel political interests of pushing “for allegiance to a foreign country.” (Kilmeade used the same word, “allegiance,” today.)
Republicans roundly accused Omar of furthering anti-Semitic accusations about Jews having dual national loyalties, including vitriolic coverage of the story on Fox News. Indeed, Trump himself tweeted that Omar’s statement made it “a dark day for Israel.” In response to over-the-top outrage by right-wing media, the House of Representatives responded to the story by passing a resolution condemning “anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, racism and other forms of bigotry.”
Thus, a double standard becomes apparent: Conservative media figures will attack any criticism of Israel and the American alliance from the left as an alleged slur against the loyalty of American Jews. But at the same time, they will either gloss over or even give enthusiastic backing to political attacks against Jews who vote Democratic, for allegedly not showing sufficient loyalty and political support to Israel.