House overwhelmingly passes resolution backing Israel after Rep. Jayapal calls it a 'racist state'

Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., has apologized for her remarks. The vote comes one day before Israeli President Isaac Herzog is scheduled to speak to a joint meeting of Congress.

Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., at a Judiciary Committee hearing on April 28, 2022.Jabin Botsford / The Washington Post via Getty Images file

WASHINGTON — The House overwhelmingly voted Tuesday to pass a resolution condemning antisemitism and expressing support for Israel, just days after Progressive Caucus Chair Pramila Jayapal faced backlash from both parties for calling Israel a “racist state.”

The vote was 412-9, with 195 Democrats joining all Republicans in voting yes. Nine progressive Democrats of color voted against the nonbinding resolution, several of whom have denounced Israel as an apartheid state that oppresses Palestinians. One Democrat, Betty McCollum of Minnesota, voted present.

Jayapal, D-Wash., who sat through the vote flanked by two Democratic colleagues, voted yes.

Israeli President Isaac Herzog is set to speak to a joint meeting of Congress on Wednesday amid tense U.S.-Israeli relations over Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s contentious judicial overhaul plan. Many of the progressives who voted no Tuesday have said they will boycott Herzog's address.

Members of "the squad" — a group of progressive lawmakers of color — have fiercely and publicly criticized Israel’s treatment of the Palestinian people for several years.

Over the weekend, Jayapal, one of the most powerful progressive leaders in Congress, drew a sharp rebuke from Jewish Democrats and her own party’s leadership after she lashed out at Israel as she tried to quiet a group holding Palestinian flags at a Netroots Nation conference in Chicago.

In a statement, Jayapal apologized for calling Israel a racist state but would not back down from labeling Netanyahu’s policies as 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 said.

After Tuesday’s vote, Jayapal lashed out at Republicans, who she said were trying to "target" and "divide" Democrats with the resolution.

"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 told reporters. "But I am not going to be bullied by their political games, and I'm not going to let them try to continue this debate, so I voted yes on the resolution."

A Jayapal ally and squad member, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., explained why she was voting no on the bipartisan resolution.

“I think there’s a real problem with pairing these two issues — accusations of antisemitism with real concerns around the human rights crisis in the region,” Ocasio-Cortez told reporters. “Combining both a vote on antisemitism and discussion of apartheid and different rules and two-tier legal systems is very cynical. And I don’t think that is the right thing to do.”

The eight other progressive Democrats who voted no were: Jamaal Bowman of New York, Cori Bush of Missouri, Andre Carson of Indiana, Summer Lee of Pennsylvania, Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts, Delia Ramirez of Illinois and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan.

Authored by Rep. August Pfluger, R-Texas, the resolution does not mention Jayapal by name, but it clearly takes aim at her recent remarks. It says that it is the sense of Congress that “the State of Israel is not a racist or apartheid state,” that “Congress rejects all forms of antisemitism and xenophobia" and that “the United States will always be a staunch partner and supporter of Israel.”

“This is about an affirmation of support,” said Pfluger, a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee. “This is about a stance: 75 years after Israel became a nation, the United States was within minutes the first country to recognize them.”

Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., introduced a companion bill in the Senate on Tuesday expressing support for Israel.

Even as they voted for the pro-Israel resolution, some Democrats lambasted Republicans for standing by their decision to have Robert F. Kennedy Jr. testify Thursday before the House weaponization subcommittee after he was reported to have made some racist, antisemitic and factually incorrect comments.

Kennedy, who is challenging President Joe Biden for the Democratic nomination, reportedly said last week that Covid-19 was bioengineered “to attack Caucasians and Black people” and that Jewish people were “most immune” to the disease.

“That just plays into the most pernicious stereotypes, and there is no scientific justification or evidence for any of that,” said Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., who is Jewish and voted in favor of the Israel resolution Tuesday.

“We’re living in a time with extreme antisemitic and racist conspiracy theories and tropes flying all over the place,” Raskin said. “And we should be doing everything in our power to prevent the circulation of these dangerous myths.”

Pressed about the GOP’s decision to give Kennedy a big public platform this week, House Majority Leader Steve Scalise, R-La., said he disagreed with Kennedy’s comments about Covid and insisted antisemitism had nothing to do with his party.

“We’re talking about our stand against antisemitism. That’s a problem the Democrat Party’s got,” Scalise said.

Kennedy’s “got to answer that, and we’ve spoken out against it," he continued. "I surely speak out against any expressions of antisemitism. … We’re bringing legislation so that every member of Congress can be on record about whether or not they stand up against antisemitism.”

Just two years ago, GOP leaders showed little appetite for holding one of their Republican colleagues accountable for her antisemitic remarks.

Democrats voted to strip Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., of her committee assignments after Republicans failed to punish her for blaming California wildfires on a Jewish space laser and for liking a Facebook post that threatened “a bullet to the head” of then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.