Jul 18, 2023 - Politics & Policy

Republicans “salivating” over Democrats’ Israel drama

House Speaker Kevin McCarthy. Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images.

Recent anti-Israel comments and plans by progressive lawmakers are putting House Democrats on the defensive.

Why it matters: Even as Democrats largely affirm their support for Israel, Republicans are eager to capitalize politically.

Driving the news: Congressional Progressive Caucus Chair Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) told a group of anti-Israel protesters on Saturday that she is "fighting to make it clear that Israel is a racist state."

  • Several progressives also plan to boycott Israeli President Isaac Herzog's speech to Congress on Wednesday.

What we're hearing: “We’re salivating about the possibilities that tomorrow will hold," a Republican strategist working on House races told Axios, referring to progressives' boycott plans.

  • House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) has been arguing Democrats have an antisemitism problem and should try to oust Jayapal as Progressive Caucus chair, an argument he repeated in a GOP conference meeting Tuesday, according to a source familiar with his remarks.

Yes, but: Republicans are also plowing ahead with plans to have Robert Kennedy Jr. testify at a committee hearing on censorship despite a video surfacing of him suggesting COVID was "ethnically targeted" to spare Ashkenazi Jews and Chinese people.

  • 100 House Democrats signed onto a letter calling for McCarthy and House Judiciary Committee Chair Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) to uninvite Kennedy.

Behind the scenes: Jayapal has been reaching out to Jewish colleagues about her comments.

  • "I have corresponded with her, and she's seeking visits with many members," one Jewish member told Axios.
  • Rep. Elissa Slotkin (D-Mich.) said Jayapal "called and reached out" to her and "apologized." The National Republican Senatorial Committee reacted with an email blast saying: "Slotkin caves to the left."

What they're saying: Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.), a Jewish member of the Progressive Caucus, told Axios “it is absolutely wrong to say Israel is a racist state."

  • "We don’t help the progressive forces in Israel by falsely casting the whole society in this absurd negative light," he said.
  • Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), another Jewish progressive, said denying Israel's right to exist, versus criticizing its government, is "beyond the pale."

The other side: "Whenever we see these episodes, these dust ups ... I don't think it should be lost on anyone that they are always targeting a woman of color," Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) told Axios.

  • "This is about power," she added. And there's a deep cynical weaponization of a very real crisis of antisemitism."

What's next: The House plans to vote Tuesday on a resolution declaring Israel is not a "racist or apartheid state" and denouncing antisemitism.

  • Rep. Annie Kuster (D-N.H.), the chair of the center-left New Democrat Coalition, told Axios: "If Republicans are trying to plan a 'gotcha' moment, I think they'll find strong bipartisan support for it."
  • Nadler, who said he supports the resolution, predicted the opposition to it will be confined to "maybe a couple of people."
  • Ocasio-Cortez said she will "probably be voting 'no' on it" because of its language on apartheid, but said she still needs to review the text.

Go deeper