WASHINGTON, D.C. — The U.S. House last week passed a Republican-led resolution reaffirming its support for Israel with strong bipartisan approval — an implicit rebuke of a leading Democrat who called the country a “racist state” but later apologized.
The resolution, introduced by Rep. August Pfluger, R-Texas, passed with over 400 lawmakers backing the measure. It did not mention Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., by name, but was clearly a response to her recent remarks about the Jewish state. The measure was drafted soon after she criticized Israel and its treatment of Palestinians at a conference.
Jayapal, the chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, walked back the comments the next day, insisting her comments were aimed at Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and not the state of Israel.
“I do not believe the idea of Israel as a nation is racist,” Jayapal said in a statement. “I do, however, believe that Netanyahu’s extreme right-wing government has engaged in discriminatory and outright racist policies and that there are extreme racists driving that policy within the leadership of the current government.”
The GOP-led effort highlighted the divide among House Democrats over Israel, with younger progressives adopting a more critical stance toward the longtime U.S. ally than party leaders.
“If there’s anybody in the Democrat party that does not think that antisemitism is bad, then I think this puts them on the record,” Pfluger said.
Some progressive Democrats boycotted Herzog’s address. The same handful voted against the resolution.
Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich. — the only Palestinian-American in Congress — who did not attend the address, criticized the resolution as normalizing violence against those living in the occupied West Bank. “We’re here again reaffirming Congress support for apartheid,” Tlaib said during floor debate on the resolution. “Policing the words of women of color who dare to speak up about truths, about oppression.”
Over at the White House, Herzog sought to assure President Joe Biden that Israel remains committed to democracy amid deepening U.S. concerns over Netanyahu’s controversial plans to overhaul his country’s judicial system and ongoing settlement construction in the occupied West Bank.
Top Democratic leaders in the House also reaffirmed their support for Israel ahead of the vote, responding Sunday to Jayapal’s comments with a blistering joint statement.
The statement — from House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., and members of his leadership team — declared that “Israel is not a racist state.” It also said America’s long-held commitment to “a safe and secure Israel as an invaluable partner, ally and beacon of democracy in the Middle East is ironclad.”
Hours later, more than 40 House Democrats, including a large group of Jewish members, issued a separate letter also condemning Jayapal’s comments.
“Any efforts to rewrite history and question the Jewish State’s right to exist, or our historic bipartisan relationship, will never succeed in Congress,” the group, led by Rep. Josh Gottheimer, D-N.J., said Monday night.
Most Democrats supported the GOP resolution, even as they accused Republicans of playing politics.
“These are straightforward things that we should be supporting,” Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., who is Jewish, told reporters. “But I certainly questioned the intentions of the Republicans by putting it on the floor. I wish their intentions were genuine.”
Schultz also called out House Republicans’ efforts to condemn Jayapal’s comments with a vote but their refusal to disinvite Democratic presidential hopeful Robert F. Kennedy Jr. from a hearing Thursday despite comments he made about the COVID-19 virus being engineered to spare Ashkenazi Jews and Chinese people.
“That type of vile messaging and statements should never be given those world’s largest platforms to fan the flames of conspiracy theories and racial and ethnic and religious hate,” she said. More than 100 Democrats have signed a letter as of late Tuesday calling for Republican leadership to remove him from the panel.
Speaker Kevin McCarthy and committee chair Jim Jordan, who is holding the hearing, have so far refused to disinvite Kennedy. Both said while they disagree with his comments, taking him off a panel about censorship would be contrary to the point Republicans are trying to make.