WASHINGTON (JTA) — When House Speaker Kevin McCarthy blocked an event marking 75 years of Palestinian suffering since Israel’s establishment in 1948, he promised to replace it with a bipartisan discussion celebrating Israel.
McCarthy’s event took place, but only Republicans spoke. Prominent pro-Israel Democratic lawmakers were not invited.
“This event in the US Capitol is canceled,” McCarthy tweeted on Tuesday, a day ahead of a planned commemoration of what Palestinians refer to as the “Nakba,” or catastrophe, organized by Rep. Rashida Tlaib, the Palestinian-American Michigan Democrat. “Instead, I will host a bipartisan discussion to honor the 75th anniversary of the US-Israel relationship.”
A speaker of the House usurping a lawmaker’s right to use a room is rare if not unprecedented. But McCarthy’s action drew praise from an array of centrist pro-Israel groups, including the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations and the Anti-Defamation League.
Tlaib ultimately hosted her event on the Senate side of the Capitol, securing a room with the help of a progressive Jewish ally, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders.
McCarthy’s event also went ahead on Wednesday night — but unlike Tlaib’s was closed to media and, also, apparently to Democratic lawmakers. Staffers for pro-Israel groups including AIPAC were in attendance, in addition to Republican lawmakers and their staffers.
Three of the most outspokenly pro-Israel Democrats in Congress were not there, and it appears they were not invited. They all confirmed to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency that they did not get invitations, although they asked not to be identified.
According to someone who was present at McCarthy’s event, speakers included McCarthy, who discussed his recent visit to Israel, and the two Jewish Republicans in Congress — Reps. Max Miller of Ohio and David Kustoff of Tennessee. Elliott Abrams, who has served in three Republican administrations, including the Trump White House, also spoke, arguing that referring to the “Nakba” delegitimized Israel.
McCarthy’s office did not respond to inquiries regarding whether Democrats were invited. A McCarthy spokesman referred JTA to remarks McCarthy made on Thursday at a press conference, when he was asked to comment on Sanders’ agreement to grant Tlaib the use of a Senate room.
Tlaib’s event, he said, “almost feels like” antisemitism, McCarthy said.
“I will never allow it to happen in this body… I’ve watched members on the other side of the aisle say that time and again,” he said, apparently referring to multiple Democratic initiatives denouncing antisemitism. Regarding antisemitism, he added, “We will always stand up against that no matter where it is. I just came back from a bipartisan group of members going to the 75th anniversary of Israel.”
Regarding Sanders working with Tlaib, he said, “We’ve got a senator on the other side that I guess agrees with her and against the rest of the world.”
Asked about the attendance of AIPAC staffers at the McCarthy event, the lobby’s spokesman, Marshall Wittmann, praised McCarthy for canceling Tlaib’s use of a room in the Capitol. But he also indicated that bipartisan support of Israel remains the lobby’s calling, and referred to Israel’s ongoing conflict with Palestinian militants in Gaza.
“We appreciate Speaker McCarthy’s leadership in cancelling an odious anti-Israel event and then hosting a program supporting [the] Jewish state,” Wittmann told JTA. “We also applaud the numerous Democratic and Republican Members of Congress who have issued statements in solidarity with the Jewish state as it confronts terrorist attacks.”