Short of going full Cynthia McKinney, Congressman Hank Johnson couldn’t have done much more to anger the Jewish community than unleash a comparison between termites and Israelis living on the West Bank.
The Lithonia Democrat has admitted as much with a series of clarifications and apologies since he used the termite line during a pro-Palestinian, anti-Israel gathering held in Philadelphia on Monday, July 25, in connection with the Democratic National Convention.
“The language I used was not only unacceptable but it was hurtful,” he wrote in a message to constituents. “I deeply regret using this terrible metaphor. It was not only nonconstructive, it was wrong.”
Johnson has said that when he mentioned termites while discussing Jewish West Bank settlements, he was simply reaching for a vivid metaphor for the way those settlements’ rapid expansion has undermined hopes for a Palestinian state. But there’s no way to parse the comparison without concluding that it involves, intentionally or not, the equation of Jewish settlers with termites.
That’s a particularly vile association because the Nazis justified their attempts to exterminate Jews by portraying us as vermin. Anyone who compares Jews to termites, or Jewish construction to termite construction, is just begging to be accused of anti-Semitism.
To his credit, Johnson seems to understand that. His apologies have been genuine, not the phony “I’m sorry if anyone took offense” type. He is reaching out to Jewish leaders to make amends. He is meeting with the Atlanta Jewish Times (look for an article Aug. 12).
But, pending that interview, we fear that the congressman offers much more to worry about than one careless, stupid remark.
Unlike McKinney, the woman he defeated 10 years ago to win his seat in Congress, Johnson doesn’t hate Jews, many of whom have been crucial supporters, and he doesn’t spout conspiracy theories accusing Jews or Israelis of carrying out false-flag terrorist attacks.
But his attitude toward Israel and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has changed in recent years, and he spoke July 25 as someone who has earned a reputation as a leading congressional critic of Israel.
That day he criticized Israel and the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu while lamenting the condition of the Palestinians. He portrayed Israelis as the villains and Palestinians as the victims, ignoring Palestinian terrorism against Israeli civilians, incitement by Palestinian leaders and rocket fire from Gaza.
Johnson accused Israelis of stealing Palestinian houses left vacant for even a single night, then raising “Jewish flags” above them. He spread the false claim that Israeli law enforcement trains U.S. police to operate as a militaristic occupation force, and he endorsed the equally false and offensive idea that Islamist terrorism against the West would vanish if only Israel lived in peace with a Palestinian state.
All of which makes sense when you consider Johnson’s audience: people gathered by the American Friends Service Committee and the U.S. Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation. Both groups back the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement against Israel, and both would be happy if Israel ceased to exist.
Why was Johnson speaking to such an anti-Israel gathering at all? That’s the question he must answer if wants to receive any more votes from the pro-Israel community.