Donald Trump has claimed American Jewish people who vote for Democrats show “either a total lack of knowledge or great disloyalty”.
The US president’s claim triggered a quick backlash from critics who said the Republican president was trading in anti-Semitic stereotypes.
It came amid his ongoing feud with Democratic congresswomen Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib, who are both Muslims.
Mr Trump has closely aligned himself with Israel, including its conservative prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, while the Muslim legislators have been outspoken critics of Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians.
Ms Tlaib is a US-born Palestinian American, while Ms Omar was born in Somalia.
“Where has the Democratic Party gone? Where have they gone where they are defending these two people over the state of Israel?” Mr Trump told reporters in the Oval Office.
“I think any Jewish people that vote for a Democrat, I think it shows either a total lack of knowledge or great disloyalty.”
At his urging, Israel last week blocked Ms Omar and Ms Tlaib from entering the country. Israel later agreed to a humanitarian visit for Ms Tlaib to visit her grandmother, who lives in the West Bank.
She declined, saying her grandmother had ultimately urged her not to come under what they considered to be humiliating circumstances.
Mr Trump called Ms Omar a “disaster” for Jews and said he did not “buy” the tears Ms Tlaib shed on Monday as she discussed the situation.
Both congresswomen support the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, a global protest against Israel.
Mr Trump’s comments were denounced swiftly by Jewish American organisations.
“This is yet another example of Donald Trump continuing to weaponise and politicise anti-Semitism,” said Halie Soifer, executive director of the Jewish Democratic Council of America.
“At a time when anti-Semitic incidents have increased — due to the president’s emboldening of white nationalism — Trump is repeating an anti-Semitic trope.”
Logan Bayroff of the liberal J Street pro-Israel group said it was “no surprise that the president’s racist, disingenuous attacks on progressive women of colour in Congress have now transitioned into smears against Jews”.
“It is dangerous and shameful for President Trump to attack the large majority of the American Jewish community as unintelligent and ‘disloyal’,” Mr Bayroff said. A number of groups noted that accusations of disloyalty have long been made against Jews, including in Europe during the 1930s.
Ann Lewis and Mark Mellman of Democratic Majority for Israel called it “one of the most dangerous, deadly accusations Jews have faced over the years. False charges of disloyalty over the centuries have led to Jews being murdered, jailed and tortured”.
But the Republican Jewish Coalition defended Mr Trump, arguing that the president was speaking about people being disloyal to themselves rather than to Israel.