Updated Aug. 21., 2019, 9:40 p.m.
President Donald Trump has sparked a new political fight with American Jews by suggesting they show "great disloyalty" by voting for opposition Democrats.
U.S. Jews for decades have overwhelmingly voted for Democratic presidential candidates over their Republican challengers, including Trump, even as he won the presidency in 2016.
But Trump on Tuesday attacked Jewish people who vote for Democrats, saying they are showing "either a total lack of knowledge or great disloyalty."
He attempted to clarify what he meant by saying Wednesday that voters who vote for Democratic candidates are "disloyal to Jewish people and to Israel."
Trump's attack came as he again assailed two first-term Muslim lawmakers, Democratic members of Congress Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib, both vocal critics of Israel and its treatment of Palestinians. Both were denied entry to Israel last week after Trump pressured its government to keep them out. Tlaib was later granted permission to visit on humanitarian grounds but she said she wouldn't go, citing what she called Israeli's "oppressive" conditions on her visit.
”Where has the Democratic Party gone?" President Trump said. "Where have they gone where they're defending these two people over the state of Israel?"
Democratic presidential candidates seeking their party's nomination to run against Trump in the 2020 election and Jewish leaders were quick to condemn his remarks.
"My message to Trump: I am a proud Jewish person and I have no concerns about voting Democratic," said Senator Bernie Sanders, one of the leading Democratic candidates.
The top contender for the nomination, former Vice President Joe Biden, called Trump's comments "insulting and inexcusable." Former Texas Congressman Beto O'Rourke said, "The Jewish people don't need to prove their loyalty to you, @realDonaldTrump — or to anyone else."
J Street, a liberal, Washington-based lobbying group, was among several Jewish groups that assailed Trump's remarks.
"It is dangerous and shameful for President Trump to attack the large majority of the American Jewish community as unintelligent and 'disloyal,'" J Street said.
The American Jewish Committee called Trump's comments "shockingly divisive."
"American Jews — like all Americans — have a range of political views and policy priorities," said committee chief executive officer David Harris. "His assessment of their knowledge or 'loyalty,' based on their party preference, is inappropriate, unwelcome, and downright dangerous."
The Israeli government is staying out of the controversy. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office had no comment while President Reuven Rivlin told U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, "We must keep the state of Israel above political disputes and make every effort to ensure that support for Israel does not become a political issue."
Later, on Twitter, Trump praised conservative writer Wayne Allyn Root, who called the U.S. leader "the greatest President for Jews and for Israel in the history of the world."
Root said, "The Jewish people in Israel love him like he's the King of Israel. They love him like he is the second coming of God. But American Jews don't know him or like him."