Steny Hoyer to Post: Netanyahu not ‘racist’

House Leader says strong pro-Israel plank will be part of Dem. platform regardless presidential candidate

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer attends House Democrats news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington (photo credit: REUTERS/YURI GRIPAS)
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer attends House Democrats news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington
(photo credit: REUTERS/YURI GRIPAS)
Regardless of who will emerge next summer as the Democratic Party’s presidential nominee, there will be a strong pro-Israel plank in the party’s platform, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer told The Jerusalem Post on Thursday.
Hoyer, who is leading the largest-ever delegation of Democratic congresspeople to come to Israel on a trip sponsored by an AIPAC-affiliated charity, made the comments when asked to speculate how Israeli-US relations might look under a Bernie Sanders presidency. Sanders, a leading presidential candidate, has been extremely critical of Israel, threatened to use US military assistance to pressure the country, and has called Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government “racist.”
“We have 23 members running, we have a long way to go before we have a nominee, so I am not going to begin speculating on any one of them,” said Hoyer, a representative from Maryland, speaking by phone on a bus after touring the northern border with 40 of his Democratic colleagues.
Asked point blank whether he agreed with the characterization used by Democratic presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke of Netanyahu as a ‘racist,’ Hoyer responded, “I don’t think he’s a racist. Period. No.”
Hoyer said that the sheer size of the current Democratic delegation – it includes 32 first time Congresspeople – sends a message that the Democratic party is a “very strong proponent, supporter and protector of Israel.”
Regarding the three congresswoman who have emerged as highly and vocally critical of Israel – Ilahn Omar, Rashida Tlaib, and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez– Hoyer said they are getting a lot of attention “because the press likes controversy.” But, he stressed, they are only three out of 63 freshman Democrats, and only three out of the 239 Democrats in the House of Representatives.
As to whether he is concerned, however, that the press they are generating will succeed in creating the impression that the party no longer supports the Jewish state, Hoyer replied, “I am not worried because I know that the Democratic Party has been one of Israel’s strongest supporters throughout its history, and continues to be so.”
Hoyer mentioned as further evidence of this support, that an anti-BDS measure passed the House recently by a vote of 398-17. Only 16 of 239 House Democrats voted against it.
When asked whether the trip to the Palestinian territories and Israel that Tlaib plans to take later this month might cause the party damage among its pro-Israel supporters because she is likely to be highly critical of the country, Hoyer said he did not want to anticipate or speculate what she might say when here.
“I think that it is good that they come,” he said. “I think the truth is pretty self evident.”
Hoyer, staunchly pro-Israel, noted that there have “always been members in Congress, both on the Republican and Democratic side, who have been critical [of Israel], but they have been in the very, very, very small minority, whether in the Democratic or Republican party.”
The same, he made clear, is true today.
A group of some 30 Republicans, led by House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, will arrive on a similar trip on Friday. The two delegations – more than 70 legislators, or over 15% of the entire House of Representatives – will hold a joint press conference Sunday morning in Jerusalem.
“Ninety percent of the US Congress stands with Israel,” Hoyer said. “And I think that should be taken by Israel, and Israel’s supporters, as good news.”
Asked how he thought US President Donald Trump was on Israel, Hoyer – a sharp critic of the president – replied: “Frankly, I think he has done some things that obviously Israel believes are very positive. But I also think that his impulsive, erratic foreign policy – globally and in the Mideast region – is ultimately not helpful for Israel.”