The debate over Israel’s conduct in its war against Hamas is exposing deep tensions in the House Democratic Caucus as Rep. Andre Carson called fellow Democrat Josh Gottheimer a “punk” and a “coward,” saying the two “could get into something else” after they disagreed over a measure aimed at showing support for Israel.
Since the deadly Hamas offensive earlier this month ignited the conflict in the Middle East, Democratic infighting and anxieties over Israel’s response have become increasingly public as an array of Democrats push unequivocal support for Israel while a number of progressives have grown increasingly critical of the offensive impacting Palestinian civilians.
Earlier this week, the House passed a resolution supporting Israel in the war against Hamas in the first measure of newly elected House Speaker Mike Johnson’s tenure following the tumultuous three weeks after Kevin McCarthy’s ouster.
The resolution, which passed with overwhelmingly bipartisan support, says the House is “standing with Israel” as it defends itself against “Hamas and other terrorists,” and calls on Hamas to “immediately cease these violent attacks” and release all “living hostages.”
“Last night, 15 of my Democratic colleagues voted AGAINST standing with our ally Israel and condemning Hamas terrorists who brutally murdered, raped, and kidnapped babies, children, men, women, and elderly, including Americans. They are despicable and do not speak for our party,” Gottheimer, who is Jewish, wrote on X, formerly known as Twitter.
Carson, who is Muslim, was quick to respond after seeing the tweet – lambasting Gottheimer as “cowardly” and “not acting in the role as a member of Congress.”
“I think he’s shown himself to be very emotional. I think he’s posturing before the cameras. He postured before caucus, but like most cowardly people, when you confront them, they’re afraid. I’m unafraid of the guy. I’d like to sit down to talk to him. He probably doesn’t want to talk to me,” Carson told CNN.
Gottheimer, Carson continued, “has to understand that there is a community out there. There are Americans out there who are deeply opposed to what’s happening. And if he wants to call us despicable, I’m saying he’s a coward. And he’s a punk and he should remember why the people sent him here and if he wants to play some kind of tough guy, a gangster – we can handle it like gentlemen, or we can get into something else.”
Gottheimer told CNN he is open to sitting down with Carson – a meeting that is now likely to happen this week, according to a Democratic leadership source. And he sought to take the temperature down in subsequent tweets about the resolution vote, saying “it’s more important than ever for us to talk to each other.”
“I’ll sit down with Mr. Carson anytime to talk about how we can bring the hostages home, including all Americans, provide immediate humanitarian aid to Palestinian civilians being used as human shields, and crush Hamas and all terrorists seeking to do us harm,” Gottheimer said in a written statement.
Larger Democratic divide
The public back-and-forth between Gottheimer and Carson is emblematic of the larger divide between the more progressive wing of the party and the rest of the caucus – which is likely to grow as the war persists and civilian lives are lost.
Rep. Pramila Jayapal, the leader of the House Progressive Caucus, who voted “present” on the Israel resolution, said she initially supported the measure but, as the conflict has expanded, she wanted the resolution to include language marking the loss of innocent Palestinian lives and condemning the lack of humanitarian aid making its way into the enclave.
“There are, I think we’re up to 6,000-plus Palestinian lives lost, there’s humanitarian aid that’s not being allowed in, fuel that’s not being allowed in,” Jayapal said. “And it feels to me like we need to acknowledge the pain and the suffering of the Israeli people and also of the Palestinian people.”
Progressive Democrats are increasingly calling on President Joe Biden to be more forceful in its dealings with Israel.
“I think this war is hurting the president. I think it’s hurting the Democratic party. And I think, you know, war – it’s always difficult. I don’t want this to be our Iraq War,” said Jayapal, adding: “I think we have to be very conscious of what is happening and our particular ability to de-escalate.”
Some prominent Democrats have sharply criticized other actions taken by far-left members of their own party, particularly a controversial tweet from Rep. Rashida Tlaib that blamed Israel for the bombing of a hospital in Gaza. In the aftermath of the attack, US intelligence has assessed that Israel was not responsible for the incident.
Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, a Jewish Democrat from Florida, told CNN that she “vehemently disagree(s)” with what Tlaib has said “and the actions that she’s taken throughout this process.”
Shortly before the Israel resolution came to the floor, Wasserman-Schultz told CNN that anyone who votes against the pro-Israel resolution “doesn’t’ have a soul.”