BY MYCHAEL SCHNELL - 07/18/23 8:34 PM ET
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) speaks during a House Progressive Caucus press conference on the threat of defaulting at the Capitol on Wednesday, May 24, 2023.
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Nine House Democrats voted against a resolution on Tuesday expressing support for Israel and denouncing antisemitism, a measure that was brought to the floor as a response to comments Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) made over the weekend that were critical of Israel.
The chamber voted 412-9-1 to approve the resolution, which asserts that Israel “is not a racist or apartheid state,” rejects antisemitism and xenophobia in all forms and states that the U.S. “will always be a staunch partner and supporter of Israel.”
All nine Democrats who opposed the measure are members of the Progressive Caucus: Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (N.Y.), Rashida Tlaib (Mich.), Jamaal Bowman (N.Y.), Summer Lee (Pa.), Ilhan Omar (Minn.), Cori Bush (Mo.), André Carson (Ind.), Delia Ramirez (Ill.) and Ayanna Pressley (Mass.). Rep. Betty McCollum (D-Minn.) voted “present.”
Jayapal supported the resolution.
The vote came days after Jayapal, the chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, said “Israel is a racist state” during a progressive conference in Chicago on Saturday. The comment came as Palestinian protesters disrupted a panel discussion, which three members of Congress were taking part in.
Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), a Jewish lawmaker who was also on the panel, said the activist group protesting has focused attention on her for years, and told reporters this week that Jayapal was confronting “an attack on me.”
Jayapal walked her comments back one day later, writing in a statement, “I do not believe the idea of Israel as a nation is racist” and apologizing “to those who I have hurt with my words.” She also criticized the conservative government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
The congresswoman, however, still faced bipartisan criticism for her initial comments, which included a rare joint statement from House Democratic leadership pushing back on the remarks, and a separate statement signed by 43 of her Democratic colleagues in the chamber that said they were “deeply concerned” about her “unacceptable” comments.
Tuesday’s vote, and particularly how it fractured Democrats, highlighted a dynamic that has played out in the party for years: liberals concerned with human rights issues related to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict colliding with party leaders wary of interfering with diplomatic relations between the US and Israel.
Israel’s human rights record toward Palestinians drove some of the Democratic opposition to the resolution.
“The United States is an outlier in terms of its refusal to recognize the severity of the human rights crisis that Palestinians face,” Ocasio-Cortez told reporters ahead of Tuesday’s vote. “And, you know, at this point, from Amnesty International to UN Special Commissions, are recognizing that the denial of rights of Palestinians amounts to apartheid.”
“Our inability to actually be honest about this conversation prevents us from being an ally to advancing human rights and being a good ally as well,” she added.
Shortly before the vote ended, Ocasio-Cortez was spotted hugging Jayapal on the House floor.
Lee, a freshman lawmaker, sounded a similar note, citing “basic human rights and democratic values” in a statement following the vote.
“I condemn antisemitism and xenophobia in all its forms. Whether we’re talking about India, Israel, or Sri Lanka, we are not true allies if we cannot push our partners to uphold basic human rights and democratic values. I cannot vote for unconditional support of any nation-state,” she wrote.
“That my colleagues would be more concerned with silencing a woman of color for speaking truth to power than ending human rights abuses abroad is a damning commentary on the state of our Congress,” Pressley echoed on Twitter.
Other Democrats claimed that Israel is, indeed, an apartheid state, taking issue with the language in the resolution. Tlaib, the only Palestinian American serving in Congress, made that argument on the House floor during debate on Tuesday.
“Israel is an apartheid state,” she said. “The government is deeply problematic in the way that they are proceeding in the structure of oppression.”
In a statement after the vote, Omar pointed to a number of human rights groups that, she said, “have found that the Israeli government’s policies meet the legal definition of apartheid.”
“While the term may be discomforting, I don’t believe it is appropriate for Congress to be explicitly targeting the legal findings of human rights groups in this way,” she added. “We shouldn’t allow for the silencing of voices supporting Palestinian human rights.”
The congresswoman also argued that the resolution “was designed by MAGA Republicans to target and shame” Jayapal for comments “she apologized and clarified.”
“While I strongly agree with explicitly and affirmatively rejecting xenophobia and antisemitism, conflating antisemitism with criticism of the Israeli government is wrong,” she added.
Bowman and Ramirez expressed support for Jayapal ahead of the vote.