A group of Democratic House members who are Jewish are calling on President Joe Biden to address a rise in anti-Semitic incidents in the US amid a divide within congressional Democrats, especially between moderate and progressives, on how to address the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Four Democrats, led by Rep. Josh Gottheimer of New Jersey, sent a letter to Biden on Tuesday asking him to lead a “united, all-of-government effort to combat rising antisemitism in this country.”
The letter offered up several examples of what they consider to be potentially harmful rhetoric coming from the halls of Congress on both sides of the aisle that they believe need to be addressed.
The letter comes after Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, a conservative from Georgia, has been criticized by both Republicans and Democrats for her comments comparing House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s decision to continue to require members of the House to wear masks on the chamber floor to Germany during World War II and the treatment of Jewish people by Nazis. While Greene is not directly mentioned by name in the letter, the lawmakers call her conduct “blatantly antisemitic.”
But Greene is not the only member of Congress referenced in the letter — the four Democrats make a passing reference to rhetoric used on Twitter by progressive Democrats who have accused the Israeli government of taking too heavy of a hand in the conflict with Palestinians.
“We also reject comments from Members of Congress accusing Israel of being an ‘apartheid state’ and committing ‘act[s] of terrorism.’ These statements are antisemitic at their core and contribute to a climate that is hostile to many Jews,” the letter read.
The critique echoed the language used by Republicans — who while condemning Greene also called out progressive Democrats like Reps. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota and Cori Bush of Missouri who have used the term “apartheid state” and accused Israel of committing acts of terrorism against Palestinians.
It’s worth noting the United States-based advocacy group Human Rights Watch has accused the Israeli government of committing crimes of apartheid and persecution against Palestinians in a report published last month. The report stated the term apartheid has generally been used in a “descriptive or comparative” sense in relation to Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories, and as a warning of what might happen if current trajectories with regard to Palestinians continue. Israel’s Foreign Ministry described HRW’s findings as “fiction” and said the claims were “preposterous and false.”
Meanwhile, while rejecting Greene’s comments, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy accused Pelosi of not doing enough to call out her members for their language in a statement earlier this week.
“At a time when the Jewish people face increased violence and threats, anti-Semitism is on the rise in the Democrat Party and is completely ignored by Speaker Nancy Pelosi,” McCarthy said. “Americans must stand together to defeat anti-Semitism and any attempt to diminish the history of the Holocaust.”
A spokesperson for Pelosi told CNN that in the past Pelosi has made it clear that she does not agree with the use of the term “apartheid state” and does not believe the Israeli government has committed acts of terrorism.
But while Republicans have attempted to deflect the criticism of Greene by bringing up the language of some progressive Democrats, those members of Congress argue that they are offering a substantive, policy based, critique of the Israeli government — not attacking an entire religion or downplaying the plight or history of the Jewish people.
After the letter was sent to Biden, CNN reached out to Omar’s office for a request for comment. Her spokesperson told CNN in a statement the same thing she tweeted from her official Twitter account minutes later — her support of the Jewish community but made it clear that she would not back down in her criticism of the Israeli government.
“The rise in antisemitic attacks at home and abroad is appalling. We must be clear and unequivocal: antisemitism is unacceptable and has no place in any movement. Fighting bigotry of any kind means fighting bigotry of every kind,” Omar tweeted. “And it also means we cannot equate legitimate criticism of the Israeli government, its policy, and its military occupation with antisemitism. Connecting the actions of a foreign country’s government and military with an entire faith does nothing to keep the Jewish people safer.”
Bush did not immediately respond to CNN’s request for comment, but the congresswoman did condemn anti-Semitism in a recent tweet.
“The work of dismantling antisemitism, anti-Blackness, Islamophobia, anti-Palestinian racism, and every other form of hate is OUR work. We will ONLY achieve collective liberation by leading with radical love. There is no room for hate of any kind in our movements for justice.”
Meanwhile, the White House is responding by attempting to bring groups together to find common ground. A group of Biden administration officials will be meeting with Jewish advocacy groups and stakeholders Wednesday evening, a White House official told CNN. The official declined to provide details on participants but added that the White House has been in “close and ongoing contact” with the Jewish community amid a rising tide of anti-Semitic incidents.
All four of the letter’s signatories, including Gottheimer and Reps. Elaine Luria of Virginia, Kathy Manning of North Carolina and Dean Phillips of Minnesota, are Jewish. They make it clear that they believe the issues related to anti-Semitism are not reserved to one political party.
“That is why we need a united, bipartisan, national-level commitment to confront and address the threat of antisemitism head-on. Antisemitism is wrong, and it deserves to be unequivocally condemned by all,” they wrote in the letter.