US House to vote on GOP-led resolution backing Israel after ‘racist state’ claim

Most Democrats expected to support measure that doesn’t name Democrat Pramila Jayapal, who has since said her comments were aimed at Netanyahu and not the Jewish nation in general

Democratic Rep. Pramila Jayapal of Washington speaks during a news conference, May 24, 2023, on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Mariam Zuhaib)
Democratic Rep. Pramila Jayapal of Washington speaks during a news conference, May 24, 2023, on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Mariam Zuhaib)

WASHINGTON (AP) — The US House will vote Tuesday on a Republican-led resolution reaffirming support for Israel, an implicit rebuke of a leading Democrat who over the weekend called the country a “racist state” but later apologized.

The resolution, introduced by Representative August Pfluger of Texas, does not mention Representative Pramila Jayapal of Washington by name, but is 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 on Saturday.

Jayapal, the chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, walked back the comments the next day, insisting her comments were aimed at Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government and not the Jewish state.

“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 highlights the divide among House Democrats over Israel, with younger progressives adopting a more critical stance toward the longtime US 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.

Republican Representative August Pfluger of Texas speaks during a hearing on Capitol Hill, March 9, 2023, in Washington. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana, File)

Some progressive Democrats are vowing to boycott on Wednesday when President Isaac Herzog is slated to address a joint session of Congress in commemoration of Israel’s 75th anniversary.

Over at the White House, Herzog on Tuesday sought to assure US President Joe Biden that Israel remains committed to democracy amid deepening US 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 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 Democratic Representative Josh Gottheimer of New Jersey, said Monday night.

House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, a New York Democrat, arrives for his weekly news conference in the Capitol Visitor Center, March 30, 2023. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call/Getty Images via JTA)

Most Democrats are expected to support the GOP resolution Tuesday, even as they accused Republicans of playing politics.

“These are straightforward things that we should be supporting,” Democratic Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida, 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.

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.

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