Pramila Jayapal Backtracks After Calling Israel a ‘Racist State’


Congressional Progressive Caucus Chair Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) has backtracked after fellow Democrats, including leadership, criticized her earlier comments calling Israel a “racist state.”

“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,” Ms. Jayapal told pro-Palestinian demonstrators at the annual conference for the progressive organization Netroots Nation on July 16.

“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,” she continued.

However, Ms. Jayapal later reversed course, saying the Jewish state is not racist, but that its prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, and his government are.

“At a conference, I attempted to defuse a tense situation during a panel where fellow members of Congress were being protested. Words do matter and so it is important that I clarify my statement,” she said in a statement, which was not an outright apology.

“I do not believe the idea of Israel as a nation is racist,” continued Ms. Jayapal. “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.

“I believe it is incumbent on all of us who are striving to make our world a more just and equitable place to call out and condemn these policies and this current Netanyahu government’s role in furthering them.”

Jayapal reiterated her call for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. She explained that her response at the conference was her “responding to the deep pain and hopelessness that exists for Palestinians and their diaspora communities when it comes to this debate, but I in no way intended to deny the deep pain and hurt of Israelis and their Jewish diaspora community that still reels from the trauma of pogroms and persecution, the Holocaust, and continuing antisemitism and hate violence that is rampant today.”

Nonetheless, the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations—an umbrella organization representing Jewish groups—condemned Ms. Jayapal’s initial remarks.

“We express our profound disappointment at the recent anti-Israel comments made by Rep. Pramila Jayapal in Chicago,” said the organization’s chair and CEO, Harriet P. Schleifer and William Daroff, respectively, in a statement.

“We strongly condemn her false and outrageous characterization of Israel as a ‘racist state,’ which is evocative of Soviet-era antisemitic tropes attacking Jewish rights to self-determination,” they continued.

J Street, a progressive organization that has come under fire for being anti-Israel despite the group claiming otherwise, applauded Ms. Jayapal’s statement backtracking her remarks. The organization has supported Ms. Jayapal, who has appeared at its annual conference in Washington.

“Thank you, @RepJayapal. Netanyahu’s far-right coalition is deepening the occupation and doing untold harm to Israel’s democracy. To truly support a secure, just, peaceful future for Israelis & Palestinians, the US needs to push back against discriminatory & destructive policies,” posted J Street on Twitter in a retweet of Jayapal’s statement.

House Democrat leadership—House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.), Minority Whip Katherine Clark (D-Mass.), House Democrat Conference Chair Pete Aguilar (D-Calif.), and Vice Chair Ted Lieu (D-Calif.)—rebutted Jayapal’s initial claim while not calling out Jayapal by name or condemning her.

“Israel is not a racist state. As a Jewish and Democratic nation, Israel was founded 75 years ago on the principle of complete equality of social and political rights for all of its citizens irrespective of religion, race or sex, as codified in its Declaration of Independence,” they said in a statement.

“America and Israel have a uniquely special relationship anchored in our shared democratic values and strategic interests,” continued House Democrat leadership. “As House Democratic leaders, we strongly support Israel’s right to exist as a homeland for the Jewish people. We are also firmly committed to a robust two-state solution where Israel and the Palestinian people can live side by side in peace and prosperity.”

While House Democrat leadership went on to acknowledge that there are members of Mr. Netanyahu’s coalition and of Congress with whom they do not concur, it reiterated its commitment to ensuring bipartisan support for the Jewish state.

Additionally, a draft statement signed by other House Democrats circulated as of July 16 evening rebuking Ms. Jayapal by name.

“We are deeply concerned about Representative Pramila Jayapal’s unacceptable comments about our historic, democratic ally Israel, and we appreciate her retraction,” said the statement signed by Reps. Brad Schneider (D-Ill.), Kathy Manning (D-N.C.), Greg Landsman (D-Ohio), Josh Gottheimer (D-N.J.), Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.), Jared Moskowitz (D-Fla.) and Dean Phillips (D-Minn.), according to a draft obtained by the online outlet Jewish Insider. All those members are Jewish.

Ms. Jayapal’s initial claim falls under examples of anti-Semitism under the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of anti-Semitism, which has been adopted by dozens of countries including the United States, in that an instance of hatred toward Jews includes “claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavor.”

The incident comes as a joint session of Congress is set to hear from Israeli President Isaac Herzog on July 19. While Ms. Jayapal has not said whether she will boycott the address, a handful of her fellow progressives—Reps. Jamaal Bowman (D-N.Y.), Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), and Cori Bush (D-Mo.)—have said they will.

Ms. Jayapal’s initial remarks come as Israel recently launched a counter-terrorism operation in Jenin, a city in the West Bank known for harboring Palestinian terrorists. It also comes as there have been widespread protests in Israel over Mr. Netanyahu’s attempts to change his country’s judiciary, especially its supreme court.

Ms. Jayapal’s remarks also come as legislation to prohibit U.S. government contractors from participating in the anti-Semitic Boycott Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel was introduced by Rep. Claudia Tenney (R-N.Y.) on July 12. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) told The Epoch Times on June 5, in response to a question over whether he plans to put anti-BDS legislation on the House floor, that he is looking to combat BDS.

“I’m very concerned. I’m looking at a lot of different things about the anti-BDS movement. And I’m thinking about even on a bipartisan manner. I’m watching things happen on campus and others,” he said.

“I think we should look at if campuses are moving [and allowing pro-BDS and] anti-Semitism, I’m really wondering, should that campus be rewarded or should there be an idea that we can do something to curb that away to protect individuals throughout, and there’s a number of ways we can do that, and I’m working with [Rep. Mike Lawler (R-N.Y.)] and other people out there to stop a lot of that,” continued Mr. McCarthy.

Two days after Mr. McCarthy’s statement, Mr. Lawler introduced legislation that would strip federal funding from campuses tolerating anti-Semitism.


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