The House of Representatives approved a resolution on Tuesday that expressed support for Israel and denounced antisemitism. The resolution was prompted by recent remarks from Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Washington) that sparked controversy and exposed divisions among Democrats regarding Israel-Palestine relations.
The symbolic measure, endorsed by a vote of 412-9, with 195 Democrats joining the Republicans in voting yes, affirms that Israel "is not a racist or apartheid state" and rejects all forms of antisemitism and xenophobia. It also declares unwavering support and partnership between the United States and Israel.
Among the nine Democrats who voted against the resolution were representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Rashida Tlaib, Jamaal Bowman, Summer Lee, Ilhan Omar, Cori Bush, Andre Carson, Delia Ramirez, and Ayanna Pressley.
The dissenting votes came primarily from liberal Democrats, many of whom are members of the progressive "Squad" and have been highly critical of Israel's treatment of Palestinians, particularly under the leadership of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Although Jayapal is known for her criticism of Netanyahu's government, her recent comment characterizing Israel as a "racist state" drew widespread condemnation from members of both parties.
"I do not believe the idea of Israel as a nation is racist," Jayapal said in a statement.
"I do, however, believe that (Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin) 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," she added.
She subsequently issued a clarification and an apology, but Republicans remained unsatisfied, leading to the expedited vote.
The timing of the vote was strategic
The timing of the vote was strategic, as it preceded to visit of President Isaac Herzog to Congress on Wednesday. Several progressive lawmakers, including some who voted against the resolution, announced their boycott of Herzog's speech.
Republican sponsors of the resolution emphasized the importance of a unified message supporting Israel and condemning hateful rhetoric.
Rep. August Pfluger (R-Texas) stated, "We look at Israel as the most important partner in the Middle East. It's critical for the US Congress to send a unified message that we stand with Israel and that we unequivocally support our Jewish communities. There is a place for hate, for hateful words."
The resolution vote highlighted the ongoing struggle within the Democratic Party regarding Israel. While some Democrats criticized the measure for including the term "apartheid state," others defended their right to criticize Israeli government policies without denying the country's right to exist.
Tlaib, the only Palestinian American in Congress, passionately argued that Israel is an apartheid state, citing non-governmental organizations' assessments and quotes from Israeli government officials targeting Palestinians. Tlaib and other liberals who share her views opted to skip Herzog's speech.
Republicans portray Democratic opposition to resolution as anti-Israel
Republicans seized the opportunity to portray the Democratic opposition to the resolution as anti-Israel. However, Democrats argued that criticizing a government's policies should not be equated with rejecting its right to sovereignty.
Rep. Jerold Nadler (D-New York) distinguished between criticizing Israel's conduct and questioning its existence, stating, "There is a difference between criticizing the right of Israel to exist, which is beyond the pale, and criticizing the conduct of the Israeli government, which I think is horrible."
The resolution vote occurred against the backdrop of Republican controversies involving race and ethnicity, as some lawmakers made racially charged remarks. GOP leaders face criticism for providing a platform for Robert F. Kennedy Jr., who has been accused of antisemitism.
Republicans condemned antisemitism while also grappling with accusations against one of their own.
The highly visible vote came in the aftermath of Jayapal's comments at a progressive conference, where she referred to Israel as a "racist state" amid disruptions by Palestinian protesters.
Jayapal's subsequent statement clarified her position and offered an apology but failed to satisfy critics within her own party. Democratic leadership issued a joint statement pushing back on her comments, asserting that "Israel is not a racist state."
This recent resolution echoes past efforts by the House to address antisemitism. In 2019, a resolution condemning various forms of bigotry, including antisemitism, was passed with overwhelming support.
In February, House Republicans voted to remove Omar from the Foreign Affairs Committee following her controversial remarks on Israel. The vote was approved along party lines, 218-211.
Republicans argued that Omar should be removed for past comments against Israel and the use of antisemitic tropes.
House Speaker Kevin McCarthy defended the decision to remove Omar from the powerful committee. Speaking to the media after the vote, he said her past statements "make it clear she is unfit to represent the US on the House Foreign Affairs Committee."
"She repeatedly used antisemitic tropes," and "compared America and Israel to Hamas and the Taliban," he said.
"She said Americans only like Israel because it's all about the Benjamins," McCarthy said. "And three years later, she said, 'I didn't know there's a trope when it comes to referring to someone who's Jewish with money.' What does that say to other people around the world? We were right in our action, and she can serve on other committees."
Omar said regardless of the vote's outcome, she was "here to stay."
"My leadership and voice will not be diminished if I am not on this committee for one term," she said in a speech. "My voice will get louder and stronger, and my leadership will be celebrated around the world as it has been."
"This debate today, it's about who gets to be an American," Omar said. "What opinions do we have to have to be counted as Americans? This is what this debate is about."
Omri Nahmias contributed to this article.