Israeli President Isaac Herzog addresses a joint meeting of the U.S. Congress

Israeli President Isaac Herzog addresses a joint meeting of the U.S. Congress at the U.S. Capitol on July 19, 2023 in Washington, D.C.

(Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

'Israel Is an Apartheid State': Progressives Explain Decision to Boycott Israeli President's Speech

"It's contradictory to claim to support human rights when you're arming the oppressors with billions of dollars of bullets and bombs," said Reps. Rashida Tlaib and Cori Bush.

Two U.S. House progressives on Tuesday made clear that their decision to stand up against the violent apartheid policies of the Israeli government is not viewed as controversial by international human rights experts and that the facts are on their side, even as the vast majority of Democratic lawmakers joined Republicans in welcoming Israel's president to deliver a joint address to Congress.

Reps. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.), the first Palestinian-American to be elected to Congress, was joined by Rep. Cori Bush (D-Mo.) in explaining the position of several progressive lawmakers who boycotted President Isaac Herzog's speech on Wednesday.

"The facts are clear, and the international consensus is resounding—Israel is an apartheid state," said Tlaib and Bush. "To assert otherwise in the face of the colossal body of evidence and the consensus of the United Nations, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, B'Tselem—the largest human rights organization in Israel—and countless others is to deny this reality."

The lawmakers accused the majority of U.S. lawmakers of hypocrisy, citing the roughly $3 billion in military aid that the U.S. provides to Israel while U.S. President Joe Biden claims to condemn "extreme" members of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government.

"It's contradictory to claim to support human rights when you're arming the oppressors with billions of dollars of bullets and bombs," said Bush and Tlaib. "It is hypocritical to claim to be deeply concerned about attacks on Palestinian families, and then smile for a photo op with the president of the government enabling these human rights abuses and maintaining the status quo."

Herzog addressed Congress Wednesday morning, following numerous Israeli military raids on the West Bank refugee camp of Jenin, where dozens of Palestinians have been killed and wounded this year. At least 177 Palestinians have been killed by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) since the beginning of 2023, and the government has approved the construction of 13,000 illegal settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories.

Israel's finance minister, Bezalel Smotrich, called for the IDF to "wipe out" a town of more than 5,000 people in the West Bank earlier this year.

"This is the government that we are protesting," said Bush and Tlaib.

As Congress prepared to welcome Herzog on Tuesday, Tlaib and Bush were among nine progressive members who voted against a resolution pledging that the U.S. "will always be a staunch partner and supporter of Israel" and claiming that the country "is not a racist or apartheid state."

The resolution was passed days after Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), who chairs the Congressional Progressive Caucus, said at a conference that Israel is a "racist state."

"The Palestinian people deserve self-determination and autonomy," she told activists gathered at a Netroots Nation in Chicago on Saturday.

Following backlash from Republicans and leaders of her own party, including House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.), Jayapal walked back her remarks a day later while maintaining that Israel's "extreme right-wing government... has engaged in discriminatory and outright racist policies."

Such displays of disapproval from Democratic leaders amount to bipartisanship being "used as a justification for apartheid," said Bush and Tlaib.

"It's important to remember that South Africa's apartheid government also had bipartisan support in the U.S. Congress," said the lawmakers. "It is shameful to deliberately ignore—and even normalize—this racist and oppressive system of apartheid by welcoming President Herzog or any member of the Israeli government to address Congress. In solidarity with the Palestinian people and all those who have been harmed by the Israeli apartheid government and their policies, we will be boycotting President Herzog's joint address to Congress."

Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), and Jamaal Bowman (D-N.Y.) also boycotted Herzog's address, and were among the nine lawmakers who voted against Tuesday's resolution.

Jewish Voice for Peace Action noted ahead of the Israeli president's appearance that the progressive members' positions "are popular" outside of Capitol Hill.

A Gallup poll released earlier this year found for the first time that Democratic voters sympathize more with Palestinians than with the Israeli government, by a margin of 49% to 38%. More than 31% of American adults said they were sympathetic toward Palestinians' right to self-determination compared to just 12% a decade ago.

"When violence occurs at the hand of the state against marginalized communities anywhere, we speak up," said Bush and Tlaib. "We do not look the other way. Racism and oppression must not be tolerated in America or anywhere else in the world. We urge all members of Congress who stand for human rights for all to join us in boycotting apartheid."

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