NOEL KING, HOST:
This week, President Trump made comments about American Jews, comments that are strongly associated with anti-Semitism. On two separate occasions, he called American Jews who vote for Democrats, quote, "disloyal." And then he retweeted a conservative radio show host who called him, Trump, quote, "king of the Jews." Jewish Americans represent about 3% of the American electorate, and yet the president talks a lot about how they vote.
NPR's senior political editor Domenico Montanaro is on the line. Hey, Domenico.
DOMENICO MONTANARO, BYLINE: Hey there, Noel.
KING: All right. So let's start with some of what the president said on Wednesday.
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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: They don't want to fund Israel. They want to take away foreign aid to Israel. They want to do a lot of bad things to Israel. In my opinion, you vote for a Democrat, you're being very disloyal to Jewish people, and you're being very disloyal to Israel.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: But, sir...
TRUMP: And only weak people would say anything other than that.
KING: Domenico, these comments calling American Jews disloyal, what are they premised on? What is the president saying there?
MONTANARO: Well, first of all, he's talking about how American Jewish voters vote and the fact that they vote overwhelmingly for Democrats. I mean, since 1968, Jewish voters have broken 71% for Democratic presidential candidates. That's the exact number that Hillary Clinton got in 2016. Just a quarter - 24% - voted for Trump in 2016.
He feels that what he's done for Israel - things like taking the side of the hardline Israeli government headed by Benjamin Netanyahu, moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem, for example - should mean more American Jewish voters would favor him. But that's not how they vote overall. And he thinks that they should look at how Democrats are moving in a direction to be more sympathetic toward Palestinians, for example, and feels that that's what American Jewish voters should take into consideration. But it really does ignore their priorities.
KING: OK. So given all that, what do we actually know about how Israel factors into the way Jewish Americans vote?
MONTANARO: Well, it's certainly a threshold issue for Jewish voters. But, you know, for more liberal Jewish voters, which, again, is the overwhelming majority, they prioritize things that other Democrats prioritize - things like social justice, health care, climate change, the welfare of immigrants. And, you know, so for them, Israel is not the, quote, "overriding issue." You know, many of them don't agree even with the president's policies toward Israel.
So the most telling sign, frankly - and I say this a lot about voters - the most telling sign of how you can actually tell how someone's going to vote is how they've voted previously. And for Jewish voters, overwhelmingly, that's been Democratic.
KING: OK. So you talked a bit about some of the numbers that we do know. We do know that in 2016, 24% of American Jews voted for President Trump. So if we look at that data and who those folks are, what do we know about that group?
MONTANARO: Well, there are different strains of Jewishness, obviously. And Trump's biggest group of support comes from Orthodox Jews. They're personally much more conservative, very protective of Israel. They take a harder line, you know, than other Jewish voters on Iran, military support for Israel, things like Middle East peace issues. So they're a vocal minority but a very powerful group within the Republican Party.
KING: You know, many people pointed out this week that there's a long history of this term, disloyal, being used against American Jews. Where did that come from?
MONTANARO: Well, you know, it's the idea that they're less loyal to the place they live, where they were born - even if they're citizens of a place - and more to their religion. You know, after Israel was formed, it was suddenly that they were more devoted to the state of Israel. And it's an idea that goes back centuries. It's led to violence. It's something that Nazis used in the 1930s to justify arrests and killings of Jews. It's something white supremacists use now.
Conservative Jewish voters and groups that support President Trump, though, they've really defended the president, saying that he's right. They think that it's ridiculous to equate the president with any of these groups, saying his son-in-law, his daughter, they're Jewish. And they point back to Ilhan Omar, for example, from Minnesota, who was criticized earlier in the year for - even by people in her own party - for pushing a similar line, saying, I want to talk about the political influence in this country that says it's OK for people to push for allegiance to a foreign country.
KING: NPR's senior political editor Domenico Montanaro. Thanks, Domenico.
MONTANARO: You're welcome.
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