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Progressive leader Democrat Rep. Jayapal backpedals on calling Israel 'racist state'

Though Jayapal walked back her comments about Israel, she maintains the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has racist policies.

Published: July 17, 2023 3:11pm

Updated: July 17, 2023 5:57pm

Democrat Rep. Pramila Jayapal has walked back her accusation this past weekend that Israel is a "racist" state.

The Washington lawmaker and chairwoman of the Congressional Progressive Caucus on Sunday revised her remarks from a day earlier, saying, “I do not believe the idea of Israel as a nation is racist."

However, Jayapal made clear that she still contends that Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's policies are racist.

"Netanyahu’s extreme right-wing government has engaged in discriminatory and outright racist policies," said Jayapal, who after 9/11 fought against anti-Muslim bias. 

On Saturday, she said: “I want you to know that we have been fighting to make it clear that Israel is a racist state."

She made the comment during a panel discussion at a Netroots Nation conference in Chicago, in response to protesters at the event chanting “Free Palestine.”

Jayapal’s remarks drew immediate backlash from both sides of the political aisle. House Democratic leaders issued a joint statement denouncing her remarks, according to Politico.

“Israel is not a racist state," they said. "As House Democratic leaders, we strongly support Israel’s right to exist as a homeland for the Jewish people. Certainly, there are individual members of the current Israeli governing coalition with whom we strongly disagree.”

Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) tweeted: “This is truly disgusting, especially coming from a member of Congress."

Other members of the Progressive caucus, specifically two female congresswoman known as part of "The Squad" – have made similar comments.

In May, Michigan Democrat Rep. Rashida Tlaib in a tweet called Israel an “apartheid state” and in 2022 said the country is engaging in a “racist system of oppression."

In 2019, Minnesota Democrat Rep. Ilhan Omar suggested some lawmakers were being financially incentivized to support Israel, tweeting, “It’s all about the Benjamins baby,” a reference to $100 bills.

She apologized after House Democratic leadership condemned her comments as "anti-Semitic tropes."

Jayapal’s comments on Israel come days before Israeli President Isaac Herzog’s scheduled address to Congress on Wednesday. Omar and New York Democrat Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the unofficial "Squad" leader – have said they won’t be attending.

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