Congressman Hank Johnson thought he was going to speak to a group of Quakers, not opponents of Israel, when he talked about his recent trip to the West Bank and compared the settlement process to the work of termites July 25 in Philadelphia.
That explanation for how he joined a panel discussion titled “Progressive for Palestine: Is the US Ready to Rethink Policy on Israel?” came during an hour-long interview the Lithonia Democrat granted the AJT on Wednesday, Aug. 3, as part of his effort to repair relations with the Jewish community.
The fifth-term congressman said he didn’t know that the Quakers’ American Friends Service Committee and its co-host for the session, the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation, support the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement against Israel and do not endorse a two-state peace solution.
“We’ve worked with the Quakers on a number of other issues, and they invited me to speak,” Johnson said in his district office. “Quakers are peace advocates,” and he assumed that people seeking peace would back a two-state approach.
Johnson said he opposes BDS and is committed to a two-state solution “despite how hopeless it might look.”
He said his attempt to compare the growth of West Bank settlements to the work of termites “was an ignorant remark. And now that I know about the history of insects, animals and things like that to describe Jewish people, I’m mortified by my use of the term, not referring to people, but referring to the settlement process. … It was inappropriate, ignorant, insensitive, and it offended and hurt a lot people.”
His view of the state of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was influenced by a May trip with four other members of Congress sponsored by the Humpty Dumpty Institute, which seeks innovative solutions to difficult global problems.
Johnson said the lawmakers spent no time in Israel and were denied permission to tour Gaza, so they heard only the perspective of West Bank Palestinians such as Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Palestine Liberation Organization Secretary-General Saeb Erekat. They did not discuss Palestinian terrorism that has killed 40 Israelis and injured more than 500 the past 11 months.
In the interview, Johnson said the lack of a Palestinian state is a “driving force for much of the violence that we see emanating from that region.”
“I’m not trying to blame terrorism on the lack of a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” he later clarified. “But it’s clear that the growth of terrorism is aided and abetted by the frustration born out of the establishment of the state of Israel and the failure to solve the issue of a Palestinian state.”