Following a request from the Coalition for Jewish Values (CJV), House Speaker Kevin McCarthy canceled an antisemitic event scheduled to take place in the U.S. Capitol Visitor Center on Wednesday, May 10. Senator Bernie Sanders then provided his committee room so that the hateful assembly could go forward.
On Monday, May 8, The Washington Free Beacon reported that a collection of anti-Israel groups, including those that endorse antisemitic boycotts and honor terrorists, would gather at the U.S. Capitol two days later to mourn the “Nakba,” or “catastrophe,” of Israel’s founding in 1948. Though Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) was listed merely as the event’s “special guest,” only a Member of Congress can reserve a room in the Capitol Visitor Center, where the event was to have taken place.
CJV, an organization representing over 2,000 rabbis standing for Torah values in American public policy, issued a letter to the leaders of both parties in both houses of Congress calling for bipartisan repudiation of the antisemitic event. Their letter offered a brief history demonstrating that what the Arab League called a “catastrophe” in 1948 was its failure to commit genocide. The rabbis called upon the House and Senate leaders to “condemn this event in the strongest terms.”
Responding to the letter, McCarthy’s team realized that rather than merely issuing the requested condemnation, the Speaker of the House possessed the authority to preempt a room reservation for his own event. He promptly did so, taking the space for a “bipartisan briefing celebrating the 75th anniversary of the U.S.-Israel relationship.”
“It’s wrong for members of Congress to traffic in anti-Semitic tropes about Israel,” McCarthy told the Free Beacon. “As long as I’m Speaker, we are going to support Israel’s right to self-determination and self-defense, unequivocally and in a bipartisan fashion.” Free Beacon also noted, however, that neither Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer nor House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries had responded to CJV’s letter or to Free Beacon’s own request for comment.
On Wednesday, however, activist Linda Sarsour announced that the event would go on as scheduled. Tlaib said McCarthy had tried to “rewrite history and erase the existence and truth of the Palestinian people” but had “failed.” She herself failed to note that during 2,000 years of occupation of the Holy Land, those referred to as “Palestinians” were primarily Jews.
No location was announced for the revived event, and supporters were merely told to assemble at the entrance to the Capitol Visitor Center. This led Capitol Police to anticipate a possible confrontation.
In reality, Tlaib had found a new location for the event in the hearing room of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions. The chairman of that committee, Senator Bernie Sanders, has himself shared antisemitic tropes about Israel, and had the authority to grant after-hours use of the committee room for the event.
Senator Bill Cassidy, M.D., the ranking minority member of the committee, blasted the use of its room in a statement. “I wholeheartedly disapprove of the Majority permitting the use of the HELP Committee room for this divisive event,” he said. “The Capitol Grounds should not be used as a pedestal to legitimize anti-Semitic bigotry.” A committee spokesperson acknowledged that Cassidy “was unaware and not consulted in the Chair’s decision.”
Senate Majority Leader, Chuck Schumer, made no statement even after it became public that the committee room had been used for this event. To date, Jacky Rosen (D-NV) is the only Senate Democrat to object to the event, telling Jewish Insider’s Marc Rod that “Calling the establishment of the world’s only Jewish state a ‘catastrophe’ is deeply offensive, and I strongly disagree with allowing this event to be held on Capitol Hill,” By contrast, the Democratic Caucus Chair in the House, Pete Aguilar, told Rod that he objected to the cancellation of the original event: “People should be allowed to meet, to congregate, to have discussions, to express their viewpoints and ideas. That’s who we are.”
In a second letter to Schumer, also obtained by Free Beacon, CJV asserted that Schumer was failing to live up to his own rhetoric: “You have often reminded the Jewish community that your last name, Schumer, comes from the Hebrew word ‘shomer’, a watchman, and that you guard both the US-Israel relationship and American and Jewish values. Yet both the notions of bipartisan support for Israel and that hatred should not be promoted in Congress were both actively undermined on Wednesday evening, May 10, on your watch. This moment demands your response.”
Schumer has remained silent on this.