Skip to main content

Democrat Jayapal apologises for calling Israel 'racist state'

US Representative withdraws comments made to pro-Palestine protesters after criticism from party colleagues
US Representative Pramila Jayapal speaks during a news conference at the US Capitol on 24 May 2023 in Washington DC (AFP)
US Representative Pramila Jayapal speaks during a news conference at the US Capitol on 24 May 2023 in Washington DC (AFP)

US Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal apologised on Sunday after calling Israel a "racist state", which earlier sparked a backlash amongst party colleagues. 

The Democratic rpresentative made the initial comment a day earlier at the Netroots Nation progressive conference in Chicago, which had been interrupted by pro-Palestine protesters. 

"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," she told the demonstrators.

"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," she added.

The comments were criticised by a number of Democrats, and were later withdrawn by Jayapal. 

Stay informed with MEE's newsletters

Sign up to get the latest alerts, insights and analysis, starting with Turkey Unpacked


"Words do matter and so it is important that I clarify my statement. I do not believe the idea of Israel as a nation is racist," she said on Sunday.

'I do however believe that Netanyahu’s extreme right-wing government has engaged in discriminatory and outright racist policies'

- Pramila Jayapal

"I do, however, believe that [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."

Jayapal added in her apology that she was responding to "deep pain and hopelessness" amongst Palestinian communities, but did not intend to deny the "hurt of Israelis and their Jewish diaspora community", citing the Holocaust, antisemitism and hate crimes. 

House minority leader Hakeem Jeffries, whip Katherine Clark, and caucus chair Pete Aguilar had earlier on Sunday put out a statement saying: "Israel is not a racist state". 

They said that while they "strongly disagree" with the current Israeli government, the "special relationship" between the US and Israel would "endure".

Lawmakers boycott Herzog speech

A group of Jewish House Democrats also circulated a letter criticising Jayapal, Axios reported

"Israel is the legitimate homeland of the Jewish people and efforts to delegitimise and demonise it are not only dangerous and antisemitic, but they also undermine America’s national security," they said.

Human rights groups, including B'tselem, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have in recent years - following similar statements by Israeli and Palestinian activists - determined the situation in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories amounts to apartheid. 

‘No way in hell’: Ilhan Omar to skip Israeli president speech to Congress
Read More »

Last year, Michael Lynk, the UN's special rapporteur for human rights in the occupied Palestinian territories, who reports to the Human Rights Council, said in a report that the treatment of Palestinians "satisfies the prevailing evidentiary standard for the existence of apartheid".

The fallout over Jayapal's comments comes after a number of progressive US lawmakers announced they would boycott Israeli President Isaac Herzog's address to a joint session of Congress this week. 

Jamal Bowman, Alexandria Ocasio Cortez and Cori Bush all said they would not be attending, after Congresswoman Ilhan Omar announced there would be "no way in hell" she would be in attendance.

Jayapal told CNN that she didn't think she would attend the speech, but hadn't "fully decided". 

"I think this is not a good time for that to happen," she said.

Palestinians have witnessed heightened violence this year from Israeli forces and settler groups, with over 170 Palestinians killed.

Earlier this month, Israel launched a military raid on the Jenin refugee camp in the occupied West Bank, killing 12 Palestinians and wounding more than 100 others. 

Middle East Eye delivers independent and unrivalled coverage and analysis of the Middle East, North Africa and beyond. To learn more about republishing this content and the associated fees, please fill out this form. More about MEE can be found here.