Rep. Josh Gottheimer led Democrats in denouncing antisemitic comments by the leader of the party’s progressive caucus and a presidential candidate, as the politics of Israel were front and center in Washington this week.
The House overwhelmingly passed a resolution showing its support for Israel July 18, a vote preceded by over 40 Democrats—with Gottheimer the lead signatory—denouncing recent antisemitic remarks of Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-WA). Last weekend at the Netroots Nation conference, Congressional Progressive Caucus leader Jayapal said that Israel “is a racist state,” comments quickly rebuked by House Democratic leaders.
Jayapal would later walk back the comments, when she stated that “I do not believe the idea of Israel as a nation is racist.” But included in her statement was the assertion that Israel Prime Minister Benjamin 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.”
“We are deeply concerned about Representative Pramila Jayapal’s unacceptable comments regarding our historic, democratic ally Israel, and we appreciate her retraction,” the letter states. “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.”
“Any efforts to rewrite history and question the Jewish State’s right to exist, or our historic bipartisan relationship, will never succeed in Congress. We remain committed to peace between Israel and the Palestinians to establish two states that exist side-by-side in peace, prosperity, and mutual security.”
The comments from Jayapal came the same weekend a video was released showing Democratic presidential candidate Robert Kennedy, Jr. asserting that the COVID-19 virus was engineered to spare Ashkenazi Jews and Chinese people.
“COVID-19. There is an argument that it is ethnically targeted. COVID-19 attacks certain races disproportionately,” Kennedy said at a private gathering in New York. “COVID-19 is targeted to attack Caucasians and Black people. The people who are most immune are Ashkenazi Jews and Chinese.”
This is not the first time Kennedy has linked his anti-vaccination mandate with antisemitism. During a January 2022 rally in Washington, DC, Kennedy stated “Even in Hitler’s Germany, you could cross the Alps into Switzerland. You could hide in an attic like Anne Frank did.”
Gottheimer responded on Twitter that “RFK Jr. is a disgrace to the Kennedy name and the Democratic Party. For the record, my whole family, who is Jewish, got Covid.”
Jayapal and Kennedy’s remarks come as President Isaac Herzog of Israel met with President Joe Biden in the White House before his address to Congress July 19. President Biden this week invited Netanyahu to visit the United States for the first time in his term, an unusual delay for the two leaders to meet this deep into a presidency.
There has been an uneasiness between the two leaders. Netanyahu has pushed an agenda to construct more Jewish settlements in the West Bank, as well as limit the power and independence of Israel’s courts, prompting nationwide protests and a warning from Herzog that the situation could devolve into civil war.
Jayapal’s comments came after the Israeli government took major steps to crack down on armed Palestinian fighters, launching the largest air attack on the West Bank in nearly two decades and killing at least 12 people in an assault centered on the tightly settled Jenin refugee camp, home to thousands of civilians.
Jayapal did not commit to attending Herzog’s congressional address. Other progressives—including Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), Cori Bush (D-MO), Ilhan Omar (D-MN) and Rashida Tlaib (D-MN)—have stated they will boycott the speech.
The letter from the House Democrats highlighted that Israel is the “only vibrant, progressive, and inclusive democracy in the region” that has Arab parties serving in the Knesset, women at the highest levels of the military, and the “country remains an oasis for LGBTQ+ people in a region hostile toward the community.
“Israel is the legitimate homeland of the Jewish people and efforts to delegitimize and demonize it are not only dangerous and antisemitic, but they also undermine America’s national security,” the letter states. “Israel is critical to our fight against terror, and our defense and intelligence collaboration continues to strengthen our leadership in the world. Israel remains our greatest partner for peace in the Middle East.”