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Democratic Rep. Jayapal backtracks, says ‘Israel not racist state’ after rebuke by party leaders

Top Democrat House members criticize her comments, calling them ‘unacceptable’

Representative Pramila Jayapal (D-WA) Speaking at the Netroots Nation conference (Photo: Screenshot)

House Democrats are rebuking Democrat Representative Pramila Jayapal (D-WA) for comments she made at the left-wing Netroots Nation Conference in Chicago on Saturday, including calling Israel "a racist state."

Jayapal was participating in a panel discussion at the conference along with other Democrat representatives, including Greg Casar (TX), Delia Ramirez (IL), and Ilhan Omar (MN), when the discussion was interrupted by a pro-Palestinian group waving Palestinian flags and chanting. The group would not allow Jewish Democrat Rep. Jan Schakowsky to continue speaking when Jayapal made her controversial statements, allegedly in an attempt to calm the protestors at the time.

“As somebody who’s been in the streets and participated in a lot of demonstrations, I want you to know that we have been fighting to make it clear that Israel is a racist state!” Jayapal said. “That the Palestinian people deserve self-determination and autonomy. That the dream of the two-state solution is slipping away from us. That it does not even feel possible.” 

Jayapal's comments were widely shared on social media posts by those who approved of her remarks, and those who did not.

Leading House Democrats condemned her comments.

“Israel is not a racist state,” according to a statement issued on Sunday by top House Democratic leaders Hakeem Jeffries, Katherine Clark, Pete Aguilar and Ted Lieu, which refrained from mentioning Jayapal's name.

Other House Democrats signed the statement as well, expressing “deep concern” for Jayapal’s “unacceptable” comments.

“We will never allow anti-Zionist voices that embolden antisemitism to hijack the Democratic Party and country.” 

“Israel is the legitimate homeland of the Jewish people and efforts to delegitimize and demonize it are not only dangerous and antisemitic, but they also undermine Americas's national security,” read the statement released by the Democratic lawmakers.

Jayapal has opposed the use of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance Working Definition of Antisemitism and also voted against honoring Israel’s 75th anniversary.

On Sunday, Jayapal attempted to retract her comments.

"Words do matter," Jayapal said in a statement, "and so it is important that I clarify my statement. I do not believe the idea of Israel as a nation is racist."

Jayapal also tried to walk back her comments by stating that her real problem was with "Netanyahu's extreme right-wing government" which has "engaged in discriminatory and outright racist policies."

She apologized to those she had offended, claiming that her comments on Saturday were a response to "the deep pain and hopelessness that exists for Palestinians and their diaspora communities.”

Jayapal's retraction comes as Israeli President Isaac Herzog’ is set to address a joint meeting of U.S. Congress later this week.

She said she will not likely attend the event.

Other House progressive leaders confirmed they will not attend, citing concerns of human rights violations. Some have been more recently vocal about their opposition to Jewish settlements in the West Bank, also known as Judea and Samaria, as well as America's funding of Israel's Iron Dome aerial missile defense system.

U.S. Representative Ilhan Omar (D-MN), one of the progressive members of "The Squad," who was the first to announce she would be skipping Herzog's speech.

Posting a series of comments to social media, the Democratic representative from Minnesota wrote: “There is no way in hell I am attending the joint session address from a President whose country has banned me and denied Rashida Tlaib the ability to see her grandma.” 

The All Israel News Staff is a team of journalists in Israel.

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