Washington (Reuters) – Representative Pramila Jayapal, who heads a large group of progressive Democrats in the U.S. Congress, on Sunday apologized for calling Israel a racist state as Democratic leaders in the House of Representatives pushed back against her initial declaration.
“I do not believe the idea of Israel as a nation is racist,” Jayapal said in a statement.
“I do, however, believe that (Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin) Netanyahu’s extreme right-wing government has engaged in discriminatory and outright racist policies and that there are extreme racists driving that policy within the leadership of the current government,” she added.
On Saturday, Jayapal made her initial remarks – labeling Israel a “racist state” – at a conference held in Chicago where pro-Palestine protesters were interrupting a panel discussion, according to media reports.
In a separate statement on Sunday, House Democratic Leader Hakeem Jeffries and three of his top leadership aides said that “Israel is not a racist state,” in an apparent rebuke to Jayapal. They added, “There are individual members of the current Israeli governing coalition with whom we strongly disagree,” just as they often disagree with U.S. House Republican lawmakers.
The Jeffries statement did not specifically mention Jayapal.
The controversy surfaced as the U.S. House and Senate have invited Israeli President Isaac Herzog to address a joint meeting of Congress on Wednesday, one day after his visit with President Joe Biden. Some members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus have signaled that they might not attend the event.
Jayapal said that she has long supported a two-state solution for Israel and Palestinians, but pointed out her opposition to Israel’s continued expansion of settlements in disputed areas.
“I in no way intended to deny the deep pain and hurt of Israelis and their Jewish Diaspora community that still reels from the trauma of pogroms and persecution, the Holocaust, and continuing anti-Semitism and hate violence that is rampant today,” Jayapal added