Democratic Rep. Pramila Jayapal, chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, called Israel a “racist state” on Saturday while addressing pro-Palestine protesters who interrupted a panel discussion at the Netroots Nation conference in Chicago.
“As somebody who’s been in the streets and participated in a lot of demonstrations, I want you to know that we have been fighting to make it clear that Israel is a racist state, that the Palestinian people deserve self-determination and autonomy, that the dream of a two-state solution is slipping away from us, that it does not even feel possible,” the Washington state Democrat said, while protesters chanted, “Free Palestine.”
House progressives have been vocal about their opposition to Israeli settlements in the West Bank and the US sponsorship of Israel’s Iron Dome defense system, with several lawmakers saying they will skip Israeli President Isaac Herzog’s address to a joint meeting of Congress later this week, citing concerns about human rights.
On Saturday, Jayapal rose to address the pro-Palestine protesters after they had been yelling “Israel is a racist state” during remarks from Rep. Jan Schakowsky, interrupting a panel discussion Jayapal was participating in with Schakowsky and Rep. Jesús “Chuy” García, both members of the Progressive Caucus from Illinois.
“While you may have arguments with whether or not some of us onstage are fighting hard enough, I do want you to know that there’s an organized opposition on the other side, and it isn’t the people that are on this stage,” Jayapal said, referring to the other Democratic legislators at the event.
Jayapal thanked the protesters for making their voices heard and said the lawmakers would be happy to meet with them and work with them “on that organized opposition that is not on this stage,” before urging them to let the panel conversation about how “to build the progressive movement in this country” continue.
CNN has reached out to Jayapal’s office for comment.
The congresswoman said Friday she doesn’t believe she will attend Herzog’s speech Wednesday on Capitol Hill. “I don’t think I am. I haven’t fully decided.”
“I think this is not a good time for that to happen,” Jayapal told CNN’s Manu Raju when asked if Speaker Kevin McCarthy had made a mistake in inviting Herzog.
Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, Jamaal Bowman of New York and Cori Bush of Missouri have all said they will not attend.
Democratic leadership has been supportive of Herzog’s visit, with then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York extending the invitation last year. “I look forward to welcoming him with open arms,” House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, a New York Democrat, said at a news conference last week, calling Herzog “a force for good in Israeli society.”
Herzog will visit the White House on Tuesday. “As Israel celebrates its 75th anniversary, the visit will highlight our enduring partnership and friendship. President (Joe) Biden will reaffirm the ironclad commitment of the United States to Israel’s security,” the White House said in a statement.
“President Biden will stress the importance of our shared democratic values, and discuss ways to advance equal measures of freedom, prosperity, and security for Palestinians and Israelis,” the statement continued.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has not been invited to Washington by the Biden administration since taking office again in December last year, amid a raft of policy differences between the two governments.