House passes resolution supporting Israel in wake of Jayapal’s comments

Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), flanked by members of the Progressive Caucus, at a news conference at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., on May 24, 2023. MUST CREDIT: Washington Post photo by Ricky Carioti

The House on Tuesday passed a resolution voicing support for Israel, days after a leading Democratic lawmaker drew condemnation from both parties after saying the country was a “racist state.”

The measure, introduced by Rep. August Pfluger (R-Tex.) and passed by a 412-9 vote, with one member voting present, succinctly states that “Congress rejects all forms of antisemitism and xenophobia” and that “the United States will always be a staunch partner and supporter of Israel.” It also states that Israel “is not a racist or apartheid state.”

“It’s critical for the U.S. Congress to send a unified message that we stand with Israel and that we unequivocally support our Jewish communities,” Pfluger said on the House floor ahead of the vote Tuesday. “There is no place for hateful words.”

Pfluger was referring to comments made over the weekend by Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), chairwoman of the Congressional Progressive Caucus. During an event in Chicago hosted by Netroots Nation, Jayapal told a group of pro-Palestinian demonstrators that she has “been fighting to make it clear that Israel is a racist state, that the Palestinian people deserve self-determination and autonomy, that the dream of a two-state solution is slipping away from us, that it does not even feel possible.”

The remarks quickly drew bipartisan criticism, leading Jayapal on Sunday to release a statement saying she did not “believe the idea of Israel as a nation is racist” but that she does think Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s policies are racist. In the statement, Jayapal also offered an apology to “those who I have hurt with my words.”

On Sunday night, the top three House Democrats – Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries of New York, Minority Whip Katherine M. Clark of Massachusetts and Democratic Caucus Chair Pete Aguilar of California – released a joint statement saying “Israel is not a racist state.” Their statement did not mention Jayapal by name. On Monday evening, a group of 43 House Democrats said in a letter that they remained “deeply concerned” over Jayapal’s comments.

Ahead of the vote on Tuesday, Rep. Gerald E. Connolly (D-Va.), a senior member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said he did not doubt Pfluger’s resolution would pass but said Republicans introduced the measure to “embarrass” Democrats and not as a “genuine expression of support for Israel on the occasion of [Israeli President Isaac Herzog’s visit].”

On Tuesday, the Israeli leader met with President Biden in the White House and, on Wednesday, he’s scheduled to address Congress.

Several members of the Progressive Caucus – including Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), Jamaal Bowman (D-N.Y.) and Cori Bush (D-Mo.) – who have said they will not attend Herzog’s address, citing concerns about human rights abuses in Israel, voted against Pfluger’s resolution on Tuesday.

Jayapal, however, voted in its favor.

The House GOP conference chairwoman, Rep. Elise Stefanik of New York, told reporters on Tuesday that she and her GOP colleagues “look forward” to hearing from Herzog, a position she said stands in “stark contrast to the vile antisemitic comments you hear coming out from some of the prominent leaders within the Democrat caucus.”

“Every member should condemn those statements of Representative Jayapal,” Stefanik said.

But several Democrats stood by Jayapal, including Rep. Rashida Tlaib of Michigan, the only Palestinian American member of Congress. Tlaib, in remarks delivered on the House floor ahead of a vote on the resolution, noted that numerous human rights organizations, including the United Nations, Amnesty International and B’Tselem, a Jerusalem-based human rights nonprofit, have agreed that “Israel is an apartheid state.”

“We’re here, again, reaffirming Congress’s support for apartheid, policing the words of women of color who dare to speak up about truth about oppression,” Tlaib said. “Let’s just get this record straight here: This is not something that’s made up.”

Bowman, another member of the Progressive Caucus, said in a tweet ahead of the vote that, while Herzog is “viewed as a centrist statesman, he has not yet shown the actions of pro-democracy and a pro-peace agenda.”

“I’ve had the opportunity to meet President Herzog in Israel and voice my concerns and understand this pathway towards freedom and safety for Israelis and Palestinians alike,” Bowman tweeted. “His responses to my inquiry were not aligned to moving us toward a two state solution.”



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