"Just factually wrong": Jewish Dem calls out GOP resolution declaring "anti-Zionism is antisemitism"

More than 100 Democrats declined to support the GOP resolution

By Tatyana Tandanpolie

Staff Writer

Published December 6, 2023 12:38PM (EST)

Congressman Jerry Nadler  (Rob Kim/Getty Images for The Recording Academy)
Congressman Jerry Nadler (Rob Kim/Getty Images for The Recording Academy)

More than 100 House Democrats on Tuesday declined to vote for a resolution condemning antisemitism over language that equates it with anti-Zionism.

The final vote was 311-14, with 13 Democrats and one Republican voting against the resolution and 92 Democrats voting "present" on it, amounting to 105 Democrats ultimately deciding not to support it, Business Insider reports

Ahead of the vote this week, progressive and Jewish groups condemned the resolution, which draws on the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance's controversial working definition of antisemitism.

On Monday, Democratic Rep. Jerry Nadler, N.Y., the senior Jewish member of the chamber, spoke out against the resolution in a floor speech. He later encouraged his colleagues to vote "present."

"The resolution… states that all anti-Zionism is antisemitism," Nadler said. "That's either intellectually disingenuous or just factually wrong."

While many view anti-Zionism as a form of antisemitism, they are two distinct ideologies. Antisemitism refers to both historical and contemporary prejudice and discrimination against Jewish people, while anti-Zionism is opposition to the state of Israel's existence. 

The Anti-Defamation League, a Jewish civil rights organization that is staunchly pro-Israel, argues that anti-Zionism is antisemitic because it "renders Jews less worthy of sovereignty and nationhood than other peoples and states."

Nadler, however, noted that many of his former constituents in Brooklyn, including Orthodox Jewish communities, have long held anti-Zionist views, believing that the modern, secular state of Israel butts up against religious prophesies about the return of Jews to the Land of Israel.

"While most anti-Zionism is indeed antisemitic, the authors, if they were at all familiar with Jewish history and culture, should know about Jewish anti-Zionism that was, and is, expressly NOT antisemitic," Nadler said, according to a transcript of his floor speech. "This resolution ignores the fact that even today, certain orthodox Hasidic Jewish communities—the Satmars in New York and others—as well as adherents of the pre-state Jewish labor movement have held views that are at odds with the modern Zionist conception."

These ultra-orthodox Hasidic Jews believe that only the messiah can bring about the true Israel, Nadler added, citing the Jewish Encyclopedia and emphasizing that the Satmars are not antisemitic. 

"I should also note that there are those who try to smear even progressive pro-Israel supporters with the inappropriate label of 'Israel hater' or 'anti-Zionist,'" Nadler said. "Under this resolution, those who love Israel deeply but criticize some of its policy approaches could be considered anti-Zionist. That could make every Democratic Jewish member of this body—because they all criticized the recent Israeli judicial reform package—de facto antisemites. Might that be the authors’ intention?"

Many progressive Jews, including the group Jewish Voice for Peace, also describe themselves as anti-Zionist.

"Again, let me be unequivocally clear: most anti-Zionism, particularly in this moment, has a real antisemitism problem," Nadler continued. "But we cannot fairly say that one equals the other."

Nadler on Monday introduced his own resolution on antisemitism, arguing that it better addresses the problem than the Republican-proposed resolution. Tuesday's resolution was sponsored by Rep. David Kustoff of Tennessee, one of two Jewish Republicans in the House of Representatives. 

Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Wis., a leading House progressive, told Business Insider earlier Tuesday that he was unsure how he would vote on the resolution and expressed frustration with the breadth of pro-Israel resolutions that have come to the floor in recent months.

"I have to admit, I'm kind of over the weekly stuff that they're putting out there that means nothing," Pocan said, adding he was unsure whether to "start doing 'present' votes on stupid things, or just vote 'no' on stupid things, or just say 'yes' because they're stupid things."

Last week, the House voted on a resolution affirming Israel's right to exist. Rep. Thomas Massie, R-Ky., voted against it and Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., voted "present."

Massie was also the only Republican member of Congress to vote against Tuesday's resolution before which he posted a Drake meme that prompted one White House spokesman to accuse him of "virulent antisemitism."

Ninety-five Democrats voted for the resolution anyway, including Ohio Rep. Greg Landsman, one of more than two dozen Jewish representatives.

"It is of course fine to criticize any government, including Israel's," Landsman told Business Insider. "But I do believe that denying Jews a state is antisemitic, so I plan to vote for the bill. There are misunderstandings about antisemitism and a lack of appreciation for its rise. I hope my explanation helps folks better navigate all of this."

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The 13 Democrats who voted against the resolution are Reps. Tlaib; Jamaal Bowman, N.Y.; Cori Bush, Mo.; Gerry Connolly, Va.; Jesús "Chuy" García, Ill.; Raul Grijalva, Ariz.; Pramila Jayapal, Wash.; Summer Lee, Pa.; Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, N.Y.; Ilhan Omar, Minn.; Ayanna Pressley, Mass.; Delia Ramirez, Ill.; and Bonnie Watson Coleman, N.J.

"This extreme and cynical Republican resolution does nothing to combat antisemitism, relies on a definition that conflates criticism of the Israeli government with antisemitism, paints critics of the Israeli government as antisemites, and falsely states that anti-Zionism is antisemitism," Omar said in a statement about her vote, per Common Dreams. "We must stand against any attempt to define legitimate criticism of this war and the government perpetrating it as antisemitism."

After the vote, Bowman said that, while he "strongly condemn[s] antisemitism and hate in all of its forms," he voted against Tuesday's resolution because "it fuels division and violence, conflates criticism of the Israeli government with antisemitism, and ignores one of the greatest threats to the Jewish community, white nationalism."

Rep. Bush echoed Nadler's remarks during his floor speech in a post to X, formerly Twitter, explaining her reasoning for voting against the resolution.

".@RepJerryNadler is right," she wrote. "H.Res.894 doesn’t protect our Jewish neighbors facing alarming rises in antisemitism. I opposed it because it dangerously conflates criticism of the far-right Israeli government with antisemitism. We need genuine action, not political games."

Bowman and Omar are among the House progressives facing legitimate primary challenges in the next election cycle, in part because of their criticism of the Israeli government and its bombardment of Gaza, which has killed almost 16,000 Palestinians in less than two months, according to the Hamas-run Gaza Health Ministry.

They joined Bush, Lee, Massie, Ocasio-Cortez, Ramirez, Tlaib and Reps. André Carson, D-Ind., and Al Green, D-Texas, in opposing a bipartisan resolution in October, which asserted the House unconditionally "stands with Israel as it defends itself against the barbaric war launched by Hamas and other terrorists" and did not mention the suffering of Palestinians.

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J Street, a progressive pro-Israel organization, vehemently condemned the rise in antisemitism but criticized the resolution's conflation of all anti-Zionism with antisemitism in a Tuesday statement.

"While we will never waver in calling out antisemitism from any corner, we have been equally clear that not all beliefs, statements and actions that are anti-Zionist are also antisemitic," the organization wrote.

"Unfortunately, while the Kustoff-Miller resolution (H.Res.894) rightly denounces antisemitism, supports the Jewish community, and rejects terror, the resolution states 'clearly and firmly' that 'anti-Zionism is antisemitism' – a blanket, inaccurate and ultimately counterproductive statement with no recognition of the complexities of the Jewish people or the definition of Zionism and anti-Zionism itself," J Street continued.

The organization pointed to Jewish communities who do not support the Zionist movement and the way efforts to codify definitions of antisemitism would "legally define some Constitutionally protected speech on Israel and its policies as antisemitic" as reasons why it opposed Tuesday's resolution and will oppose any future provisions attempting to legislate a single definition of antisemitism. Instead, J Street voiced strong support for Nadler's resolution.

It also condemned the "concurrent rise in bigotry and deadly violence" against Palestinian-Americans and others of Palestinian heritage in the U.S, referencing "the brutal murder" of a 6-year-old Palestinian-American boy in October and the recent shooting of three Palestinian college students late last month. 

"Just like the human security of Israelis and Palestinians is inextricably intertwined in Israel and Palestine, so too is the safety of Jewish and Palestinian communities here in the United States in no small part bound together," J Street wrote. "None of us are truly safe until all of us – all Americans and others who call our country home — need not live in fear of bigotry."

By Tatyana Tandanpolie

Tatyana Tandanpolie is a staff writer at Salon. Born and raised in central Ohio, she moved to New York City in 2018 to pursue degrees in Journalism and Africana Studies at New York University. She is currently based in her home state and has previously written for local Columbus publications, including Columbus Monthly, CityScene Magazine and The Columbus Dispatch.

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Aggregate Anti-zionism Antisemitism Gaza Israel Jerry Nadler Politics