House Democrats splintered on Tuesday over a resolution condemning the rise of antisemitism in the United States and around the world, with more than half of them declining to support a measure declaring that “anti-Zionism is antisemitism.”
The resolution denouncing antisemitism, drafted by Republicans, passed by a vote of 311 to 14, drawing the support of all but one Republican. Ninety-two Democrats voted “present” — not taking a position for or against the measure — while 95 supported it.
That reflected deep and growing divisions among Democrats between those who have offered unequivocal support for the Jewish state and its actions, and others — especially in the party’s progressive wing — who have been critical of Israel’s policies and its conduct in the war with Hamas.
“Under this resolution, those who love Israel deeply but criticize some of its policy approaches could be considered anti-Zionist,” Representative Jerrold Nadler, Democrat of New York and the longest-serving Jewish member of the House, said in a floor speech before he voted “present.” “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 author’s intention?”
Zionism began as the movement to create a Jewish state in the land previously known as Palestine, and since Israel’s founding, has been defined as the political ideology of supporting Israel’s continued existence as a Jewish state.
The House has passed a number of resolutions in recent weeks to declare solidarity with Israel, denounce antisemitism and repudiate the actions of Hamas and its supporters, after the Oct. 7 Hamas-led attack that killed more than 1,200 people and took about 240 more hostage.
Representative David Kustoff, Republican of Tennessee and the author of the resolution, rejected the suggestion that his measure was political, instead charging that Democrats have espoused anti-Jewish opinions.
“We have seen members of this very body repeat blatantly antisemitic rhetoric and spread lies about Israel and her right to exist,” Mr. Kustoff said on the floor. “Let me be absolutely clear, such hate has no place in the halls of Congress, nor in our national discourse.”
In recent weeks, Republicans and a number of Democrats have accused some left-wing Democrats of using antisemitic language. Last month, the House censured Representative Rashida Tlaib, Democrat of Michigan, for promoting a pro-Palestinian slogan, “from the river to the sea,” that is seen by many as calling for the destruction of the state of Israel.
Ms. Tlaib denied that was her intention, defending the rhetoric as an aspirational call for Palestinian statehood. She has also come under fire from her colleagues for accusing President Biden of supporting a “genocide” in the Gaza Strip.
Genocide is defined under international law as a crime with the intent to destroy a national, racial, ethnic or religious group. Israeli officials have insisted they are trying to target Hamas, blaming the terrorist group for any collateral damage. Some human rights officials have questioned Israel’s tactics, however, as the civilian death toll has climbed, with the health authorities in Gaza estimating more than 15,500 have been killed.
Such sentiments have been echoed by pro-Palestinian protesters in large cities and on college campuses, during demonstrations that have sometimes been punctuated by voices questioning Israel’s right to exist, and incidents targeting Jewish students.
Democrats questioning the resolution called such displays of anti-Jewish sentiment unacceptable, but said equating all anti-Zionism to antisemitism went too far.
“Let me be unequivocally clear: most anti-Zionism, particularly in this moment, has a real antisemitism problem,” Mr. Nadler said. “But we cannot fairly say that one equals the other.”