Jewish House Democrats condemn Amnesty director’s ‘antisemitic’ comments about Israel

Michael Arria

Mondoweiss  /  March 14, 2022

All 25 Jewish Democratic House members have put out a joint statement condemning recent remarks made by Amnesty International USA Executive Director Paul O’Brien about Israel.

While addressing the Woman’s National Democratic Club last week, O’Brien said that Israel “shouldn’t exist as a Jewish state.” The remarks were first reported by Jewish Insider.

“The right of the people to self-determination and to be protected is without a doubt something that we believe in, and I personally believe that,” O’Brien told attendees, but “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.”

When asked about a 2020 Ruderman Family Foundation that found most Jewish Americans identified with Israel, O’Brien pushed back on that narrative. “I actually don’t believe that to be true,” he said. “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.”

“As Jewish Members of the House of Representatives, we represent diverse views on a number of issues relating to Israel,” reads the statement from the House members. “However, we are in full agreement that Mr. O’Brien’s patronizing attempt to speak on behalf of the American Jewish community is alarming and deeply offensive. He has added his name to the list of those who, across centuries, have tried to deny and usurp the Jewish people’s independent agency. We stand united in condemning this and any antisemitic attempt to deny the Jewish people control of their own destiny.”

Many of the lawmakers who signed onto the statement shared it on social media with further remarks, including from lawmakers who did not sign the statement. “Proud to stand with Jewish Democratic Members of Congress as they speak out against the antisemitic statement by the Executive Director of Amnesty International USA that denies the Jewish people’s right to self-determination in their ancestral homeland of Israel,” tweeted House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD).

“I stand with my Jewish Democratic colleagues and their statement against the offensive and antisemitic comments of Amnesty USA’s executive director denying the Jewish people’s right to self-determination,” said Rep. Kathleen Rice (D-NY).

O’Brien’s remarks have been condemned by other non-Jewish members of Congress. “The Director of Amnesty USA comes out of the closet as a crusader against Israel’s very existence as a Jewish state,” tweeted pro-Israel Rep. Ritchie Torres (D-NY). “Thank you for sparing us all the pretense that the Amnesty report is anything other than an ideological hit job.”

O’Brien’s comments came less than two months after Amnesty International put out a landmark 280-page report declaring Israel an apartheid state. “Decades of deliberately unequal treatment of Palestinians in all areas under the control of Israel has left Palestinians marginalized and subject to widespread and systematic socio-economic disadvantage as they are barred from equitable access to natural and financial resources, livelihood opportunities, healthcare and education,” reads the document.

A 2021 poll from the Jewish Electorate Institute found that 38% of Jewish voters under 40 think Israel’s an apartheid state, 43% think Israel’s racism is comparable to the United States’, and 20% don’t believe that Israel has the right to exist.

Michael Arria is the U.S. correspondent for Mondoweiss