Rep. Stephanie Murphy.
In 2017, as a freshman member of Congress, I visited Israel.
While one can read about the threats Israel faces from countries like Iran and terrorist organizations like Hezbollah and Hamas, there is no substitute for being on the ground, hearing from Israelis themselves, and seeing how close and complex the threats are. You realize this is a place where the past permeates the present — a highly-advanced nation that has not lost its sense of vulnerability, one both focused on the future and gripped by memories of a tragic history.
Israel’s story resonated with me in a deeply personal way. When I was a baby, my family fled communist Vietnam to escape persecution. We were rescued by the U.S. Navy. A church in Virginia sponsored our passage to America, where we became proud citizens. In Israel, I visited Yad Vashem, the memorial to Holocaust victims. There, I mourned for the Jewish families who — unlike my family — had not been shown grace. They sought to escape anti-Semitism in Europe in the 1930s and 1940s. But they found no safe haven, no nation to shield them from the coming storm. Millions were murdered because of evil, but also because of inaction and indifference.
My experience in Israel confirmed my belief that the Jewish people need a state to call home, a sanctuary from the irrational hatred that is anti-Semitism. It reinforced my view that the U.S.-Israel alliance is essential, even though our two countries will disagree on specific policies, as sovereign nations always do. It strengthened my conviction that, to be sustained, U.S. support for Israel must be bipartisan.
Given my stance, I was alarmed when a congressional colleague recently made several disturbing statements on this subject. She and I are both Democrats and refugees. My colleague suggested American leaders only support Israel because they receive campaign donations from Jewish groups, and insinuated American Jews have dual loyalties to the United States and Israel.
These are classic anti-Semitic tropes. They are rooted in false and ugly stereotypes about the Jewish people that have persisted throughout history, but that are rarely expressed — or, one hopes, believed — in modern America, except by those on the fringes. To hear them from a U.S. representative — especially one who has endured discrimination herself — was stunning. For many of my Jewish colleagues and constituents, it was crushing.
As advocates of close U.S.-Israel ties, we were having our motives questioned and our integrity doubted.
Discouraging as those comments were, the reaction from Congress was nearly as disappointing. An effort by Democratic leaders to craft a non-binding resolution condemning anti-Semitism was welcomed by some rank-and-file Democrats, myself included, as an appropriately targeted response that expressed our values and exhibited our unity.
Other Democrats — acting in good faith — felt differently. Some believed my colleague was being unfairly singled out for criticism, although the resolution didn’t mention her. Others thought the language of the resolution was too narrowly focused on anti-Semitism, and should be expanded to discrimination against other minority groups. Still others chafed at the fact that Republicans have failed to condemn bigotry within their own ranks, and were now hypocritically accusing Democrats of similar conduct for partisan purposes.
This variety of viewpoints was, in one sense, a sign of our strength. Democrats come from different backgrounds, represent diverse districts, and have distinct philosophies. A degree of discord is inevitable.
Unfortunately, this well-intentioned process produced a watered-down resolution — one that denounces intolerance in such sweeping language that it feels hollow at its core.
We made a point, but missed the point.
We had an opportunity to condemn anti-Semitism in strong, specific terms. We had the chance to reassure our Jewish brothers and sisters, in the wake of the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting and amid an overall rise in anti-Jewish attacks, that we will support and defend them.
We could have observed that criticism of Israeli policies is legitimate, but disregarding Israel’s positive qualities and singling it out for constant criticism can cross the line from acceptable to unacceptable and, yes, even to anti-Semitic.
We could have explained that the U.S.-Israel relationship is special, not for nefarious reasons, but because our two countries have shared values, shared security interests, and a deep historical connection. We could have clarified that the relationship is strong because it enjoys broad-based support from the American people and their elected leaders.
Congress could have done all this, but didn’t. So I’m doing it now.
Congresswoman Stephanie Murphy represents Florida’s 7th congressional district in the U.S. House of Representatives.