Democratic divisions over Israel were on stark display on Tuesday, as lawmakers prepared to welcome Isaac “Bougie” Herzog, the president of Israel, for an address to a joint session of Congress.
Several progressive House members, including Representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York and Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, intend to boycott Herzog’s speech on Wednesday to protest against the treatment of Palestinians under the government of Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu.
“In solidarity with the Palestinian people and all those who have been harmed by Israel’s apartheid government, I will be boycotting President Herzog’s joint address to Congress,” Representative Rashida Tlaib, a Democrat of Michigan, said on Monday. “I urge all members of Congress who stand for human rights for all to join me.”
House Democratic leaders have struck a much more conciliatory tone toward Herzog, embracing the opportunity to hear from the Israeli president.
“President Bougie Herzog has been a force for good in Israeli society,” Hakeem Jeffries, the House Democratic leader, said on Friday. “I look forward to welcoming him with open arms when he comes to speak before Congress.”
The tension between House Democrats reached a boiling point over the weekend, after Pramila Jayapal, chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, described Israel as a “racist state” while speaking at a conference in Chicago.
Jayapal clarified her comments on Sunday, saying: “I do not believe the idea of Israel as a nation is racist. I do, however, believe that Netanyahu’s extreme rightwing 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.”
House Republicans swiftly attacked Jayapal’s comments, calling on Democratic leaders to join them in rejecting the congresswoman’s criticism of Israel.
“I think if the Democrats want to believe that they do not have a conference that continues to make antisemitic remarks, they need to do something about it,” the House Republican speaker, Kevin McCarthy, said on Monday.
Amid the backlash, more than 40 House Democrats signed on to a statement lambasting Jayapal’s “unacceptable” remarks and praising Israel as “the only vibrant, progressive, and inclusive democracy in the region”. House Democratic leaders also issued a joint statement on Sunday denouncing the characterization of Israel as a “racist state”.
“As House Democratic leaders, we strongly support Israel’s right to exist as a homeland for the Jewish people,” the leaders said. “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.”
Although the joint statement did not mention Jayapal by name, progressives balked at the leaders’ rejection of one of their colleagues in an effort to quiet criticism from Republicans.
“I am proud to call [Jayapal] a colleague, a friend and our CPC Chair,” Omar said on Tuesday on Twitter. “I am also deeply concerned about the shaming – often of women of color – when they speak out about human rights violations happening in Palestine and Israel, especially when similar concern is not expressed for the lives being lost and families being torn apart.”
House Republicans seized the opportunity to highlight the Democratic divisions over Israel. The House Republican majority leader, Steve Scalise, announced on Monday that the chamber would vote on Tuesday on a resolution asserting “the state of Israel is not a racist or apartheid state”.
“It should be an easy vote,” Scalise said on Twitter. “Will [Democrats] stand with our ally or capitulate to the anti-Semitic radicals in their party?”
As his congressional allies clashed over Herzog’s visit, Joe Biden met with the Israeli president in the Oval Office on Tuesday.
“This is a friendship, I believe, that’s just simply unbreakable,” Biden told Herzog. “America’s commitment to Israel is firm, and it is ironclad.”
A day before his meeting with Herzog, Biden spoke to Netanyahu over the phone, and the two leaders agreed to meet in the coming months. But a spokesperson for the national security council, John Kirby, would not specify whether that meeting will take place at the White House, as Netanyahu has repeatedly requested.
“They will meet probably before the end of this year,” Kirby told reporters on Monday. “And all the details of the ‘wheres’ and the ‘whens’ are still being worked out.”
Source : The Guardian