House Dems Backtrack After Rep. Jayapal Calls Israel a 'Racist State'

Emma Campbell | July 17, 2023
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Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-WA) came under fire this weekend after calling Israel a “racist state,” leading House Democrats to issue a statement backtracking on her comments.

Jayapal was participating in a panel at the annual Netroots Nation progressive activist conference Saturday when the session was interrupted by anti-Israel protesters. Jayapal addressed the activists in an attempt to placate them and assured them that she and the other people on the stage were on the demonstrators’ side.

“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 went on to say that she and her fellow progressives on the stage were committed to fighting against the “organized opposition” to the pro-Palestinian cause.

“While you may have arguments with whether or not some of us onstage are fighting hard enough, I do want you to know that there is an organized opposition on the other side, and it isn’t the people that are on this stage,” Jayapal said.

Video of her remarks went viral and sparked widespread backlash. In response, Jayapal releaseda statement Sunday “clarifying” the intention behind her statements. She said that she did not intend to condemn the entire nation of Israel as racist, but merely wanted to point out what she called the “outright racist policies” of the current administration.

“I do not believe the idea of Israel as a nation is racist. 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,” Jayapal’s statement read.

Jayapal further went on to attribute her unfiltered comment to be due to her experience as an “immigrant woman of color” and someone who “viscerally feels when anyone’s very existence is called into question.”

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“On a very human level, I was also 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 anti-semitism and hate violence that is rampant today,” Jayapal said.

House Democrats, including House Democratic Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY), Minority Whip Katherine Clark (D-MA), Caucus Chair Pete Aguilar (D-CA), and Vice Chair Ted Lieu (D-CA), issued a statement seemingly backtracking on Jayapal’s remarks. The release explicitly stated that “Israel is not a racist state,” yet did not condemn Jayapal for referring to it as such.

“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,” the statement, which was posted to social media, said.

“Certainly, there are individual members of the current Israeli governing coalition with whom we strongly disagree,” the statement read. “Government officials come and go. The special relationship between the United States and Israel will endure. We are determined to make sure support for Israel in Congress remains strongly bipartisan.

Jayapal’s comments come in advance of Israeli President Isaac Herzog’s address to a joint session of Congress, which is set to occur Wednesday. Some Democrats, including Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN), Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), and Rep. Cori Bush (D-MO) have said they will not attend the address.