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House Votes Resoundingly to Back Israel, Rebuking Democratic Critics

President Isaac Herzog of Israel wearing a dark suit and sitting in the Oval Office.
President Isaac Herzog of Israel plans to address a joint session of Congress on Wednesday.Credit...Doug Mills/The New York Times

The House on Tuesday overwhelmingly passed a resolution pledging unfailing support for Israel, condemning antisemitism and declaring that the country is neither racist nor an apartheid state, in an implicit rebuke of Democrats who have criticized the nation ahead of an address by its president to a joint session of Congress.

Republican members raced to put the resolution on the floor this week after Representative Pramila Jayapal, Democrat of Washington and the head of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, called Israel “a racist state,” prompting condemnations from leaders of both parties. Ms. Jayapal later walked back her comments, saying that she had not meant to condemn the idea of Israel but only the policies of its current government, but the G.O.P. pushed ahead with the vote anyway, in a move Democrats denounced as politically opportunistic even as most lined up to support it.

Ten Democrats declined to back the resolution, which passed by a vote of 412 to 9, with one voting “present.” Ms. Jayapal supported it.

Just one lawmaker stood up on the House floor to argue against the measure, underscoring both the broad support for Israel in Congress and a belief among many of its critics that there is no tolerance on Capitol Hill for airing their views.

“Israel is an apartheid state,” Representative Rashida Tlaib, a Michigan Democrat and the first Palestinian American woman elected to Congress, said in an emotional speech on the House floor Wednesday. “This is not made up,” she added, citing determinations from United Nations officials, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and the Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem that Israel’s treatment of Palestinians amounted to apartheid.

“The government is deeply problematic in the way that they are proceeding in the structure of oppression,” Ms. Tlaib continued. “This is about speaking up against violence. Congress must stop funding apartheid.”

The debate unfolded as President Joe Biden welcomed President Isaac Herzog of Israel at the White House, a day before Mr. Herzog was slated to address a joint session of Congress and at a fraught moment in U.S.-Israel relations.

And while the vote was lopsided in favor, the number of Democrats who went on the record against the resolution, which also rejected “all forms of antisemitism and xenophobia,” was striking, underscoring a growing boldness on the left for challenging Israel even at the risk of being branded a bigot. Along with Ms. Tlaib, the opponents were: Representatives Jamaal Bowman and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, both of New York; Cori Bush of Missouri; Andre Carson of Indiana; Summer Lee of Pennsylvania; Ilhan Omar of Minnesota; Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts; and Delia Ramirez of Illinois.

Representative Betty McCollum of Minnesota voted present, declining to register a position.

Most other Democrats argued forcefully in favor of the measure.

“Israel is not perfect; it has challenges and policies that are openly criticized, often by the Israeli people themselves,” said Representative Kathy Manning, Democrat of North Carolina, who voted for the resolution. “But Israel is not now and never has been a racist state. That characterization is contrary to the facts. It is an untrue and unfair characterization that slanders our strongest ally in the region.”

Representative Michael McCaul, Republican of Texas and the chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, argued the resolution was necessary to combat “small-minded” opinions about Israel and ensure that Congress continues “rejecting false accusations and repulsive anti-Israel statements.”

“Israel’s not a racist country,” he said. “It is deeply disturbing and concerning to me that some in this body have such a profound misunderstanding of Israel and Israeli society.”

The vote on the resolution is only likely to inflame growing tensions between the two parties over Israel, which have been exacerbated in recent years by the G.O.P.’s wholehearted embrace of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whose policies have been criticized as steering the country away from its democratic underpinnings. Republicans and Democrats have clashed over whether U.S. officials should speak out against Mr. Netanyahu’s efforts to accelerate the construction of settlements in the West Bank in violation of international law, and impose a series of judicial reforms that would reduce the independence of the courts.

Israel’s critics in the Democratic Party were further angered in recent weeks after the government launched the largest air assault over the West Bank in almost two decades, killing 12 people in the tightly settled Jenin refugee camp. Such moves are seen as detrimental to an eventual two-state solution for the Israelis and Palestinians, which Democrats continue to champion but Republicans have largely abandoned.

The dispute has flared in recent days as several progressive Democrats — including Mr. Bowman, Ms. Bush, Ms. Ocasio-Cortez, Ms. Omar and Ms. Tlaib — have announced plans to boycott Mr. Herzog’s speech, drawing Republican accusations of antisemitism. It reached a pitch over the weekend with Ms. Jayapal’s comments.

“We have heard disgusting statements from members on the other side of the aisle against Israel,” said Representative August Pfluger, Republican of Texas. Mr. Pfluger, who wrote the resolution, called on Democrats “to stand up against bullying” and “those that would denounce or use words that are hateful in their rhetoric, that undermine the very essence of the nation of Israel.”

Speaker Kevin McCarthy, the California Republican, has challenged Democratic leaders to punish rank-and-file members for speaking out against Israel.

“Do they think Israel is an evil state? If they believe differently they should take action against their own,” he told reporters Monday.

The accusation that Democrats have an antisemitism problem in their ranks infuriated even the party’s most staunch supporters of Israel, who accused Republicans of trying to drive a wedge among their political rivals while ignoring the actions of their own members.

Speaking on the House floor on Tuesday, Representative Brad Sherman, Democrat of California, questioned Republicans’ motives. He asked why they had not clamored for a resolution of solidarity with Israel after Representatives Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia and Paul Gosar of Arizona, both Republicans, spoke at conferences organized by Nick Fuentes, a high-profile white nationalist who routinely espouses antisemitic views, or when former President Donald J. Trump hosted him at Mar-a-Lago.

“Why are we taking this up today?” Mr. Sherman said, after complimenting the resolution as an “excellent” statement of solidarity. “If we’re going to allocate floor time, it should be when Holocaust deniers are honored by our colleagues and by the former president of the United States.”

Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Democrat of Florida, backed the resolution but complained that Republicans had scheduled it merely to score political points against Democrats.

“I wish that their intentions were genuine and that they truly wanted to make sure that they did things to strengthen the U.S.-Israel relationship,” she told reporters. “But they just want to win elections.”

Posted on 19 Jul 2023 01:41 link