House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) defended Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday against accusations from within the Democratic party that the Israeli government, under Netanyahu’s leadership, is racist.
“I don’t think he’s a racist. Period. No,” Hoyer told the Jerusalem Post when asked directly what he thought of the characterization.
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), a top candidate for the Democratic nomination for president and an outspoken critic of Israel has labeled Netanyahu and his administration as racist on multiple occasions.
“The goal must be to try to bring people together and not just support one country, which is not run by a right-wing, dare I say, racist government,” Sanders said during a CNN event in April. He added at the time that while he was “100 percent pro-Israel,” Netanyahu is also “treating the Palestinian people extremely unfairly.”
Tzachi Hanegbi, a senior member of Netanyahu’s Likud party, immediately issued a statement condemning Sanders’ accusation and slamming the idea that conservatism is discrediting.
“The Israeli government is not a racist government, nor does it include a single racist minister,” Hanegbi said. “To be right wing is not illegitimate and it is odd that the Democratic Party allows one of its senior members to not respect the democratic choice of the State of Israel.”
Sanders, however, doubled down months later while explaining that as president, he “absolutely” would use American aid as leverage over the state of Israel.
“In recent years under Netanyahu, you have an extreme right-wing government with many racist tendencies,” Sanders said on the “Pod Save America” podcast in July.
The “racist” accusation was later echoed by Sanders’ Democratic challenger former Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-TX), who was a rank-and-file member under Hoyer’s leadership until 2018.
“The U.S.-Israel relationship is one of the most important relationships that we have on the planet,” O’Rourke said while campaigning in April. “That relationship, if it is to be successful, must transcend partisanship in the United States, and it must be able to transcend a prime minister who is racist.”
The Democratic Party has been embroiled in allegations of anti-Semitism and anti-Israel sentiments, especially since a host of far left lawmakers were elected to Congress during the 2018 midterms.
Freshman Reps. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) and Rashida Tlaib (D-MI), America’s first Muslim congresswomen, have notably advocated for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, which seeks to punish the Jewish state of Israel by politically and economically depriving the country. BDS has been linked to terrorist organizations such as Hamas and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP).
Both congresswomen have also touted their relationships with Palestinian activists who are closely tied to multiple Islamic terror organizations.
Omar received widespread criticism for promoting ages-old anti-Semitic canards such as that Jews’ support of Israel is purchased and that they have dual loyalty to the U.S. and Israel.
Hoyer, who is not Jewish and does not represent a majority Jewish district, has been an outspoken defender of the American-Israeli alliance, even going so far as to take aim at the Minnesota congresswoman.
“I stand with Israel, proudly and unapologetically. So, when someone accuses American supporters of Israel of dual loyalty, I say: accuse me,” Hoyer said while addressing the American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s (AIPAC) 2019 conference. “I am part of a large, bipartisan coalition in Congress supporting Israel. I tell Israel’s detractors: accuse us. And millions of Americans, regardless of race or faith or partisan label, stand with Israel because they understand why our relationship with Israel is so important. Accuse us all!”
Hoyer has faced massive backlash for his fiery speech from the progressive-wing of his base, who referred to his remarks as “shameful” and “unhinged.” He subsequently issued an apology.
However, the Maryland congressman told the Jerusalem Post on Thursday that he is not concerned that the growing number of anti-Israel members in his caucus will paint all Democrats as anti-Israel.
“I am not worried because I know that the Democratic Party has been one of Israel’s strongest supporters throughout its history,” Hoyer said. “And continues to be so.”
He also contended that Omar and Tlaib, along with Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), who also supports the BDS movement and has been embroiled in her own allegations of anti-Semitism, have only gotten so much attention “because the press likes controversy.” He pointed out that they are only three representatives in the House out of 239 Democrats.