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How is Donald Trump trying to capitalize on tensions between Biden and Netanyahu?

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Support for Israel has long been a bipartisan issue in Washington. But with President Biden's relationship with Israel's leader deteriorating, former President Trump thinks he may have a chance with Jewish American voters, this despite his own recent remarks that have angered many Jewish voters. NPR's Franco Ordoñez reports.

(APPLAUSE)

FRANCO ORDOÑEZ, BYLINE: When he was still president, Donald Trump liked to remind Jewish American voters all he did for Israel. Here he is at the Israeli-American Council National Summit back in 2019.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DONALD TRUMP: For over 20 years, every previous president promised to move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem. And they never acted. They never did it.

ORDOÑEZ: Under Trump, the U.S. also recognized Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights and greenlit Jewish settlements in the West Bank.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

TRUMP: But unlike other politicians, I kept my promises.

ORDOÑEZ: Aaron David Miller, who has advised Democratic and Republican presidents on the Middle East, says Trump created a sugar high for the Israelis.

AARON DAVID MILLER: There's probably only one country in the world - no, maybe Russia - whose citizens thought that Donald Trump was just extraordinary, and that was Israel.

ORDOÑEZ: And it's for this reason that Miller and others say Trump feels he has the right to question Jewish American loyalties, as he did last week when speaking to his former adviser, Sebastian Gorka, on his podcast.

(SOUNDBITE OF PODCAST, "AMERICA FIRST WITH SEBASTIAN GORKA")

TRUMP: Any Jewish person that votes for Democrats hates their religion. They hate everything about Israel, and they should be ashamed of themselves because Israel will be destroyed.

HALIE SOIFER: He's only solidifying opposition to him among Jewish voters with these deeply offensive and antisemitic comments.

ORDOÑEZ: That's Halie Soifer, who leads the Jewish Democratic Council of America.

SOIFER: He simply cannot get his head around the fact that the vast majority of Jewish Americans didn't vote for him in 2016, didn't vote for him in 2020.

ORDOÑEZ: Polls show most Jewish Americans support Democrats. The Biden campaign says Trump's going to lose because all Americans are sick of his hateful resentment and extreme agenda. But that hasn't stopped him and the Republicans from trying to capitalize on some of President Biden's perceived weaknesses. Biden strongly supported Israel's initial response to the October 7 Hamas attack that led to the death of 1,200 people. But Biden's grown frustrated with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's response that killed more than 31,000 Palestinians. And that mirrors Jewish Americans' own debate over Israel and it's policies. It's a little hard to hear here, but he was actually caught on a hot mic after his State of the Union address, telling a Democratic senator that he and Netanyahu were going to have a come to Jesus talk.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: Bibi, (inaudible) come to Jesus...

ORDOÑEZ: To be clear, Trump's relationship with Netanyahu isn't great. Trump was furious when Netanyahu congratulated Biden for winning the 2020 election. And Trump lashed out at Netanyahu after the Hamas attack and complimented the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah when it stepped up attacks against Israel.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

TRUMP: You know, Hezbollah is very smart. They're all very smart.

ORDOÑEZ: But since then, Republicans have embraced Netanyahu. Last week, the House speaker invited him to speak to Congress. Republican pollster Jon McHenry says there may be an opportunity for Trump to win back some more traditional Republican voters he lost during the primaries.

JON MCHENRY: That may actually be an entree for him to get them to say, OK, maybe I don't agree with him on Ukraine, but I do agree with him on Israel, and that's better than what I'm seeing out of Joe Biden.

ORDOÑEZ: But Dan Siegel is having none of it.

DAN SIEGEL: What he fails to understand is that American Jews are first Americans and then Jews.

ORDOÑEZ: Siegel was in charge of Jewish outreach for the Biden campaign four years ago in Pennsylvania and remains in touch with the campaign.

SIEGEL: We care about the same things that everybody else cares about.

ORDOÑEZ: He says those are things like health care, the economy and education. And that's what he says Jewish Americans will be voting on in November.

Franco Ordoñez, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF BUN B AND STATIK SELEKTAH SONG, "SUPERSTARR") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

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Franco Ordoñez
Franco Ordoñez is a White House Correspondent for NPR's Washington Desk. Before he came to NPR in 2019, Ordoñez covered the White House for McClatchy. He has also written about diplomatic affairs, foreign policy and immigration, and has been a correspondent in Cuba, Colombia, Mexico and Haiti.