Column: A ‘Racist State’? Or Do We Mean a Racist Congresswoman?

There is nothing progressive about racism

— Texas State Rep. Michael McCaul (R)

It was a sh*t-hits-the-fan moment last week when the U.S. House of Representatives reacted to Rep. Pramila Jayapal’s “racist state” dig against Israel. It was an empty resolution, officially having nothing to do with Jayapal, a Democrat who represents most of Seattle.

For the record, the resolution reads: “…the State of Israel is not a racist or apartheid state; Congress rejects all forms of antisemitism and xenophobia; and the United States will always be a staunch partner and supporter of Israel.”

Suppose an alien from outer space spotted this document. Our visitor from far away might wonder what Israel did to be thought of as a “racist state,” and why did Congress previously accept antisemitism. Especially, how unstaunch was Congress’s support of Israel before the House pledged its “staunch” support with this resolution, by a vote of 412-9?

We all know what brought this on. The resolution targeted Jayapal for labeling Israel a “racist state” when she addressed the liberal Netroots Nation in Chicago on the previous Saturday night. On Sunday, her fellow Democrats protested, prompting Jayapal to revise her original remarks. That clouded the situation even more.

“I do not believe the idea of Israel is racist,” she proclaimed, then clarifying that it is Israel’s current government that is “racist.”

The “idea of Israel?” What about the actual Israel of the last 75 years and the 9 million people who now populate Israel? That is a strange exercise in semantics.

We can concede that many activities of the present government headed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu are indefensible. It is likely that many Israelis who voted for Bibi (his nickname) and his allies never expected them to move in such an extremist direction.

The resolution, supported by all but nine Democrats, shined a glaring spotlight on the so-called progressives who have spent the last 4 ½ years presenting Israel as a monster among nations, just as Jews are regarded as monsters among the greater population. Japayal helped make it a prerequisite to oppose Israel’s existence in order to join the ranks of progressives..

The vote for the resolution was a helpful step in opening the eyes of the public. It was still too weak. The American people have backed Israel for 75 years, when President Truman announced our nation’s recognition of Israel 11 minutes after the state was created. No talk regarding Israel as a “racist state,” and Jewish life flourished here.

The House action should have been far more compelling. They should have identified Jayapal by name and perhaps voted to censure her for slandering Israel and offending American Jews. Pro-Israel activists are equating her remark with antisemitism.

Probably the GOP acknowledged that Democrats would not vote for censure or anything like it, so they settled for a watered down version that says nothing new. Democrats must have feared losing much of the progressive vote by backing a stronger statement.

In the “I’m-shocked!-shocked!-that-politics-is-going-on-here” department, it is easy to doubt Jayapal’s sincerity.

Though it may be too subjective to judge if she is genuine, consider this Jayapal quote posted by NBC: “Instead of calling attention to the fact that they (Republicans) refuse to do the work of the American people, they’re trying to strip our freedoms away from us. But I am not going to be bullied by their political games, and I’m not going to let them try to continue this debate, so I voted yes on the resolution.”

Jayapal is saying that she voted for the resolution to end their “political games.” On top of that, she was “not going to be bullied by their political games.”

She was deflecting, accusing of stirring the pot. Republicans are notorious for manufacturing issues. This issue is real. Painfully so.

Michelle Goldberg, a Jewish columnist for The New York Times, made excuses for her in a piece headlined “The Hysteria Over Jayapal’s ‘Racist State’ Gaffe.”

Gaffe? Goldberg also calls it “her rhetorical misstep.” She claims that the backlash suggests “a brittle political denial about Israel’s increasingly authoritarian, jingoistic turn.”

Team Bibi has produced conflicting reactions – strong protests in America and especially in Israel, and rationalizing from the prime minister’s apologists in both countries. Jayapal’s political allies, known as the squad, have been bashing Israel long before Netanyahu formed his current coalition.

Goldberg gets really exasperating when she writes, “The rush to condemn her offhand – (offhand?) – remarks is not about encouraging linguistic rigor. It’s about raising the political price of speaking about Israel forthrightly. If you believe in liberal ideals, Netanyahu’s government is very hard to defend.

“It’s easier for Israel’s most stalwart boosters to harp on a critic’s slight misstatement – especially when denunciation of Israel is likely to ramp up ahead of the address by Israel’s president, Isaac Herzog, to Congress on Wednesday, which several progressive lawmakers are refusing to attend.”

Herzog addressed a joint session of Congress on Wednesday last week, the day after the resolution vote.

Goldberg’s column distorts the events.

A racist state as a slight misstatement?? If so, what do you call an Arab nation devoted to Israel’s destruction? After Jayapal stooped so low, how limited should a high political price be? How are Jews with a kinship for Israel playing political games?

Democrats accused the GOP of exploiting this for political advantage. No question that Republicans are exploiting her words. Presidential candidate Nikki Haley made a campaign issue of Squad members who voted against the resolution, and other House Republicans condemned Jayapal by name for her “racist state” remark. “Her intent was crystal clear – and absolutely deplorable,“ said Rep. Max Miller of Ohio, one of two Jewish House Republicans.

For a refreshing change of pace, Miller and his colleagues tackled a legitimate issue.

About Bruce Ticker

Bruce S. Ticker, who writes from Philadelphia, also blogs for The San Diego Jewish World and Smirking Chimp and previously for the suspended Philadelphia Jewish Voice. He was previously a reporter and copy editor for daily newspapers in eastern Pennsylvania.

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