Far-left Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-WA) attempted to walk back anti-Israel statements she made Saturday, including “Israel is a racist state,” as she faces condemnation from fellow House Democrats over the comments.
Jayapal made the comment during a panel with fellow hardliners Reps. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) and Chuy Garcia (D-AZ) when anti-Israel demonstrators chanted the phrase at the lawmakers.
“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,” Jayapal said.
The comments drew scattered applause and cheers from people in the audience but soon led to a rebuke from fellow Democrats.
“Israel is not a racist state,” a letter from the House Democratic leadership read without explicitly naming Jayapal. “America and Israel have a uniquely special relationship anchored in our shared democratic values and strategic interests. As House Democratic leaders, we strongly support Israel’s right to exist as a homeland for the Jewish people.”
Jayapal released a statement Sunday afternoon attempting to walk back her comments, saying, “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. I do not believe the idea of Israel as a nation is racist.”
The congresswoman, who leads the House Progressive Caucus, then took aim at Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, saying his “extreme right-wing government has engaged in discriminatory and outright racist policies.”
A separate letter from a group of Jewish Democrats, which was making the rounds gathering signatures, expresses “deep concern” over Jayapal’s “unacceptable” remarks. “We will never allow anti-Zionist voices that embolden antisemitism to hijack the Democratic Party and country,” the letter says, according to CNN.
House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) on Monday called upon House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries to address Jayapal’s and other Democrats’ anti-Israel comments.
“This isn’t the first person in the Democratic conference that has continued to make antisemitic comments,” McCarthy said, referencing Rep. Ilhan Omar’s (D-MN) 2021 comparison of Israel with the Taliban and other statements. “I think this is a role for the leader, Hakeem, to prove that no, they’re not antisemitic.”
Jayapal’s comments come ahead of Israeli President Isaac Herzog’s address to a joint session of Congress later this week, commemorating the Jewish State’s 75th Anniversary.
Democratic leadership has been receptive to Herzog’s visit. “I look forward to welcoming him with open arms,” Jeffries said at a news conference last week, calling Herzog “a force for good in Israeli society.”
But far-left Democrats, including Omar, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), Jamaal Bowman (D-NY), and Cori Bush (D-MO), have all said they will not attend Herzog’s speech in protest. Jayapal is reportedly undecided on whether she will attend the speech but has said she doesn’t believe she will.