Pramila Jayapal caves in to Israel lobby

Pramila Jayapal holds her chin in her hands behind a nameplate.

Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal apologized for correctly labeling Israel as a racist state. 

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Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday received an invitation from President Joe Biden to visit the White House, after months of feigned tension between the two leaders.

Netanyahu’s office told media that the US president’s invitation came during a “warm and long” phone call between the two leaders.

The invitation to the Israeli prime minister came after US lawmakers admonished Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal, a self-described “progressive” Democrat from the state of Washington, who on Saturday correctly labeled Israel a racist state – and then retracted her statement.

The date of Netanyahu’s visit has not been announced, but this week Israeli President Isaac Herzog will also visit the US and deliver an address to Congress.

Several lawmakers have said they will refuse to attend Herzog’s speech.

It is unclear whether Jayapal will be skipping Herzog’s speech.

Jayapal was a featured speaker at Netroots Nation, an annual liberal political conference that was held this past weekend in Chicago.

During the event, Palestine solidarity protesters began chanting “Free, free Palestine” and demanded that Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky, who shared the stage with Jayapal, sign on to a bill that prohibits US taxpayer money to fund ethnic cleansing, land confiscation and the imprisonment, abuse and torture of Palestinian children and their families.

Schakowsky, a high-ranking Democratic lawmaker from Chicago, has so far refused to co-sponsor the bill, which was introduced by Minnesota representative Betty McCollum.

The moderator on stage stated to the chanting crowd that Schakowsky “is a supporter of a negotiated two-state solution” and was immediately and loudly booed.

For her part, Schakowsky implored the crowd to “know your allies,” and asserted that she was “one of the most outspoken voices for justice for the Palestinians.”

Her record tells a very different story.

Last year, the lawmaker organized dozens of members of Congress to sign a letter that softly asked the Israeli government not to ethnically cleanse Palestinians in al-Walaja, a village in the occupied West Bank.

The letter expressed support for the clinically dead “two-state solution” as well as a “strong US-Israel relationship.”

She has long been regarded by Illinois activists as “progressive except for Palestine.”

After Schakowsky pleaded with the audience not to make enemies of their “allies,” Jayapal stood up and told the audience that she “had been fighting to make it clear that Israel is a racist state.”

The comment – an uncontroversial statement of fact in much of the world – set off a firestorm.

The next day, the House Democratic leadership rushed out a statement rebuking their colleague for her statement and protecting Israel from criticism.

“Israel is not a racist state,” asserted House Democratic Leader Hakeem Jeffries, along with Katherine Clark, Pete Aguilar and Ted Lieu.

“Our commitment to a safe and secure Israel as an invaluable partner, ally and beacon of democracy in the Middle East is ironclad,” the senior lawmakers added. “We look forward to welcoming Israeli President Isaac Herzog to the United States House of Representatives this week.”

Other Democratic lawmakers joined the chorus, including New York’s Ritchie Torres, who declared that Israel “is a multiracial democracy.”

Torres is an anti-Palestinian stalwart who accepted more than $140,000 from funds raised by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), the largest donation pool to his 2021-2022 congressional campaign.

On Monday, Jayapal apologized, saying that she does “not believe that Israel as a nation is racist.”

Major supporters of Israel’s apartheid system, such as the Anti-Defamation League’s CEO Jonathan Greenblatt, praised Jayapal’s “clarification of her rashly inaccurate and reckless statement” and commended her commitment to a “two-state solution.”
On Monday, Congressman August Pfluger, a Republican from Texas, introduced a resolution asserting that “the state of Israel is not an apartheid or racist state” and that the US “will always be a staunch partner and supporter of Israel.”

The vote will hit the House floor on Tuesday.

The lawmaker is “proud” of his endorsement by AIPAC.
In 2019, the House introduced a similar resolution condemning Minnesota Congresswoman Ilhan Omar over her criticism of Israel lobby groups’ funding of US lawmakers.

Meanwhile, Democratic presidential hopeful Robert Kennedy Jr. was caught on video claiming that the COVID-19 virus was “ethnically targeted” to affect Jewish and Chinese people less than white and Black people – a conspiracy theory steeped in anti-Chinese and anti-Jewish bigotry.

Seeking to deflect the storm of criticism, Kennedy ran to the Israel lobby to embrace Israel and spoke with Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, a prominent anti-Palestinian campaigner.

Some noted the selective outrage Israel supporters have shown toward Jayapal’s statement while they defend true anti-Jewish bigots who support Israel’s apartheid state.
“Every pig who defended RFK Jr’s Jewish viral load [because] he’s a Zionist extremist is now calling Rep. Jayapal an antisemite for describing Israel — whose current government is filled with literal genocidal terrorists — as racist,” tweeted artist Eli Valley.

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Nora Barrows-Friedman

Nora Barrows-Friedman's picture

Nora Barrows-Friedman is a staff writer and associate editor at The Electronic Intifada, and is the author of In Our Power: US Students Organize for Justice in Palestine (Just World Books, 2014).