House approves pro-Israel resolution after outcry over Jayapal comments

The House voted overwhelmingly to approve a resolution Tuesday backing Israel and condemning antisemitism, a move sparked by recent comments from Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) that ignited a firestorm on Capitol Hill and highlighted Democratic divisions on the highly delicate topic of Israel-Palestine relations.

The vote was 412-9-1 to endorse the symbolic measure, which says Israel “is not a racist or apartheid state,” rejects antisemitism and xenophobia in all forms and declares that the U.S. “will always be a staunch partner and supporter of Israel.” 

The lone opponents were liberal Democrats — most of them members of the far-left Squad — who have been highly critical of Israel’s human rights record toward Palestinians, particularly under the conservative administration of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. 

Jayapal is among those Netanyahu critics, but her comments Saturday went further, denouncing Israel more broadly as a “racist state.” The remarks prompted widespread condemnation from members of both parties and led Jayapal to issue a clarification — and an apology — a day later. 

The reversal did nothing to satisfy her Republican critics, however, and GOP leaders fast-tracked Tuesday’s vote to come just before Congress welcomes Israeli President Isaac Herzog to the Capitol Wednesday for a visit reaffirming the relationship between Washington and Jerusalem — a speech that several progressives have said they will boycott.

“We’ve heard disgusting statements from other members of the aisle against Israel,” Rep. August Pfluger (R-Texas), the sponsor of the resolution, said on the House floor.

“From my standpoint, we look at Israel as the most important partner in the Middle East,” he later added. “And tomorrow, in fact, as we welcome President Herzog to this very body, to the United States, to a joint address of Congress, it’s critical for the U.S. Congress to send a unified message that we stand with Israel and that we unequivocally support our Jewish communities. There is no place for hate, for hateful words.”

But the vote also represented an opportunity for Republicans to splinter Democrats on the sensitive matter of Israel which, for years, has been a political lightning rod, pitting liberals concerned with human rights issues related to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict against party leaders leery of upsetting diplomatic relations with America’s closest Middle Eastern ally. 

That dynamic was on full display Tuesday, when nine Democrats opposed the resolution, some taking issue with the inclusion of the phrase “apartheid state” in the measure.

Democratic 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.) voted “no,” while Rep. Betty McCollum (D-Minn.) voted “present.”

In an impassioned speech during debate on the House floor, Tlaib, Congress’s only Palestinian American, argued that Israel is an apartheid state, pointing to nongovernment organizations that she said have come to that determination and quoting members of the Israeli government who have made comments targeting Palestinians.

“Israel is an apartheid state,” Tlaib said. “The government is deeply problematic in the way that they are proceeding in the structure of oppression.”

Tlaib is one of several liberals planning to skip Herzog’s speech Wednesday.

One of the most notable supporters was Jayapal herself, who told reporters after the vote that the resolution was “a political ploy by Republicans to target Democrats and try to divide us.”

“Instead of calling attention to the fact that they refuse to do the work of the American people, they’re trying to strip our freedoms away from us,” Jayapal said. “But I am not gonna be bullied by their political games and I’m not gonna let them, you know, try to continue this debate, so I voted yes on the resolution and I stand by my statement and I’m gonna continue to speak out in the way that I have.”

Republicans, for their part, were quick to point out the Democratic opposition to the resolution, painting those lawmakers as anti-Israel.

“I hope we have 435 ‘yes’ votes and no ‘no’ votes,” Pfluger said in a video on Twitter shortly before the vote. “Unfortunately, it appears that some Democrats will not side with Israel.”

Democrats dismissed those criticisms as a case of petty politics, accusing Republicans of purposefully ignoring the sharp distinction between condemning a government’s policies and denouncing that country’s right to sovereignty. 

“There is a difference between criticizing the right of Israel to exist, which is beyond the pale, and criticizing the conduct of the Israeli government, which I think is horrible,” Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), a progressive Jewish lawmaker, said Tuesday morning.

“And obviously, we all talk about the need for a two-state solution because there are two peoples that have to share that land. And the government of Israel is making it as impossible as they can, as rapidly as they can, for that to happen,” he added.

Tuesday’s vote came as Republicans are grappling with their own scandals involving race and ethnicity, after a pair of lawmakers last week made racially explosive remarks about African Americans. 

GOP leaders have also been on the defensive this week for staging a hearing featuring Robert F. Kennedy Jr. as a key witness. Kennedy has been under fire for saying the COVID-19 virus spared certain Jewish populations, putting Republicans into the tough spot of condemning antisemitism while providing a platform for a figure accused of being antisemitic. 

The high-profile vote came days after Jayapal, the chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, declared at a progressive conference in Chicago that “Israel is a racist state” as Palestinian protesters disrupted a panel discussion with three Congressional lawmakers.

“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,” she said Saturday.

Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), a Jewish lawmaker who was also sitting on the panel, said Monday that the activist group protesting at the conference has gone after her for years — picketing at her house and refusing to leave her district office — and that Jayapal was opposing “an attack on me.”

Jayapal issued a lengthy statement one day later that said, “I do not believe the idea of Israel as a nation is racist,” and she apologized “to those who I have hurt with my words” while also sharply criticizing the conservative government led by Netanyahu.

The backtrack, however, was not enough to quell the criticism, even within Jayapal’s party. Democratic leadership issued a rare joint statement that, without naming Jayapal, pushed back on her comments — ”Israel is not a racist state” — and a separate statement from 43 House Democrats said they were “deeply concerned” about her “unacceptable comments.”

“We will never allow anti-Zionist voices that embolden antisemitism to undermine and disrupt the strongly bipartisan consensus supporting the U.S.-Israel relationship that has existed for decades,” the group of 43 wrote.

Tuesday was not the first time the House has taken action in response to comments made by Democrats that were panned as antisemitic.

The House in 2019 approved a resolution condemning “anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, racism, and other forms of bigotry” in a 407-23 vote, which was staged after Omar drew criticism for saying that pro-Israel advocates are pushing “allegiance to a foreign country,” which she later apologized for.

And in February, House Republicans voted to remove Omar from the Foreign Affairs Committee as a rebuke for those, and other, remarks Republicans have labeled antisemitic.

Updated: 7:15 p.m. ET

Tags Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Andre Carson Ayanna Pressley Benjamin Netanyahu Betty McCollum Cori Bush Delia Ramirez Ilhan Omar Isaac Herzog Jamaal Bowman Jan Schakowsky Jerrold Nadler Jerry Nadler Pramila Jayapal Rashida Tlaib Summer Lee

Copyright 2023 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

See all Hill.TV See all Video

Most Popular

Load more