Pramila Jayapal calls Israel a “Racist State”


During a raucous conference of progressive bloggers in Chicago, Seattle Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., on Saturday described Israel as “a racist state,” prompting a statement of rebuke and rebuttal from Democratic leaders in the House and Senate.

Jayapal sought to walk back her remark in a statement on Sunday but did not take very many steps. “I do not believe the idea of Israel as a nation is racist,” she said, but went on to condemn the “extreme right wing” coalition of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for pursuing “discriminatory and outright racist policies, and that there are extreme racists driving that policy.”

Jayapal is chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, which includes about 100 of the 213 Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives. Like Jayapal, most represent safe districts and include “The Squad” of such left-activist representatives as Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minnesota, who was voted off the House Foreign Affairs Committee this year for alleged anti-Israel statements.

The scene Saturday was Netroots Nation, a three-day nationwide conference of progressives. A regular at Netroots, Jayapal chaired one of two panels featuring progressive insurgents in Congress. Introducing the panel, black progressive activist (and yoga teacher) Reggie Hubbard received a loud ovation saying: “At this moment, we stand in solidarity with Palestine.”

Well into the panel, as Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Illinois, spoke demonstrators interrupted proceedings, waving flags and chanting: “Israel is a fascist state.”

“I’m your ally . . . know your allies,” responded Schakowsky, who is Jewish. “I am absolutely opposed to the kind of violence against the Palestinians that is happening right now.”

Jayapal went further. “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, that the Palestinian people deserve self-determination and autonomy, that the dream of a two-state solution is slipping away from us, that it does not even feel possible.”

Disruptions are nothing new at Netroots Nation. At the 2015 conference, in Las Vegas, chanting “Black Lives Matter” demonstrators crowded the stage just as Sen. Bernie Sanders was speaking of the high unemployment rate among African American and minority young people.

But Jayapal’s remark generated instant blowback. Seven Democratic House members, who are Jewish – and come from competitive districts – drafted a letter with a blunt message: “We will never allow anti-Zionist voices that embolden anti-Semitism to hijack the Democratic Party and country.” They did note and appreciate Jayapal’s “clarifying statement.”

A tough statement came later Sunday. It was signed by House Democratic leader Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., and his leadership team of Reps. Katherine Clark, D-Massachusetts, Pete Aguilar, D-Ca, and Ted Lieu, D-Ca.  Lieu is a member of the Congressional Progressive Caucus.

“Israel is not a racist state,” said the party brass. “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. Government officials come and go. The special relationship between the United States and Israel will endure. We are strongly determined to make sure support for Israel in the Congress remains strongly bipartisan.”

The president of Israel, Isaac Herzog, is coming to Washington, D.C., this week to mark the 75th anniversary of the Jewish state. He is slated to visit the White House, which issued a statement saying: “President Biden will reaffirm the ironclad commitment of the United States to Israel’s security.”

Herzog is also scheduled to address Congress. Senate and House Democratic leaders will be in attendance, but not The Squad. For her part,  Jayapal told CNN on Friday that she is not inclined to attend, adding: “I think this is not a good time for that to happen.”

Jonathan Greenblatt, CEO of the Anti Defamation League, in a statement, described Jayapal’s statement as “rashly inaccurate” and “reckless,” but welcomed her “clarification.” “We see again and again how hostile rhetoric can spawn hateful actions, so we would hope that an elected official at her level would choose her words far more carefully,” he added.

Greenblatt extended an olive branch, offering to travel with Jayapal to Israel and “share with her a diverse, vibrant country where Jews, Muslims, Christians, Bahais, Arabs and Israelis, gay and straight” are living and working side by side.

For her part, Jayapal said she was seeking to “defuse a tense situation” at Netroots Nation and “responding to the deep pain and hopelessness for Palestinians and their diaspora communities when it comes to this debate.”

Ultimately, it was Regggie Hubbard who calmed things down in Chicago, taking the microphone from the congressional panel and saying: “This ain’t progress, y’all. We all need to respect the First Amendment but we need to respect one another.”

Joel Connelly
Joel Connelly
I worked for Seattle Post-Intelligencer from 1973 until it ceased print publication in 2009, and from 2009 to 6/30/2020. During that time, I wrote about 9 presidential races, 11 Canadian and British Columbia elections‎, four doomed WPPSS nuclear plants, six Washington wilderness battles, creation of two national Monuments (Hanford Reach and San Juan Islands), a 104 million acre Alaska Lands Act, plus the Columbia Gorge National Scenic Area.


  1. I’m weary of Ms Jayapal’s rhetoric (not to say that I’m a fan of zionists). If she wants to fix the world, let her start with India, then she can go after Israel – but that’s not what i want.
    I’m of the opinion that her goals are more self-serving than serving her constituents.
    I would like to have another option for my representative. But who and how? That’s the question isn’t it?

  2. Remember the furor when Tuberville couldn’t bring himself to categorize white nationalist organizations as racist?

    Imagine if, say, Alberta formed a government that included a couple fairly strong white nationalist parties? Would that make Alberta a racist province? Yes.

    Would accepting this apparent fact, threaten Alberta’s existence? No.

    But when it’s Israel, that seems to be an acceptable logical leap for the media. If someone calls out racism in Israel, it’s about Israel’s right to exist. In the couple of pieces I’ve read about this, neither journalist has troubled themselves to look into the charge – what are they talking about, specifically, that leads to the charge of racism? Treatment of arab citizens? Is it only some moves that Netanyahu had to back down from, showing in fact that the racist element hasn’t taken power?

  3. My only comment on this whole discussion is – let’s put Israel under the exact circumstance the Palestinians are currently in and then let them decide if what the Israeli government is doing is racist, facist or just plain abhorrent. They should remember the holocaust and the way they were treated when their government interacts with the Palestinians. Compare and contrast that treatment with the actions of the Israeli government and then tell me who is right or wrong. Let’s start there and see where it goes.

  4. If there was a rational alternative to the Democratic Party, I’d be happy to join.

    But maybe Jayapal, like Trump, points to her own weakness.

  5. Not sure that racist is the correct word but making the point that the most persecuted group in history has turned into some of the world’s worst persecutors is worth making.

  6. Why is Rep. Jayapal repeatedly having to walk back her comments? There is a way to rebuke Israel’s outrageous actions in attacking a Palestinian refugee camp on the West Bank. But Rep. Jayapal sounds rash, like she’s about to pick up a rock and hurl it. If she wants to make any headway in U.S. foreign policy, she should first put down that bullhorn. When even the progressives in the Democratic Party take issue with her…

  7. I find myself thinking that Democrats in Congress, including members of the Progressive Caucus, seem to put their reelection prospects ahead of an honest, as well as fact-based, assessment of the Israeli government’s actions toward Palestinians, especially those who live in the West Bank. It’s a fraught situation, to say the least, but one-word descriptions of it, do not help. I’m a not a ‘one side is correct and the other side is wrong’ in my assessment of this situation, either.

  8. “Israel is not a racist state” is like saying “there is no systemic racism in the U.S.”

    “Progressives in the Democratic Party” who defend Israel no matter how obnoxiously it acts are bowing to AIPAC. That, and they tend to be Jews who conflate anti-Zionism with Anti-Semitism.

    Anti-Zionism is not Anti-Semitism, no matter how many times it’s repeated.

    p.s. I’m Jewish and anti-Zionist, notwithstanding that one of my numerous great uncles was President of the Zionist Organization of America.

    • Here, here, Toby. Couldn’t agree with you more. Few Americans recognize the difference between Anti-Zionism and anti-semitism. Oh, and by the way, criticizing the actions of the Israeli government is not anti-semitic.

      • Scott,

        That’s all very well — plenty of Israelis don’t like their own government’s policies — but that’s not what Jayapal is all about …what she actually said.

  9. Jayapal is a self serving progressive in a “safe district.” This entitles her to say whatever she wants. I am glad that Marie Perez is my congressman.

  10. Anti-Zionism? What does that mean, in 2023? It’s inherently, toxically ambiguous.

    Does the Anti-Zionist want Israel to clean up its act and become a civilized nation that tries to solve its problems – i.e., accepting the historically Zionist origin of the state of Israel, but opposing further Zionist escapades?

    That would be so sensible, but you’re going to be in bed with factions that formally oppose the existence of the state of Israel, which is a losing battle that just serves as an excuse for perpetual conflict. The label is toxic.

    • “Anti-Zionism” means (for me anyway) that building a state based on the Jewish religion that includes non-Jews as citizens is a problem by its very nature. The only successful sovereign state based on a religion (i.e., without inherent bigotry toward non-members of the “state religion”) I’m aware of is Vatican City.

      I am not suggesting getting “in bed with factions that formally oppose the existence of the state of Israel.”° I am suggesting that Israel needs to either 1) stop being colonial imperialists oppressing non-Jews*, or 2) be truly non-sectarian in its governance from top to bottom*. I don’t think a majority of Israelis would accept no. 2; I do think a modest majority do poll for support of no. 1.

      ° It is clear the Palestinians have made many leadership and policy blunders.

      * I don’t think the “facts on the ground” truth that Israel IS colonial and imperialist and is NOT non-sectarian in much of its governance is seriously in doubt.

  11. I don’t like how Jayapal phrased her comments, however, fellow Jews who think they have a friend in the GOP, may have forgotten statements by Pat Buchanan in previous decades. I don’t think Pat’s comments were based on sensitivity toward the plight of Palestinians.

  12. Half Jewish dude here – and I think that while what she said was impolitic it wasn’t exactly untrue, either.

    Being against Israel’s policies toward Palestine is NOT anti-Semitism, no matter how much Likud and its fellow travelers on the US right would try and tell you it is.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Comments Policy

Please be respectful. No personal attacks. Your comment should add something to the topic discussion or it will not be published. All comments are reviewed before being published. Comments are the opinions of their contributors and not those of Post alley or its editors.