D.C. Memo: Israel’s Herzog’s speech roils Minnesota delegation

21 July 2023

WASHINGTON — Lawmakers on Capitol Hill focused much of their energy this week feuding about Israeli President Issac Herzog’s speech to a joint session of Congress, a controversy that split the Minnesota congressional delegation.

The controversy led to about a dozen Democratic lawmakers skipping Herzog’s speech on Wednesday, including Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-5th District and Betty McCollum, D-4th District, and to GOP accusations that these lawmakers are “antisemitic.”

Herzog noted the conflict in his 40-minute speech.

“Mr. Speaker, I am not oblivious to criticism among friends, including some expressed by respected members of this House. I respect criticism, especially from friends, although one does not always have to accept it,” Herzog said. “But criticism of Israel must not cross the line into negation of the state of Israel’s right to exist. Questioning the Jewish people’s right to self-determination, is not legitimate diplomacy, it is antisemitism.”

The conflict began after Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-5th District, said last week that “no way in hell” would she attend Herzog’s speech, aimed at commemorating Israel’s 75th anniversary.

Omar gave several reasons for wanting to boycott the speech, but her main objection centered on the policies of the right-wing government and Herzog’s role as a “faithful policy ambassador” for that government.

Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s policies, which include a planned sweeping overhaul of Israel’s judicial system and expanded Jewish settlement in the occupied West Bank, have provoked protests in the streets in Israel and caused unease at the White House and among a number of Democratic lawmakers.

Rep. Angie Craig, D-2nd District, reacted to Omar’s remarks by tweeting “Hell YES I will attend President Herzog’s address to Congress… I will continue to work with Democrats and Republicans to strengthen our relationship with Israel.”

The controversy escalated after Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., called Israel a “racist state,” provoking an uproar, especially among Republican members of Congress.

Several Democrats, including Rep. Dean Phillips, D-3rd District, also criticized Jayapal for her remarks. In an apology, Jayapal said her remarks were aimed at Netanyahu, not Israel.

The evening before Herzog’s speech, the U.S. House passed a Republican-led resolution reaffirming U.S. support for Israel. It was approved on an overwhelming 412-9 bipartisan vote, with Omar casting one of the nine “no” votes and McCollum the only member to vote “present.”

McCollum voted “present” because she was “deeply troubled” by Netanyahu’s actions and a lack of accountability for the $3.8 billion the United States gives each year to Israel for security assistance.

“As a member of Congress, I have often criticized the policies of my own government. That does not make me anti-American. And criticizing the policies of the Israeli government does not make one antisemitic,” McCollum said. 

 McCollum said she skipped Herzog’s speech because she had a previous engagement.

“Due to a longstanding commitment with tribal leaders which had to be rescheduled because of an added Interior Appropriations markup this week, I am unable to attend the joint address in person. I will be reading the transcript of the speech in its entirety to stay apprised of the issues raised,” she said in a statement.

In a press conference after Herzog’s speech Rep. Tom Emmer, R-6th District, called Democrats “the anti-Israel party.”

“Any anti-Israel rhetoric or action will not … be tolerated so long as House Republicans are in the majority,” he said.

Photo by Michael Brochstein/Sipa USA
In a press conference after Herzog’s speech Rep. Tom Emmer, R-6th District, called Democrats “the anti-Israel party.”

In addition, Emmer and the other Republican members of the Minnesota congressional delegation, Reps. Brad Finstad, Pete Stauber and Michelle Fischbach, issued a joint statement in support of Israel.

“Despite recent comments made by some in our delegation, we Minnesota Republicans are united in standing with Israel and committed to doing everything possible to strengthen the U.S.-Israel relationship,” the GOP lawmakers said.

Legacy no more at U of M

The University of Minnesota Twin Cities campus is shaking up the way it will accept future applications.

It will no longer consider race in its “holistic” approach to weighing applicants because of a recent Supreme Court ruling that determined that considering an applicant’s race is unconstitutional.

That Supreme Court ruling touched off public discussion about giving the relatives of alumni special consideration in the admissions process. The University of Minnesota is among several schools in the state that did so.

But no longer. The university this week said it would scrap those “legacy” admissions, as well as stop giving special consideration to relatives of university employees.

“The University of Minnesota Twin Cities has an updated undergraduate admissions holistic review practice,” the school said in a statement. “As part of the recent Supreme Court decision on race-conscious admissions and along with our standard annual review of undergraduate admission practice, we no longer consider race and ethnicity, family attendance or employment at the university as context factors.”

The university said questions about race and whether a relative attended or works at the university would be asked in an application “for recruitment and communication purposes.” But the school said this information will not be provided to those who review the application and “will not be provided to application reviewers and will not be considered at any point during the University of Minnesota admissions decision process.”

St. Paul’s Macalester College, St. Olaf in Northfield and Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter all consider legacies in one way or another.

But, after the Supreme Court’s decision on race, legacy admissions are becoming less popular.

This week Connecticut’s Wesleyan University joined other elite schools who have ended the practice, including Johns Hopkins, Carnegie Mellon, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Critics of legacy admissions argue that it tends to favor wealthier, whiter applicants at the detriment of low-income and minority applicants who are potentially first-generation college students.

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