A hint of Israel criticism as Nancy Pelosi takes the chair once again

As the US House of Representatives' new Speaker reclaims the gavel after eight years, many Democrats are in competition to influence her


Nancy Pelosi is set to become the new Speaker of the House of Representatives this week, giving the Democrats control of America’s lower chamber for the first time in eight years.

Last month, Ms Pelosi moved to reassure American Jews that the election in November of a handful of high-profile Democrats hostile to Israel does not presage a wider shift by the party against the Jewish state.

Among their number are young rising star Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who described last May’s clashes on the Gaza border as a “massacre”; Rashida Tlaib, a Palestinian-American who supports a one-state solution; and Ilhan Omar, who was revealed to have tweeted in 2012 about Israel’s “evil doings”.

Ms Omar has faced criticism since the election for endorsing the BDS movement after having appeared to oppose it during a debate in August.

Ms Tlaib meanwhile has garnered attention for turning down an invite to join AIPAC’s customary trip for new members to Israel, saying she will lead her own delegation to the West Bank.

The two women are believed to be the first members of Congress to publicly back BDS.

In the run-up to the mid-term elections, Republicans attempted to woo Jewish and evangelical Christian voters by painting the Democrats as anti-Israel.

In the case of the former, that effort spectacularly failed, with more than 75 percent of Jews backing the Democrats.

Addressing the annual Israeli-American Council conference, Ms Pelosi made clear that she regards anti-Israel chatter on the party’s far-left fringe as inconsequential noises-off.

Speaking alongside Senator Chuck Schumer, the Jewish leader of the Democrats in the Senate, the incoming Speaker described them as “a few people who may want to go their own way”.

Instead, she reeled off a string of pro-Israel, mainly Jewish Democrats she intends to appoint to chair key House committees and subcommittees.

They include Eliot Engel, an Iran hawk, who will chair the Foreign Affairs Committee; 81-year-old Nita Lowey who will take charge of the pivotal Appropriations Committee; and Ted Deutch — who has pushed legislation to include some anti-Israel speech in a definition of antisemitism — to run the Middle East subcommittee.

But Ms Pelosi’s comments were not simply a reflection of her own strongly pro-Israel line — she has described the establishment of the state of Israel as “the greatest political accomplishment of the 20th century” — but also some raw politicking.

Some Democrats had been opposed to Ms Pelosi lifting the Speaker’s gavel once again, aware that many voters view her negatively thanks to Republican efforts to paint her as a liberal elitist.

Among the potentially rebellious centrists Ms Pelosi has sought to woo are Josh Gottheimer, a former speechwriter to Bill Clinton who Mrs Clinton once termed “something of a family member”.

Mr Gottheimer, who won a once-solidly Republican district in 2016, eventually came on board after winning some concessions from Ms Pelosi.

But two other newly elected moderate Jewish Democrats — Max Rose of New York and Michigan’s Elissa Slotkin — opposed her when Democrats nominated their candidate for Speaker in late November.

These centrists are well aware that the Democrats’ victory in November was won in swing suburban districts. But the party’s base will be looking for some more red meat from the new Congress.

Another of Ms Pelosi’s Jewish committee chair picks, Jerry Nadler, recently threw them a bone. The incoming Judiciary committee chair suggested that if it was true that Donald Trump ordered his former lawyer Michael Cohen to make illegal hush payments to women he allegedly had affairs with, that would be an impeachable offence.

Share via

Want more from the JC?

To continue reading, we just need a few details...

Want more from
the JC?

To continue reading, we just
need a few details...

Get the best news and views from across the Jewish world Get subscriber-only offers from our partners Subscribe to get access to our e-paper and archive