House passes resolution to show support for Israel after Democrat’s comments about ‘racist’ state

A bipartisan furor erupted over comments made by Rep. Pramila Jayapal at a Chicago conference Saturday calling Israel a ‘racist state.’ Jayapal later walked back the comments and voted for the bipartisan resolution.

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Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., criticized Israel’s treatment of Palestinians. On Wednesday, Israel’s president, Isaac Herzog, will address a joint session of Congress in commemoration of Israel’s 75th anniversary. Some progressive members are vowing to boycott the speech.

Associated Press

WASHINGTON — The House on Tuesday passed a Republican-led resolution reaffirming its support for Israel with strong bipartisan approval — an implicit rebuke of a leading Democrat who, over the weekend, 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 remarks over the weekend in Chicago about the Jewish state. The measure was drafted soon after she criticized Israel and its treatment of Palestinians at the Netroots Nation convention on Saturday.

Jayapal, the chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, also voted in support of the resolution. “I am not going to be bullied by their political games, and I’m not going to let them try to continue this debate,” she told reporters after the vote.

The Washington Democrat had walked back her comments from over the weekend, insisting they were aimed at Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and not the Jewish state.

“I do not believe the idea of Israel as a nation is racist,” Jayapal said in a statement Sunday. “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 Monday.

Some progressive Democrats are vowing to boycott on Wednesday when Israeli President Isaac Herzog is slated to address a joint session of Congress in commemoration of Israel’s 75th anniversary. The same handful voted against the resolution Tuesday.

Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich. — the only Palestinian-American in Congress — who is not attending the session, criticized the resolution as normalizing violence against those living in the West Bank. “We’re here again reaffirming Congress support for apartheid,” Tlaib said during floor debate. “Policing the words of women of color who dare to speak up about truths, about oppression.”

Over at the White House, Herzog on Tuesday 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 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 Tuesday, 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”

Wasserman 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 Kennedy 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 that although they disagree with his comments, taking him off a panel about censorship would be contrary to the point Republicans are trying to make.

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