Congress Melts Down Over Israel Again

Ryan Grim and Beth Miller of Jewish Voice for Peace Action discuss the House resolution declaring unconditional support for Israel’s government.

Demonstrators wave Israeli and U.S. flags during a protest against plans by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government to overhaul the judicial system, outside of the U.S. Embassy Branch Office in Tel Aviv, Israel, Tuesday, July 18, 2023. (AP Photo/Oded Balilty)
Demonstrators wave Israeli and U.S. flags, outside of the U.S. Embassy Branch Office in Tel Aviv, Israel, on July 18, 2023. Photo: Oded Balilty/AP

The House overwhelmingly passed a resolution on Tuesday pledging “the United States will always be a staunch partner and supporter of Israel” and that Israel is “not a racist or apartheid state.” This week on Deconstructed, Beth Miller, political director of Jewish Voice for Peace Action, joins Ryan Grim to discuss the resolution sparked by recent remarks from Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash. Miller and Grim break down the bipartisan furor to swiftly condemn Jayapal calling Israel “a racist state” and promise unconditional support for the Israeli government, despite its decadeslong campaign to violently force Palestinians off their land.

[Deconstructed intro theme music.]

Ryan Grim: Welcome to Deconstructed, I’m Ryan Grim.

At last weekend’s Netroots Nation conference, demonstrators disrupted a panel discussion, protesting on behalf of Palestinian rights, and leading to this response from Representative Pramila Jayapal, the chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus.

Pramila Jayapal: Can I say something? Can I say something as somebody that’s been in the streets and, and has 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, that the dream of a two-state solution is slipping away from us, that it is not, that it does not even feel possible. It does not even feel possible.

And I want you to know that, while you may have arguments with whether or not some of us on stage are fighting hard enough, I do want you to know that there is an organized opposition on the other side, and it isn’t the people that are on this stage.

RG: Well, that exchange set off a week-long controversy in Washington, culminating both with a speech from Israeli President Isaac Herzog and, also, a vote on the House floor insisting that the United States will always be an ally of Israel, and also that it is not a racist state, and it is not, also — in case anybody was wondering — an apartheid state.

And it also, on top of that, condemned antisemitism and xenophobia, which I thought was an interesting thing to slot in there. I was wondering if any of the Republicans would look at that and try to amend out the xenophobia claim like: well, wait a minute, what are we doing here? We’re coming after the MAGA movement all of a sudden? But nobody seemed to pick up on that, and almost everybody voted yes; we’ll talk about the no-vote soon.

To talk about all of this, we’re joined now by Beth Miller, who’s the political director for Jewish Voice for Peace Action. Beth, thanks for joining me on Deconstructed.

Beth Miller: Thanks so much for having me on, Ryan.

RG: And so, Beth, when you first saw this clip circulating, or — were you at Netroots Nation when it happened? Or, when you first saw the clip circulating, what was your initial reaction?

BM: I was not at Netroots, so, when I first saw the clip circulating, my initial reaction was, Jayapal got it right. Congresswoman Jayapal said what is a fairly widely agreed upon point when you leave Washington, D.C., which is that Israel is racist. It is something that is incredibly obvious to those of us who are familiar with the situation.

It is a government with racist ministers who have themselves been convicted of inciting racism and violence against Palestinians. It is a country that systematically implements policies that discriminate based on religion and ethnicity, and the world’s leading human rights organizations have said it is an apartheid state.

And so, my first reaction was, great job, Congresswoman Jayapal. You have accurately summed up the situation.

RG: And so, the debate in Washington, when it kind of narrowed down into the closer points — the finer points of whether it was racist, whether it was apartheid, or whether it was none of these — jumps around in a bunch of different directions. One of them is the kind of comparison between the original platonic ideal of the state versus its current incarnation.

And so, I’m curious where you come down on that, because there are some who say the character of the state is ethnonationalist, legally, and explicitly, and necessarily, and therefore it will always have that ethnonationalist character, which then kind of evolves into what we characterize over here in the U.S. as racism. Others say, no, Zionism is not racism. You can have a Zionist state, you can have a Jewish state that is still a kind of liberal pluralistic democracy. Where do you come down on that?

BM: I mean, this could be a conversation over hours and hours and hours. I think that Israel was created to be a state for Jewish people, and has, since it was created, been displacing Palestinians and forcing Palestinians from their home en masse. And that has been happening since day one, since before Israel declared its independence, and it has been ongoing since then. This is not something that started with the occupation in 1967.

But, having said all that, the way this debate played out in D.C., I think there are parts of the conversation that were diving into the nitty gritty of what you just described but, really, what we saw and what we witnessed was just a knee jerk reaction to the idea that there can be members of Congress who are criticizing and calling for accountability of the Israeli government.

And, again, we can talk for hours about, like you said, this bigger idea of what Israel might be, could be, should be, in theory, potentially, possibly, but the reality is that Israel has only ever existed as a racist state, and it has only ever existed as a state that has systematically been displacing Palestinians from their homes, and attacking them, and actively seeking to steal land from them. And has been able to get away with this for decades without any consequences, in large part, because the U.S. government and Congress has been backing them every step of the way.

RG: I interviewed Democratic Congressman Brad Sherman this week about this question. He’s a kind of very strong ally of AIPAC, and a relentless defender of the Israeli government, though he is critical of this current rightward shift of the Israeli government.

And he made a point that a lot of others made, and it goes to what you were just saying, that he didn’t really want to talk about necessarily the reality of the current situation, but rather the future potential of a better situation in the future. And, as long as there was some hope for a better future, he seemed to be arguing, then, therefore, you can’t call it, say, an apartheid state now.

Because an apartheid state to him is a static situation where you have a recognized government within a certain geographical boundary that treats people within its borders differently based on their race or ethnicity.

And what he and others will argue is, well, OK, yes, that is practically de facto what’s been happening for 75 years, but one day it might not be happening. And so, therefore, as long as one day it might not be happening, all we’re talking about is a temporary situation.

Ryan Grim: Well, the resolution goes beyond just condemning the racist part, and it adds apartheid. How do you sort out, in your mind, whether or not it’s an apartheid state, given the fact that people who live under the laws —

Representative Brad Sherman (D-CA): Well, this is a temporary, albeit long-lived, situation. We need a two-state solution. You know, there’s the Czech Republic, there’s Slovakia. If you’re a Slovak, you’re not a citizen of the Czech Republic. If you’re Czech, you’re not a citizen of Slovakia. They decided to create two separate states. It doesn’t mean that Czechs hate Slovaks, it doesn’t mean Slovaks hate Czechs. It just means that they want two separate countries. Israel wants two separate countries.

RG: So, is the possibility that a two-state solution could emerge is the only thing that prevents you calling the current situation apartheid?

BS: No. I would say that if Israel were to say that we intend to permanently rule millions of Palestinians, we don’t want them to have a state, and we’re going to deny them citizenship rights, and I would say that’s two levels of citizenship for people who are, because of Israel, trying to live, uh, you know. Israel is on the way, hopefully, to a two-state solution.

RG: What do you respond to that way of framing this?

BM: I guess it’s not shocking that Congressman Sherman takes that approach. I think that’s a pretty absurd thing for a sitting member of Congress to say. To say that, well, one day maybe it would be different, so we shouldn’t talk about what it is now. It’s honestly a hard argument to even begin to wrap your head around.

The situation now is what we have to deal with. We’re not dealing in what could possibly be one day in someone’s dreams of what Israel might one day become. We’re dealing with the reality on the ground right now, which is decades of occupation, decades of apartheid — which again, I cannot stress enough, the broad international human rights consensus is that this is an apartheid state, and even Israeli human rights groups have said it’s an apartheid state. That’s the reality, and what that means is that, right now, today, there are millions of Palestinians who are subject to brutal violence that’s being funded by Congress.

And I think that’s the key point here, is that this isn’t just someone like Congressman Sherman, for example, just opining on a situation that he has no role in. He is a duly elected member of Congress, and Congress has a unique role to play here. They control the purse strings of our government, and our government is sending $3.8 billion every single year to fund this apartheid.

And so, whatever someone hopes the situation might be in the future, the reality is that we have to name what’s happening right now accurately because our government is the one paying for it. And it will never change, it will never get better if we don’t do something about that, and it’s particularly rich to hear that from someone like an AIPAC-funded and -affiliated congressman like Brad Sherman, because the policies he pushes for only serve to entrench the current situation.

And actually, [if] he wants to make it better and change it, what he should be doing is working right now to hold the Israeli government accountable to create a different situation.

RG: He also made the argument — and you hear this a lot from people in his camp — that says, well, there are Arab citizens of Israel who do share in some citizenship rights. And so, therefore, it’s inaccurate to say that this is, quote-unquote, “racist.”

And he also made the point that — I said, well, if you’re a Palestinian living in Israel, and you’re married to somebody who lives in the Occupied Territories, your spouse can’t even live with you. So, you have thousands of marriages that are separated by this wall, which feels like apartheid, and feels like unequal rights. And he said, well, that actually would apply to a Jewish Israeli citizen.

Ryan Grim: Even citizens of Israel who are Palestinian aren’t allowed, for instance to marry a Palestinian who lives in the West Bank, and have them move and live with them. They literally have different rights based on their ethnicity.

Brad Sherman: Well, it’s not based — I think that would apply to a Jewish citizen who married a Palestinian from the West Bank as well. I might have to examine that, and I think every country has a flaw.

Of all the countries who have been under violent attack from another country, area, or ethnicity, Israel has had the most benign reaction. We cannot point to anywhere else in the world where a country is under violent attack and is embracing its enemy while being attacked. I mean, try to find a Ukrainian saying something nice about Russia today.

RG: So, I’m sure you hear this, the former version of this argument a lot. I’m curious to get your read on it. I’m not sure if you’ve heard this latter one, though.

BM: Yeah. I think this is a very common argument, right? We saw this [also] from people like Congressman Ritchie Torres on Twitter the other day. We saw it on the House floor when they were debating this absurd wink-wink, “we swear Israel is an apartheid state” wink-wink resolution the other night. People constantly say this. “Well, how could Israel be a racist state when, how could it be an apartheid state when there are non-Jewish citizens of Israel who have some rights? And look, there are even people in the Knesset who aren’t Jewish Israelis.”

I mean, I think any progressive worth their salt could listen to that argument and say, that’s absurd, and that does not mean that there is not systematic racism going on. The truth of the matter is, the Israeli government has over 65 different discriminatory laws against Palestinians who are citizens of Israel.

At the end of the day, when you zoom out, the reason this is a system of apartheid is because there is one government, Israel, that rules over all people that live between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River. And that includes Palestinian citizens of Israel, and it includes Palestinians living under a legal military occupation by the Israeli government.

The Israeli government controls all of their lives, and those Palestinians are subject to different levels of rights based on where they live, and Jewish Israeli citizens are the people with the most rights. That is pure, systematic discrimination based on ethnicity and religion and identity. And that’s, simply put, apartheid.

RG: Can you talk about a couple of those discriminatory laws? There’s 65 or so on the books that treat Palestinian citizens of Israel differently than Jewish citizens of Israel

BM: Some of the most common ways that we see discrimination play out is through who can build new buildings, what kind of infrastructure is granted to different people. And if you go and you visit predominantly Palestinian towns inside of Israel, you can see how poorly kept up they are compared to predominantly Jewish towns. You can see that Palestinians are not allowed to build infrastructure for themselves in the same way that Jewish Israeli citizens are.

RG: Like, in what way? Like, when you apply for building permits and you’re not Jewish, you will face different hurdles to get permits?

BM: Exactly, exactly. And are denied more frequently. And if you look at things like the Jewish Nation state law, for example, which was passed in, I believe, 2018, that law directly said that, essentially, Israel is a state for Jewish people, and that only Jewish people inside of Israel have the right to self-determination. It bumped Arabic down from a national language. And you can also see the way, in the current Netanyahu government, these things are stated quite openly and quite proudly by ministers of this government who are carrying out blatantly racist policies.

I think what’s interesting about this is that the Israeli government doesn’t really hide that it’s a racist government. It’s pretty open about it, right? If you look at Minister Smotrich, for example, openly saying that the Palestinian town of Hawara should be wiped out. They’re not really hiding it, they’re pretty open about it.

But in the U.S., you have members of Congress, especially democratic members of Congress, who are trying to make it seem like there’s shared liberal democratic values, who are actually trying to hide it more than the Israeli government often is themselves.

RG: And so, just to put a fine point on it: So, here in the United States, for instance, prior to a lot of the civil rights reforms of the 1960s, you could legally discriminate against Black Americans, when it came to housing, public accommodations and so on. After that, you could no longer do that.

We still have a situation where a Black homeowner taking out a mortgage, on average, is going to pay a higher interest rate than a white homeowner taking out a mortgage. That’s not written into the law, it’s just kind of an expression of what you would broadly call systemic racism — controversially, today, but seems fairly straightforward — but it’s not written into the law anymore.

So, can you compare that to Israel in the way that it is or isn’t kind of scratched right into the books?

BM: Yeah. I think that this is something that part of the reason that more and more Americans are demanding accountability for the Israeli government and wanting to end U.S. complicity in what Israel is doing and its oppression of Palestinians is because more and more people, the more we learn about what’s happening, recognize, in some ways, that comparison. To say Jim Crow South, for example, or to apartheid South Africa, where these things are really written into law in different ways.

And, to be clear, the ways that systematic racism play out in the U.S. are still having incredibly deadly effects, even though they’re not written into law in the same exact way. But yes, it’s much more blatant, it’s much more scratched into the law under Israeli government policies right now. And I think that, essentially, if we look at how the Israeli government functions, the way they talk about Palestinian citizens, the way they talk about Palestinians living under occupation, it’s very clear, again, that they don’t actually uphold the same liberal democratic values that Democrats claim to hold so dear.

RG: So, in the West Bank, for example, how does the legal system play out?

BM: Absolutely. So, in the West Bank, for example, which is under Israeli military occupation, you can clearly see how this plays out in some of its most systemic, clear, obvious ways.

You have two separate legal systems at play in the West Bank. There is civilian law that applies to Israeli settlers who live there illegally according to international law, and then there is military martial law that Palestinians are subject to. And so, what that means is that, if you look at Hebron, for example, you can have people who are literally neighbors, where an Israeli settler living there illegally would be subject and have the all the due process rights of Israeli civilian law, whereas a Palestinian neighbor who has been living there for decades and decades and decades would be subject to martial law, where they are denied their most basic due process rights.

Under Israeli military law in the West Bank, for example, Palestinians can be arrested without warrant. They can be interrogated by soldiers without a lawyer present. And, to be very clear, this applies to Palestinian children as well, and this is one of the issues that has actually taken hold in Congress more than many others, which is the issue of Palestinian children who are detained, arrested, prosecuted by the Israeli military court system in the West Bank.

And you have around 700 Palestinian children every year that go through this system where they can be arrested from their homes in the middle of the night with no warrant and no charge, and interrogated by soldiers without a guardian present, without a lawyer present, and then prosecuted in a kangaroo military court system with a 99 percent conviction rate of Palestinians, where every single person involved in the court is part of the Israeli military. An Israeli settler child would go through a civilian system instead.

RG: That was actually the subject of the protest. The protesters were apparently aiming their fire at Jan Schakowsky, the Illinois congresswoman who was on stage with Jayapal, because she hadn’t yet cosponsored legislation that would restrict U.S. funding from supporting the detention and the prosecution of children by the Israeli military.

BM: Yeah. Just to kind of put a fine point on what you raised, Ryan, this bill, the Palestinian Children and Families Act, is a bill that, like you said, would restrict military funding to ensure that it cannot be used to arrest, detain and prosecute children in a military court system that denies them their most basic rights. A system through which three out of four kids, when they go through it, experience physical ill treatment and torture, as well as ensuring we’re not funding the annexation of Palestinian lands and the displacement of Palestinian families from their homes.

But this is one of the most basic things that a member of Congress could do. It doesn’t even touch the top line of what we’re sending, it just restricts that funding. And Jan Schakowsky should be a cosponsor of that legislation and, like you said, it was Chicago-based organizers who’ve been pushing her for years and years that were calling on her to cosponsor that.

So, like you said, that piece of legislation, I think, is really a bare minimum for what we expect from progressives in Congress.

RG: And it’s kind of a sign of where the issue is, that that’s where activists are at this point, that they haven’t gotten people like Jan Schakowsky on board for something. You know, Schakowsky’s one of the more progressive members of the House of Representatives.

BM: She is, and I think that, on this issue, though, she’s behind where some of her colleagues are. She’s also ahead of where most of her colleagues are but, you know, representatives Garcia and Jayapal who were on the stage with her have actually both cosponsored that legislation.

[Deconstructed mid-show theme music.]

RG: And so that eventually brings us to this vote on the House floor. And I want to play Congressman Michael McCaul here, a Republican who was kind of leading the argumentation on the side of, we ought to approve this resolution.

Representative Michael McCaul (R-TX): Speaker, tomorrow, the president of Israel will address this body in a joint session. It will be a great day in American history, as representatives of one of the greatest democracies are addressed by the head of state of another.

Democracy and its shared values are at the very core of the U.S.-Israel relationship, and the beauty of our friendship is that we stand together, shoulder to shoulder, as we defend our freedom and our way of life from threats like Iran, Hezbollah, Hamas, and other forms of terrorism.

Let me be clear: Israel’s not a racist country, and it is deeply disturbing and concerning to me that some in this body have such a profound misunderstanding of Israel and Israeli society. The previous government in Israel had Arab parties and Arab ministers serving in the coalition government. What a fantastic achievement for democracy.

It’s no secret that Israel is a country in a tough neighborhood that is clear-eyed and seeing many threats in its own backyard. And the United States will always support Israel’s right to self-defense. We see Israeli citizens being murdered in senseless terrorist attacks and, at times, the fallen have been American citizens. Israel is responsible for protecting the well-being of its citizens. Protecting one’s citizens from terrorist attacks is not racism; it is national security.

RG: And so, you hear from him that familiar refrain that there are Arab citizens in — or, they were in the coalition government, they were ousted by this far right-wing government — but can still serve in the Knesset.

But beyond that, you didn’t actually hear, I noticed, any other claims of fact against the allegation that Israel is either a racist or apartheid, but rather just assertions that it’s not.

Throughout the debate, did you hear any assertions of fact worth responding to?

BM: There were none, no. The side that was pushing forward this resolution has no real assertions of fact around why Israel is not a racist state. The assertions of fact came from Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib, When she came up and explained why she would be opposing the resolution, and began quoting Israeli government officials with statements that were clearly, incredibly, racist.

RG: Well, let’s play Rashida Tlaib here, and then we can come back to this.

Representative Rashida Talib (D-MI): I am the only Palestinian American serving in Congress, and I have family members all throughout the West Bank, in what many people call the illegally occupied territories. But we’re here again, reaffirming Congress support for apartheid. Policing the words of women of color who dare to speak up about truths, about oppression, is just not what we should be doing here in Congress.

And let’s just get the record straight here, this is not something that’s made up. The United Nations, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, Israel’s own largest human rights organization, B’Tselem, all agree that Israel is an apartheid state. To assert otherwise, Mr. Speaker, in the face of this body of evidence is an attempt to deny the reality, and to normalize violence of apartheid.

This week, we’re going to hear consistently, people totting about like, oh, this is bipartisan support here. Well, don’t forget, this body, this Congress, supported the South African apartheid regime, and it was bipartisan as well. But you don’t have to take it from me to understand the racism of an apartheid government. Let’s take a moment just to hear Israeli government’s own politician in their own words; direct quotes, not mine.

Current Prime Minister Netanyahu, on his policies towards Palestinians, quote: “Beat them up. Not once, but repeatedly. Beat them up until it’s unbearable.” And said that Israel must, quote: “…crush Palestinian hopes for a fully sovereign state.”

One of the former defense ministers said Palestinians are, quote, “…beasts, and they are not human.” He’s talking about people like my grandmother, Mr. Speaker. How about a former Justice Minister who said: “They should go, as should the physical homes in which they raise the snakes. Otherwise more little snakes will be raised there.”

How about another former Defense Minister said, quote, “Those who are against us, there’s nothing to be done. We need to pick, and axe them, and cut off their heads.” Another quote, “There is no such thing as Palestinian people. How about raising them at its core?” Mr. Speaker, Israeli’s own president, who’s coming before Congress.

Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy: The gentlelady’s time has expired. Does the gentleman from New York reserve or yield?

RT: Can you yield me one more minute?

Representative Gregory Meeks (D-NY): I yield the gentlelady 30 seconds.

RT: Israel’s own president, Herzog, who’s going to come before Congress tomorrow, has long advocated against interracial marriages. Did you all know that? Do you care? He said on a news segment, look it up. When he came to America he said, quote, “…encountered something that I call an actual plague. I saw my friend’s children married and coupled with non-Jewish partners.”

Israel is an apartheid state. The government is deeply problematic in the way that they are proceeding in the structure of oppression. This year, Mr. Speaker, just like I speak up against injustices here in America, this is about speaking up against violence.

KM: The gentlelady’s time has expired. Does the gentleman from New York yield or reserve?

RG: Alright, so, that was Congressman Rashida Tlaib, who did come with some quotes. I would imagine that if there were government officials, even just willing to say that they welcome, all Palestinians into the fabric of Israeli society, that you would see those quotes appear from, you know, the Democrats and Republicans supporting this resolution. It is kind of striking, the lack of evidence that was even bothered to be put forward.

BM: Yeah, I agree. And I think, I think it goes to show that this resolution, it was about something else, right? This resolution was put forward by the Republicans to make an example of a woman of color and other progressive women of color, most often, who dare to speak out about Palestinian rights. They were trying to send a message that the political cost of speaking out for Palestinian rights is high.

And, furthermore, we should say that the GOP, the Republicans, did this specifically to try to put the headline in the news, “Dems in disarray,” right? That’s what the Republicans wanted. And the Democratic Party needs to get smart fast, because the reality is that the Democratic leadership lets the Republicans get away with this every single time.

We’re in a recurring nightmare situation where over and over and over again, this happens. There are progressive women of color who see the situation in Palestine and are listening to their constituents and speak out for Palestinian rights. The right wing slams them for doing so, saying that they aren’t sufficiently pro-Israel, and then the Democratic Party thinks that it can somehow save itself by turning on their own and attacking their own progressive wing. And then the Republicans spike the ball with something like a resolution like this.

RG: And it should be said, by the way, that Representative Jayapal, she told The New York Times that, as soon as she stepped off the stage, the words “racist state” were rattling in her head, and she’s like, oh man, I, I stepped in it, that wasn’t how I should have phrased it. And she quickly put out a statement clarifying it. And, in some cases, basically every other issue, that would kind of be the end of it, and you might get a couple of statements, people distancing themselves from her, condemning her, or whatever. But for it to move from there, a gaffe, to a clarification, to a resolution on the House floor in a matter of days is unique.

And, like you said, I think it was not a coincidence that the Israeli president was here this week, that it helped kind of gin up the right kind of news for not just Republicans and some democratic supporters of the Israeli government, but across the spectrum. Folks who want to see people like Jayapal go through it for a couple of days.

And I wanted to get your reaction to the White House response, because whenever this happens, you also are then going to get reporters pushing the White House to also denounce or condemn or respond somehow to it.

Jacqui Heinrich: Did the president address at all Congresswoman Jayapal’s comments in his meeting with Herzog?

White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre: Say that one more time?

JH: Did the president have to address Congresswoman Jayapal’s comment, that Israel is a racist state?

KJP: What do you mean, “had to address?”

JH: Did it come at all in the conversation with President Herzog?

KJP: I mean, they’re currently having a conversation right now in the bilat.

JH: To address it, did it come up in his call with Netanyahu yesterday?

KJP: I mean, the President has been very clear, right? And I kind of stated this at the beginning. The United States and Israel’s relationship is a special one. There’s a special bond, there’s a commitment, and it is a commitment to Israel’s right to exist, Israel’s security, and its legitimacy. I mean, that’s one of the reasons. that the President spoke to the Prime Minister yesterday and is having this important meeting with the Israeli President. They’re going to have a conversation on how we continue to grow that special relationship, as I just laid out. Seventy-five years of Israeli’s independence is being celebrated this year, and we think it’s important to continue that relationship.

JH: The reason I ask is because, yesterday, Kirby had said that you guys were glad that she apologized, but what we didn’t hear was any condemnation of her comment from the White House. Does the White House condemn that comment?

KJP: I mean, look, the apology was the right thing to do. And we’ve been very clear. When it comes to antisemitism, this administration and the entire Biden-Harris administration have been clear that when Israel is singled out because of anti-Jewish hate, that’s antisemitism, and that is unacceptable.

RG: So, a couple things jump out at me from that, and I’m curious to get your take. One is just the utter relentlessness of the push for condemnation, even in the wake of the repeated, you know, assertions of, that, hey, we’re glad she apologized. But it’s unusual for the press corps to really latch on that insistently. Often it’s, question, OK, move on to another question.

Then the other is how the White House responds to that. You kind of have three different ways you could respond to that. You can say, we condemn Congresswoman Jayapal, you could say we support Congresswoman Jayapal, or you can speak in generalities about condemning antisemitism, and speaking about the special relationship between the U.S. and Israel.

And so, what do you make of the fact that KJP took that approach, the generalities approach? And, also, is that treatment from the press of this issue a familiar one to you working in this space?

BM: Yes, it’s a familiar one. This is how the press often latches onto, like you said, these issues. And they go and go and go, and they push as hard as they can the second there are progressives who have spoken out around Palestinian rights.

I think the first thing I actually want to say about this is that, hearing the — the option two is what they should have gone for, right? What you should have had is the Biden administration saying they support Congresswoman Jayapal. We don’t live in that world, but that is what should have happened.

Congresswoman Jayapal stated facts around the Israeli government and its policies, even in her clarifications where she said that she was deeply concerned by Israeli government policies and the Netanyahu coalition. She was stating simple facts, and what should have happened is that the Biden administration should have said, we support her.

Of course, we don’t live in that world, and so they went for option three, which was kind of an exhausting merry-go-round of conflation between the Israeli government and Jewish people, which, you know, as someone who is myself Jewish, and I work for a Jewish organization that is part of the Palestinian rights movement, I will say it is a mockery of the fight against antisemitism to continue this exhausting conflation between Israel and Jewish people everywhere, which are two very separate things.

Having said all that, the other thing I’m hearing from this is that the Biden administration and the Democratic Party is out of touch with where their base is, and that is going to continue to be a problem for them. There are poll after poll after poll showing that Democratic voters are moving fast on this issue, and Democratic Party leadership has not caught up yet.

This year there was, for the first time ever, a Gallup poll that showed that Democrats are more sympathetic to Palestinians than to Israelis. But, perhaps more importantly, there was also a poll, showing that 44 percent of Dems who had an opinion said that they thought Israel was a state with segregation similar to apartheid. There are Jewish Americans who are calling for conditioning aid to Israel based on human rights violations. A quarter of Jewish Americans said that they think Israel is an apartheid state.

This issue is moving fast, and it’s always the case that the government is the last to catch up, right? Congress moves last. They lag behind where voters are. And I think what we’re seeing here is that — with this resolution, with the reaction to the Herzog speech, with the Biden administration’s reaction — is that there are progressives in Congress who are reflecting the increasingly mainstream view that we need to shift and change our policies toward the Israeli government.

And then there is the traditional wisdom of D.C, which is that, no matter what, when asked, just say you support Israel, no questions asked. And it’s just going to be a matter of time before Dems have realized that they actually have to catch up on this.

And the last thing I’ll say is that, there’s one line in there that she said, which is — you heard it on the House floor repeatedly, you heard it when Herzog came, you hear it constantly — which is that our bond with Israel, it’s a special relationship, and that our bond is unshakeable. And I just want to point to something that I think is pretty obvious outside of D.C., which is that: that should not be the case. There should not be unshakable bonds between governments. The bond should be shakable.

If a government is violating human rights, if they are violating international law, if they’re doing bad things, then our bonds should be shook. That needs to happen. We should not have unwavering military support to any government anywhere. We should always be conditioning our support based on how that government acts and what it does.

RG: And, hypothetically, to put it in terms that Washington would understand, for instance, if the Israeli government decided that it was in its interest to start arming Russia in its invasion of Ukraine — not saying that they’re doing that, but let’s say that they did do that — you’d be stuck with this weird House resolution saying that the United States supports Israel always, and forever will.

BM: Always and forever will, this special, special relationship. You know, it’s just not the way that foreign policy should be run. And the Biden administration ran their campaign claiming that they were going to put human rights back in the center of U.S. foreign policy. I mean, there’s an argument that it was never at the center of U.S. foreign policy, but that’s what the Biden administration claimed it wanted to do. And to then turn around and say that there is unconditional, unwavering, unshakeable, ironclad — the list of synonyms goes on — support for any government anywhere is absurd, and is directly in contradiction to the idea that we center for, yeah, human rights

RG: And to your point about public opinion, there was an interesting development on this on Twitter this week, so you may have seen this.

So, Time Magazine posted to its Twitter account an article making the point that you made it, and they described it like this: they said, quote, “Polls this year have shown that the gap between the American public and those elected to represent them is widening when it comes to U.S. policy on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, particularly among Democrats.”

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, then quote-tweeted that article, and said, quote, “A broad consensus of UN experts, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and Israeli human rights organizations have all formally recognized Israel’s treatment of Palestinians as apartheid. The American people across faiths and communities see it, too. It’s time for Congress to stop burying its head in the sand,” unquote. And that’s after she was one of the nine members of Congress who voted against this resolution.

Nikki Haley then responded by saying, “We’re taking names,” listing the members of Congress who voted for it, saying, “These nine members of Congress believe Israel is racist. We will remember this vote.” And just so people know who they are: AOC, Rashida Tlaib, Jamal Bowman, Summer Lee, Ilhan Omar, Cori Bush, Andre Carson, who’s a Muslim-American Congressman from Indiana, Delia Ramirez, a new member from Chicago, and Ayanna Pressley. AOC responded, “Ooh, a list. Remember to call it, ‘people in Congress who think apartheid is wrong.’”

So, what was your reaction as somebody who’s been in this field for so long seeing this debate playing out in public in this way?

BM: Yes. It’s funny, AOC has this ability on social media to just really summarize things up pretty quickly. That was my reaction, too, honestly, when I saw Nikki Haley’s tweet the other day was, yeah, I’m also keeping a list of the members of Congress who are doing the right thing. We, as the Palestinian Rights Movement, are pushing our members of Congress — and not beyond the Palestinian Rights Movement, the broader progressive movement — but beyond that, the increasingly mainstream opinion of Democrats, including Jewish Americans, is also taking a list and taking note who in Congress is on the right side of history right now? Who is willing to say the most obvious thing? Which is that racism and apartheid are bad, and no, we will not offer it unconditional support.

And the other thing that, to see this playing out is that, one thing that often, sometimes I should say, gets overlooked in this conversation is the role of Christian evangelical Zionists in this conversation in the U.S., and their support for the Israeli government. And, just to note the absurdity of Nikki Haley going at AOC like this is that Nikki Haley launched her presidential campaign alongside Pastor John Hagee, who once said, “God sent Hitler to get the Jews to Israel,” who is famously antisemitic, Islamophobic, homophobic, horrible person, who is an end-times pastor who only supports Israel because he wants the Jews to be in the Holy Land so that the end times will come, and Jews will be sent to hell. Like, that’s who she’s sidling up with in her then-attacks on progressives who are standing up for basic human rights, basic human rights, and standing up against racism and apartheid. And I think that history is going to validate the positions of people like AOC and everyone else you just named, who voted no on this resolution.

RG: And I think that’s an interesting point, because some of the members of Congress that I talked to this week, the Democrats in the House, they made the point that there is rampant antisemitism on the right, and one of the things they pointed to was Nick Fuentes, kind of a proud, white supremacist who was recently, practically, what, celebrating the Holocaust at an event, a fairly mainstream Republican event.

And I feel like, just like we say on the left, that it’s OK to criticize the government of Israel without that being antisemitic, there’s a reverse of that, that the Republicans don’t seem to have absorbed, which is that supporting the state of Israel does not mean that you are not antisemitic. And I feel like some republicans are so aggressively and unquestionably supportive of the state of Israel that they think it gives them license to then sit there at a Nick Fuentes speech, or Reverend Hagee, or the things that Donald Trump, says just the explicitly antisemitic things that Donald Trump says consistently, and that don’t even get a tweet condemnation, let alone a vote on the House floor.

And I’m wondering if that the entire debate around Israel, both sides of that, has only served to exacerbate antisemitism, in the sense that, I feel like, for some people on the left, they’re so sick and tired of having criticism of Israel conflated with antisemitism that some of them have stopped recognizing that there is still very profound antisemitism that’s out there. And they’ll kind of dismiss it in ways, because they’ll say, “Well, every allegation of antisemitism is fake, and just cover for defense of Israel.”

And, on the other side, you have Republicans who just feel like their mask is off, and they can just be completely antisemitic because they can point to their support of Israel and say, “I’m better than Rashida Tlaib, who I have deemed an antisemite.”

You’re much closer to this debate, though, and so I’m curious if you think that there’s some truth to that or if I’m reading too much into it.

BM: I think the piece that’s really important here is the danger of conflating Jewish people with Israel. And I think that that is the result — this piece you’re talking about, which I think is absolutely correct, which is that there are people on the far-right who think that, if they support Israel, then either they aren’t antisemitic or, probably for many of them, that they can just get away with their antisemitism by supporting Israel. That is rampant in the GOP right now, and I think that Trump is the perfect example of this.

He is someone who has blatantly said very antisemitic things, but then he turns around and says, well, I’ve done more for Israel than any other government. And he even once said, like, but the Jews don’t appreciate me enough for it, it’s the evangelicals who really have my back.

RG: Yeah, I remember that.

BM: This is the result of decades of intentional conflation of Israel with the Jewish people. And when you hear this idea that I, again, I, myself, as a Jewish person, have been called antisemitic for speaking about the basic humanity of Palestinian people. And what this serves to do is pit our communities against one another, right? The idea at the core of what the Israeli government is saying, of what groups like AIPAC and DMFI are saying, is that Jewish people can’t be safe at the same time as Palestinian people are, right? That our safeties are at odds with one another, which is simply not true.

But I think that you name this thing, which is that, yeah, in many ways, this does, it makes the fight against real antisemitism harder when there is this conflation also happening, because there is very real, dangerous, violent antisemitism that exists in this world that we need to be focused on. And when it’s being excused because people in the same political party are saying that they love Israel, so how could they be antisemitic, it’s putting all of us at greater risk.

RG: You mentioned DMFI, and I wanted to get your take on a story I wrote this week, not sure if you saw it. It’s a kind of a look at a candidate in Houston.

BM: Yes, I just saw that.

RG: OK, yeah. So, for people who haven’t seen this, go check that article out, it’s at His name is Pervez Agwan, and he’s running in a primary in Houston against an incumbent Democrat who’s a strong supporter of the kind of AIPAC line toward Israel. Her name’s Lizzie Fletcher, she was recently redistricted, and so now she only represents about a fifth of her former constituents, and roughly 75 percent of the district is non-white. A huge population of that is Pakistani, South Asian, a lot of Muslim residents. And Agwan is very aggressively looking to make the AIPAC support of her and her support of AIPAC kind of central to the race.

Now, normally that debate plays out in select news outlets, and under the radar of the actual campaign, which then gets fought out over the typical 30-second ads about what somebody is going to do for their district. He seems to want to be bringing this debate kind of front and center into this race.

I’m curious if you’ve seen that before, and what your sense is, as a political practitioner, of whether this could change people’s calculation about how the politics of this are. Or is the district too unique, that you’re not going to have a whole lot of places where this might work?

BM: It’s something that I think is just starting now after the last cycle, where we saw groups like AIPAC and its buddy organization, the Democratic Majority For Israel, dropping so much money, just millions and millions and millions of dollars in midterm primary elections to try to staunch any criticism of Israel.

I think we’re now seeing this more, but I haven’t seen it in quite this way yet, and I think it’s a very — I think it’s the strategy. I think this is what every progressive candidate should start thinking about doing. Because, the truth is, Democrats should be ashamed of taking money from AIPAC. That should be the position. It should be the same as getting money from the NRA.

AIPAC is a hawkish, racist, extremist group that pushes forward support for violent policies, and they have endorsed hundreds of insurrectionists, they’ve endorsed insurrectionists. I think that it should be a very obvious, clear thing that Democrats should not be accepting endorsements of AIPAC. And I think that the move of making AIPAC the pariah organization that it should always have been, is the correct one, because that is the accurate one. They are an extremist, racist organization, they just haven’t been treated that way in Washington because of how horrible Washington’s policy toward Israel and towards Palestinian rights has been.

But I think that any progressive who’s paying attention to, one, the situation on the ground in Palestine, and how horrifically violent the Israeli government is only becoming more and more every single year. Anyone who wants to follow their morals and their values, but also anyone who wants to catch the political winds and the direction that this party is going should be speaking out more for Palestinian rights, and actively going at and attacking groups like AIPAC that really do not represent the mainstream opinion of most Americans and of most American Jews.

RG: And I know I said that was the last question, but I actually had one about President Herzog’s speech this week. I was going to ask you about, there’s a moment in the speech where he goes in about the Iran nuclear deal. And, for people that haven’t been following this closely, the Israeli government and AIPAC really helped to undermine the Iran Nuclear Deal. Trump pulled out of it, Biden — I think, to his shame — was unable to get back into it.

And so, this goes to the question of how damaging all of these politics are, not just for Israel-Palestine, but potentially for the entire world as well. Because IAEA had been saying that the Iran deal was, in fact, inhibiting Iran’s nuclear program, that Iran was abiding by it, and that, now that we’re out of the deal, they’re moving much closer to the potential for some type of a of a breakout. And so, it was ironic to hear Herzog, whose government was significantly responsible for the deal falling apart, then complaining and warning that Iran was getting closer to a nuclear weapon.

President Isaac Herzog: Perhaps the greatest challenge Israel and the United States face at this time together is the Iranian nuclear program. Let there be no doubt, Iran does not strive to attain nuclear energy for peaceful purposes. Iran is building nuclear capabilities that pose a threat to the stability of the Middle East and beyond. Every country or region controlled or infiltrated by Iran has experienced utter havoc. We have seen this in Yemen, in Gaza, in Syria, in Lebanon, in Iraq. In fact, we have seen this in Iran itself, where the regime has lost its people and is suppressing them brutally.

Iran has spread hatred, terror and suffering throughout the Middle East and beyond, adding fuel to the disastrous fire and suffering in Ukraine. Iran is the only nation on the planet publicly calling, plotting, and developing means to annihilate another nation, and members of the family of nations, the State of Israel.

Israel has no border with Iran. Israel has no resources contested by Iran. Israel has no conflict with the Iranian people. And yet, the Iranian regime, together with its proxies throughout the Middle East, is aiming and working towards destroying the State of Israel, killing the Jews, and challenging the entire world.

RG: What was your response, both to that argument that he made around the Iran deal, but also in general to his address?

BM: I think that the piece on the Iran deal just reflects that the Israeli government’s policies have been incredibly hawkish. And, again, it goes back to what we were saying before, not in line with what so many Americans actually want, and want to see.

I think to the question of his broader address, it was Herzog who came here, not Netanyahu, because the hope was that he would be the one that everyone could agree we were OK with, right? The idea was, Netanyahu is too divisive, there’s issues with Netanyahu, there’s issues with his government, but Herzog, he’s the good one, and we can have him come, and he’ll be less divisive. And you can hear the way he’s trying to kind of placate, in his speech, right? Like, everything’s OK. We have democratic values, we still agree, we trust each other, everything’s fine.

But it didn’t work, right? The hope was that he would come, and that the narrative of the moment would be, the U.S. and Israel, everything’s great, we’re standing strong together. But, instead, the story of the week was, progressives are boycotting the speech because of Israel’s racist policies, and is Israel a racist state? That was basically the story of the week.

Israel kind of lost the PR moment of this week, and I think that it goes to show that this is not about individual political personalities. This is about the policies of the Israeli government, and the refusal of progressives to dismiss or ignore them. And that is only going to grow over time.

RG: And it was kind of an own-goal, because they could have just accepted Jayapal’s clarification and apology, and moved on. They and their supporters were the ones that insisted on making this a House floor vote, which yields speeches, which yields news coverage, which elevates the issue even higher. And, I don’t know, any time that you have to have somebody issue a resolution saying that you’re not racist, you’re probably losing.

BM: Exactly, exactly. You’re protesting just a little too much.

RG: Well, Beth, thanks so much for joining me. I really appreciate it.

BM: Thanks so much for having me on, Ryan. I really appreciate it as well.

[Deconstructed end-show theme music.]

RG: That was Beth Miller, and that’s our show.

Deconstructed is a production of The Intercept. Our producer is José Olivares. Our supervising producer is Laura Flynn. The show is mixed by William Stanton. This episode was transcribed by Leonardo Faierman. Our theme music was composed by Bart Warshaw. Roger Hodge is the Intercept’s Editor-in-Chief, and I’m Ryan Grimm, D.C. Bureau Chief of The Intercept.

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