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Lee Zeldin sounds off on Trump comment

President Donald Trump greets Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley),

President Donald Trump greets Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley), center, and his wife, Diana Zeldin, after arriving at Francis S. Gabreski Airport in Westhampton Beach on Friday. Credit: AP / Susan Walsh

Daily Point

Lee Zeldin sounds off on Trump

As the furor roared Wednesday over President Donald Trump’s explosive Oval Office comment "I think any Jewish people that vote for a Democrat — it shows either a total lack of knowledge or great disloyalty.” Lee Zeldin took to Twitter to respond. Zeldin, one of only two Jewish Republicans in the House and a consistent ally of Trump, published four tweets that, rather than taking on the “disloyal” angle, defended the president, arguing that:

  • “The President loves the Jewish people,” laying out a laundry list of presidential actions from withdrawing from the Iran nuclear deal to moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem
  • “It’s POTUS’ belief Jews shouldn’t be voting Dem & he articulated it in a way that stirred debate, controversy and criticism”
  • Jews are not monolithic in their politics
  • Trump is correct on U.S. policy toward Israel.

In a phone interview with The Point Wednesday, Zeldin said the use of the term "disloyal" did bother him, both because it plays into an old trope about Jews having a dual allegiance rather than a clear loyalty for America, and because Trump’s comments did not make clear to whom or what he was saying the Jews were being disloyal. So why did Zeldin use his Twitter time to defend Trump rather than expressing disapproval of the president’s comments?

“The first reason is that I was disturbed that people were trying to portray President Trump as anti-Semitic, when that’s not the case,” Zeldin said. "Anti-Semitism is a hatred of the Jewish people, and the president has been a great friend to the Jewish people and to Israel.

“But I was also disturbed to see people who had absolutely no issue with the anti-Semitic attacks coming from Rep. Ilhan Omar and Rep. Rashida Tlaib suddenly take anti-Semitism very seriously when it’s the president saying something. Where were they all when Rep. Omar was comparing Israel to Nazi Germany?”

- Lane Filler @lanefiller

Talking Point

Steve Israel's bet

Former Rep. Steve Israel has not formally endorsed a presidential candidate, a fact he says is not an issue because “the endorsement of a former congressman is as coveted as an ‘I Love Lucy’ rerun.” Yet his support of former Vice President Joe Biden is well-known, and reciprocated: At a recent fundraiser, Biden pointed Israel out to the crowd and told them that if he wins the White House, Israel has to come back to Washington to work for the administration.

So what exactly motivated Israel to use his weekly column in The Hill to tout Montana Gov. Steve Bullock?

Israel’s piece Wednesday recounted the Westerner’s appearance in the Hamptons Saturday, calling it a rite of passage for Democratic presidential candidates and reporting that the crowd was surprisingly smitten with the dark horse’s message that:

  • He got over 50 percent of the votes statewide in 2016, in a state where Hillary Clinton pulled in just 35 percent of the vote
  • If he can win in Montana, he can win in the seven states pols think are legitimately up for grabs in 2020, and sway the 20 percent of voters considered undecided.

Israel touts a “20/7/20” formula for winning in 2020, describing the 20 percent who are undecided, the seven states up for grabs and the 20 crucial counties in those states as the key to victory. And he says Bullock was a big hit in the Hamptons, becoming the first choice of some attendees and the second preference of some who are committed to other candidates. 

“In a volatile and unpredictable political environment, keep your eyes on any candidate who can win them over in both the Hamptons and Helena,” was the walkoff of Israel’s piece.

Israel said he’s not backing off of his support for Biden. Rather, he says he is staying consistent with his view that Democrats need candidates who can compete with undecideds and in swing states. 

“I’m going to a Biden event in Water Mill next Saturday,” Israel said.

- Lane Filler @lanefiller

Pencil Point

Snail's pace

For more cartoons, visit www.newsday.com/opinion

Reference Point

Looking back on Hong Kong

“It’s beginning to sink in: China is on the way to becoming the next superpower,” Newsday’s editorial board wrote in 1997, one month before the British handed Hong Kong back to China. 

In a lengthy editorial entitled “Grappling with China,” Newsday advised on how the United States should move forward with China as the “Asian giant” took back Hong Kong and grew in influence. Among other warnings and suggestions, the board wrote: “Expect China to live up to its commitment on maintaining Hong Kong’s democracy [referring to the 50 years of autonomy China promised Hong Kong from 1997 to 2047], but don’t be shocked if its notion of democratic freedoms falls short of the American ideal.” 

Today, as Hong Kong witnesses its 11th week of protests and as concern grows from the international community that China’s decision to hold paramilitary exercises in a city near the China-Hong Kong border could mean the possibility of a Tiananmen Square II, The Point looked back on Newsday’s archive of editorials to see how its advice on U.S. foreign policy with China has shifted over the years.

There were some predictions that didn’t pan out but there are also parallels between today and decades ago. Around the time of Tiananmen, the United States had a president, George H. W. Bush, who not unlike our current POTUS showed a reluctance to directly address human rights violations if it meant a strain on trade and economic ties. That is not to say that Bush never spoke out against China. He did condemn the country eventually -- on June 5, 1989, the day after the massacre.

- Yeji Jesse Lee @jesse_yeji

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