WASHINGTON, D.C. – On Tuesday, the U.S. House of Representatives 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 412 lawmakers backing , 9 opposed and 1 present. It did not mention Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-WA) by name, but was clearly a response to her recent remarks about Israel. The measure was drafted soon after she criticized Israel and its treatment of Palestinians at a conference on Saturday.
“As somebody who’s been in the streets and participated in a lot of demonstrations, I want you to know that we have 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,” Jayapal said.
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.
On Monday, Jayapal clarified what she said, insisting that she did not think the “idea” of the Israeli nation is racist, but that the policies perpetuated by its current government certainly were. The view that the Israeli state is racist is an assessment arguably supported by the world’s two most prominent human rights organizations — Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, which both now define the status quo of Israeli rule over the Palestinians in the occupied territories, as well as discriminatory policies against Palestinian citizens of Israel, as akin to apartheid.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s “extreme right-wing government has engaged in discriminatory and outright racist policies,” Jayapal said, gesturing to the prevalence of far-right factions in Netanyahu’s coalition that were not so long ago considered beyond the pale of Israeli politics. “There are extreme racists driving that policy within the leadership of the current government,” she added.
Jayapal found herself on the backfoot, with a cavalcade of denunciations aimed at her and the handful of liberal lawmakers who spoke up in her defense. On Tuesday, Republicans in the House forced a vote on a pro-Israel resolution that affirmed the United States’ staunch support for the country and declared that it “is not a racist or apartheid state.”
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 boycotted Israeli President Isaac Herzog’s address to a joint session of Congress. The same handful voted against the resolution Tuesday.
Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Detroit) — 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.”
A Gallup poll this year found that Democrats are more sympathetic to Palestinians — millions of whom live under military occupation and without the same political rights as their neighbors — than Israelis by an 11-point margin. U.S. millennials, as a whole, polled marginally more sympathetic to the Palestinians.
A new poll carried out by researchers at the University of Maryland along with Ipsos found that, in the absence of a two-state solution, three-quarters of Americans — including 80 percent of Democrats and 64 percent of Republicans — would choose a democratic Israel that’s no longer Jewish over a Jewish state that does not confer full citizenship and equality to many non-Jews under its authority. Polling also found that a majority of Jewish Americans supported conditioning aid to Israel in certain circumstances.
Over at the White House, on Tuesday Herzog sought to assure President 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 Tuesday, even as they accused Republicans of playing politics.
“These are straightforward things that we should be supporting,” Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, (D-FL), 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.”
At a Christian Zionist forum this week held outside Washington, a stream of Republican presidential hopefuls all stressed their embrace of maximalist vision of Israel. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis openly rejected the idea of a two-state solution along Israel’s pre-1967 borders, including a Palestinian capital in East Jerusalem. He said he didn’t think the West Bank was even “occupied.” In a speech earlier this year in Jerusalem, DeSantis stopped short of even recognizing the existence of the Palestinian people.
Other GOP contenders, including former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley and former Vice President Mike Pence, also flaunted their pro-Israel bona fides to an audience of U.S. evangelicals.