Top Dems push back after 'Squad' member called Israel a 'racist state'

Rep Pramila Jayapal's comment about Israel prompted backlash from Democratic Reps Hakeem Jeffries, Katherine Clark, Pete Aguilar, Adam Schiff and others

Several top Democrats in the House of Representatives responded after one of their fellow party members, Rep. Pramila Jayapal of Washington, called Israel a "racist state" over the weekend and then walked back the comment.

Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., Whip Katherine Clark, D-Mass. and Caucus Chair Pete Aguilar, D-Calif., put out a statement Sunday countering Jayapal's remarks.

"Israel is not a racist state," they said without specifically mentioning Jayapal by name.

"Certainly, there are individual members of the current Israeli governing coalition with whom we strongly disagree," the leaders added. "Government officials come and go. The special relationship between the United States and Israel will endure."

Jewish House members Reps. Josh Gottheimer, D-N.J., Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., Greg Landsman, D-Ohio, Brad Schneider, D-Ill., Dean Phillips, D-Minn., Jared Moskowitz, D-Fla. and Kathy Manning, D-N.C., also wrote a letter that called Jayapal's comments "unacceptable," according a draft of the letter obtained by Fox News that is still being circulated for more signatures.


top dems push back after squad member called israel a racist state

U.S. House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, D-NY, center, speaks at the U.S. Capitol on May 31, 2023 in Washington, D.C., alongside Rep. Pete Aguilar, D-CA, and House Minority Whip Rep. Katherine Clark, D-MA.

"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," says the letter, which names Jayapal for her "unacceptable comments."

top dems push back after squad member called israel a racist state

Congressional Progressive Caucus Chair Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., speaks during a news conference with newly elected incoming members of the CPC at the AFL-CIO building in Washington, D.C., on Sunday, Nov. 13, 2022. (Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images)

"We will never allow anti-Zionist voices that embolden antisemitism to hijack the Democratic Party and country," the members added.


Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., responded to Jayapal's words on Twitter by defending Israel.

"Israel is the only true democracy in the Middle East and is not a racist state," Schiff said. "It faces constant attacks and the threat of terrorism, and is a key U.S. ally."

The Californian added, "Israel has every right to exist as a Jewish homeland. Instead of denigrating an entire state and its people, we should work towards a two state solution and a lasting peace."

Jayapal, D-Wash., who heads the Congressional Progressive Caucus, has faced widespread criticism since she called Israel a "racist state" during an appearance Saturday at the Netroots Nation Conference in Chicago. She later retracted the comment.

"As somebody who’s been in the streets and participated in a lot of demonstrations, 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 during a panel discussion at the event.

Video of her comments quickly went viral, prompting backlash.

On Sunday, Jayapal released a statement on Twitter that attempted to clarify her comments about Israel, saying she does not "believe the idea of Israel as a nation is racist" but accused Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of pushing "outright racist policies."

top dems push back after squad member called israel a racist state

Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, center, listens to Foreign Minister Eli Cohen, left, as Cabinet Secretary Yossi Fuchs, right, looks on during a weekly cabinet meeting at his office in Jerusalem, on July 17, 2023. (OHAD ZWIGENBERG/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

"At a conference, I attempted to defuse a tense situation during a panel where fellow members of Congress were being protested. Words do matter and so it is important that I clarify my statement," Jayapal wrote.

"I do not believe the idea of Israel as a nation is racist," the Democrat continued. "I do, however, believe that Netanyahu’s extreme right-wing government has engaged in discriminator and outright racist policies and that there are extreme racists driving that policy within the leadership of the current government."


She added, "I have always worked toward a two-state solution that allows both Israelis and Palestinians to live freely, safely, and with self-determination alongside each other and that is still what I am absolutely committed to."

"I also know that the many policies of the current Israeli government, including rampant settlement expansion, make it extremely difficult for Palestinians who simply want the same rights as their Israeli neighbors to believe such a solution is possible," Jayapal continued. "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 continued anti-semitism and hate violence that is rampant today."

The letter from Jewish House members said they "appreciate her retraction."

The controversy comes as some Democrats in the chamber are planning to boycott when Israeli President Isaac Herzog delivers an address to a joint session of Congress later this week.

Fellow "Squad" member, Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., said on Twitter that there was "no way in hell" she would attend. Reps. Jamaal Bowman and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, both Democrats from New York, also said they would not attend.

top dems push back after squad member called israel a racist state

Israeli President Isaac Herzog, who was elected president in 2021, is scheduled to address Congress on July 19. (Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

Jayapal told CNN that she does not think she will attend the address but has not "fully decided."

Herzog, who was elected president in 2021, is scheduled to address Congress on July 19. The visit also coincides with Washington celebrating 75 years since the founding of Israel, the anniversary of which was observed in April. 

Fox News's Tyler Olson contributed to this report.

Authored by Lawrence Richard via FoxNews July 17th 2023