In a heated exchange during a closed-door Democratic caucus meeting on Wednesday, Rep. Josh Gottheimer, D-N.J., allegedly made an off-color remark to another member during a broader discussion on Muslim clerics attending Jewish events that “stunned” his colleagues, according to three sources with knowledge of the meeting.
The latest dustup speaks to a growing rift between Democrats on Israel and Palestine and the party’s long-standing reluctance to criticize human rights abuses by the Israeli government.
According to two Democrats familiar with the meeting, Gottheimer got into tense arguments with several of his colleagues.
In Wednesday’s caucus meeting, according to two sources, a member discussed wanting both Jewish and Muslim constituents to feel comfortable attending events to support each other, and that they had heard Muslim clerics did not attend a vigil on Tuesday night in their district.
Sitting in the back of the room and speaking to another attendee, Gottheimer made a remark. Some present thought he was responding to comments from the front of the room and saying Muslim clerics felt guilty. Gottheimer’s comment left many in the room stunned, according to a member in the room.
“Comments like these endanger the entire American Muslim community.”
According to two sources with knowledge of the meeting, Gottheimer was heard saying, “It’s because they’re guilty.” A Democrat in the room said that, after making his remark, Gottheimer could be seen having an animated discussion about it with Rep. Greg Casar, D-Texas.
“Despite an anti-Israel fueled smear campaign, Congressman Gottheimer never said anything about Muslims in today’s caucus meeting, a community he cares deeply about,” said Gottheimer’s spokesperson Chris D’Aloia. “Congressman Gottheimer said that the Members of Congress who have not yet condemned Hamas terrorists should feel guilty.”
Progressive advocates called for action. “I urge Democratic leadership to take action against Congressman Gottheimer, whose comments will only serve to embolden violent Islamophobes and extremists around the country who already have a history of sending death threats to Muslim members of Congress,” said Usamah Andrabi, the head of communications at Justice Democrats. “Comments like these endanger the entire American Muslim community.”
D’Aloia, the spokesperson, said Gottheimer does not blame Palestinians for the crimes of Hamas. “Congressman Gottheimer is furious and deeply disappointed with Members of Congress who have yet to condemn Hamas terrorists,” D’Aloia said. “Congressman Gottheimer said that those Members who have not condemned Hamas terrorists should indeed feel guilty. Of course, Congressman Gottheimer doesn’t blame innocent Palestinian civilians — he blames the terrorists.”
Democratic leaders remained quiet after Gottheimer attacked Reps. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., and Cori Bush, D-Mo., over the weekend following statements they made mourning the loss of Israeli and Palestinian lives and calling for an end to violence and Israeli apartheid. Gottheimer, a staunchly pro-Israel Democrat with close ties to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, said he was “sickened” by statements from Tlaib and Bush over the weekend.
Update: October 11, 2023, 8:15 p.m. ET
This story has been updated to include what sources with knowledge of the meeting heard Rep. Josh Gottheimer say and a Democrat in the room’s observation that, after his remark, Gottheimer had an animated discussion about it with Rep. Greg Casar. In addition, this story has been updated to include a statement made by Gottheimer’s spokesperson after publication.