Washington D.C. – The US House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed a resolution proclaiming that Israel “is not a racist or apartheid state,” in a message aimed at progressive critics.
The measure was approved in a vote of 412 to 9 on Tuesday, hours after Israel isaac herzog president met with President Joe Biden at the White House. One legislator voted “present.”
The legislation comes in response to comments Saturday by Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal, chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, calling Israel a “racist state.”
His comments sparked bipartisan outrage. The congresswoman later apologized, stressing that Israel’s “far-right government has engaged in discriminatory and openly racist policies.”
Tuesday’s resolution was symbolic, but it showed the growing severe approach Supporters of Israel are attacking the country’s critics in Congress, who have become more visible and vocal in recent years.
“The United States will always be a staunch partner and supporter of Israel,” says the bill, which was introduced by Republican Congressman August Pfluger. He also condemned “all forms of antisemitism and xenophobia.”
Palestinian rights advocates expressed anger at the move on Tuesday, as well as at Democratic leaders who sided with Republicans to belittle their own progressive colleagues.
“Sadly, Congress overwhelmingly passed this resolution, landing once again on the wrong side of history, as the world’s leading and most respected human rights organizations, after extensive investigation, have labeled Israel apartheid,” said Palestinian-American comedian and activist Amer. Zahr told Al Jazeera.
Israel, which receives at least $3.8 billion in US aid annually, has been accused by leading human rights groups such as International Amnesty of committing apartheid against the Palestinians.
‘Trying to silence’ Israel critics
The resolution caps off the latest firestorm against people who openly oppose Israel in the United States.
In early 2020, the Republican majority in the House stripped Congresswoman Ilhan Omar from his seat on the Foreign Affairs Committee over allegations of anti-Semitism linked to his past criticism of Israel.
In May, Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib faced a similar backlash for hosting an event at the US Capitol to mark the anniversary of the Nakbathe massive displacement of Palestinians from their homeland during the establishment of Israel.
Later that month, politicians from both major parties convicted a young man Yemeni-American graduate who criticized Israel during his commencement address at the City University of New York (CUNY) School of Law.
Laura Albast, a Palestinian-American organizer in the Washington, DC, area, said intense opposition was expected.
“As we get stronger in the defense of Palestinian rights, of Palestinian liberation, so does the opposite side that oppresses us; it becomes more forceful in trying to silence us,” Albast told Al Jazeera.
He questioned why US lawmakers take the time to pass a resolution in favor of a foreign state when the country is facing major crises, including rampant gun violence.
Albast added that the provision denouncing anti-Semitism is a “trap” to paint lawmakers who oppose the measure as racist.
In a debate on the House floor Tuesday, several members praised Israel, describing it as an essential ally of the United States and linking criticism of its government policy to anti-Semitism.
Republican Rep. Zach Nunn called Israel a “voice of the free people in a world tested time and time again by tyrants and terrorists.”
Rashida Tlaib speaks
Tlaib, a Democratic congresswoman from Michigan, was the only member to speak out against the resolution on the House floor Tuesday.
“I am the only Palestinian American serving in Congress and I have family throughout the West Bank, what many people call the illegally occupied territories,” Tlaib said.
“But we are here again reaffirming congressional support for apartheid, watching the words of women of color who dare to speak out about the truth, about oppression. It’s just not what we should be doing here in Congress.”
On Monday, Tlaib became the latest progressive lawmaker to confirm that she will skip Israeli President Herzog’s speech to Congress.
In solidarity with the Palestinian people and all those who have been harmed by Israel’s apartheid government, I will boycott President Herzog’s joint address to Congress.
— Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib (@RepRashida) July 17, 2023
Omar, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Jamaal Bowman are also set to boycott the address. On Tuesday, Bowman cited human rights abuses, including the killing of the Al Jazeera journalist. Shireen Abu Akleh by Israeli forces last year, as the reason behind their decision.
“From Israel Indiawe must hold our allies accountable for human rights violations and abuses by far-right governments, which is why I will not be attending Israeli President Isaac Herzog’s address to Congress tomorrow,” Bowman wrote on Twitter.
Herzog, who plays a mainly ceremonial role, is seen as a more moderate figure than the far-right prime minister. Benjamin Netanyahu.
Still, critics say it represents the same state, whose basic law considers the right of self-determination “exclusive” to the Jewish people despite ruling over millions of Palestinians on the land.
On Tuesday, James Zogby, president of the Arab American Institute, a think tank, said the House resolution would not change the facts about Israel.
“Memorandum to Congress: Israel is an apartheid state. It is Israel’s racist system of laws and practices that discriminates against Palestinians that defines reality, not how you vote on nonsense. [Pfluger’s] account,” he wrote on Twitter.