WASHINGTON — All 25 Jewish Democrats in the House, a fractious caucus that rarely unanimously agrees on issues of Jewish interest, signed onto a statement slamming recent comments by Amnesty International’s US director, who said he believes polls showing overwhelming US Jewish support for Israel are inaccurate, and takes no position on whether Israel is “legitimate.”
“As Jewish Members of the House of Representatives, we represent diverse views on a number of issues relating to Israel. However, we are in full agreement that Mr. [Paul] O’Brien’s patronizing attempt to speak on behalf of the American Jewish community is alarming and deeply offensive,” the statement released on Monday, March 14, reads.
Last week, in an address first reported by Jewish Insider, Paul O’Brien defended Amnesty’s recent report designating Israel as an “apartheid” state. Someone at the event, at the Women’s National Democratic Club in Washington DC asked him about a 2020 Ruderman Family Foundation poll that showed eight in 10 American Jews identify as “pro-Israel.”
The poll is commensurate with findings of multiple polls over the years.
“I believe my gut tells me that what Jewish people in this country want is to know that there’s a sanctuary that is a safe and sustainable place that the Jews, the Jewish people can call home,” he said, a status short of a Jewish state, which O’Brien had said in the same address Amnesty rejected.
“We are opposed to the idea — and this, I think, is an existential part of the debate — that Israel should be preserved as a state for the Jewish people,” O’Brien had said earlier in his comments.
O’Brien tweeted March 11 that his remarks were removed from context, although he did not dispute the contents of the quote. “I did not and Amnesty takes no position on the legitimacy of any state,” he said.
Such unanimity is rare among Jewish Democrats, especially on issues of Jewish import.
For example, Reps. Elaine Luria of Virginia and Dean Phillips of Minnesota have condemned comments by fellow Democrat, Ilhan Omar, as anti-Semitic, while Rep. Jan Schakowsky of Illinois has joined with Omar to combat anti-Semitism.
Luria and Rep. Josh Gottheimer last week spearheaded a letter saying they would likely oppose any bid by the Biden administration to reenter the Iran nuclear deal, while Reps. John Yarmuth of Kentucky and Alan Lowenthal of California have decried former President Donald Trump’s withdrawal from the deal as catastrophic.
Jewish staffers on Capitol Hill who watched as the Amnesty statement accrued the names of every Jewish member told JTA said they were amazed to see the members overcome differences large and small.
The only Jewish members of the House missing from the statement were its two Republicans, David Kustoff of Tennessee and Lee Zeldin of New York. Spokesmen for each said they were not approached to sign it.
A Democratic staffer involved in shaping the statement said the feeling was that each side should take care of offenses on its own side, and statements by a liberal group like Amnesty International would be on the Democratic side of the ledger.