House Democrats, including Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (DN.Y.), issued a joint statement rejecting Jayapal’s Saturday remarks. “Israel is not a racist state. As House Democratic leaders, we strongly support Israel’s right to exist as the homeland of the Jewish people, » they said, though they added, « Certainly, there are individual members of Israel’s current governing coalition with whom we are strongly disagree ».
Republicans also attacked Jayapal’s remarks. “This is really disgusting, especially coming from a Congressman,” Senator Rick Scott (R-Fla.) tweeted.
In his statement on Sunday, Jayapal distinguished between criticism of Israel as a nation and criticism of the current Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu.
« Netanyahu’s far-right government has engaged in discriminatory and openly racist policies, » Jayapal said.
He also explained his off-the-cuff remarks on Saturday by saying he was « responding to the deep pain and despair that exists for Palestinians and their diaspora communities, » but added: « I was in no way meant to deny the deep pain and wound of Israelis and their Diaspora Jewish community still reeling from the trauma of pogroms and persecutions, the Holocaust, and the ongoing anti-Semitism and violence of hatred that is rampant today.
Jayapal also said, « I apologize to those I have hurt by my words and offer this clarification. »
Israeli President Isaac Herzog will address Congress on Wednesday. Herzog, who was elected to the largely ceremonial position in 2021, served as Israel’s opposition leader in the Knesset, its parliament, from 2013 to 2018 during one of Netanyahu’s previous stints as prime minister. Some Democrats, including Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (DN.Y.), said they will not attend.