Pro-Israel groups are slamming Vice President Kamala Harris after she praised a student who accused Israel of "ethnic genocide," an exchange that threatens to undercut Harris’s credibility as a pro-Israel voice in the Biden administration.
Harris was taking questions at George Mason University on Tuesday when a student in the audience criticized U.S. funding for Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system and argued that "just a few days ago there were funds allocated to continue backing Israel, which hurts my heart because it’s an ethnic genocide and a displacement of people." Harris, who nodded during the student’s comment, responded that she was "glad" the student spoke out and said, "Your truth should not be suppressed."
Pro-Israel groups said they were troubled that Harris—who is viewed as one of the more pro-Israel voices in a Democratic Party that is growing increasingly hostile to the Jewish state—failed to push back on the audience member’s claims. The criticism of Harris comes as Democratic Party leaders are facing pressure from left-wing lawmakers and activists to withdraw support for Israel. Last week, House Democrats removed funding for Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system from a spending bill under pressure from progressive House members.
"The vice president should’ve challenged the student’s baseless demonization of Israel," said CUFI Action Fund chairwoman Sandra Parker. "Unfortunately, instead, Vice President Harris chose to defend the individual’s right to speak—something no one sought to deny. Harris’s reaction was that of a politician afraid to speak honestly rather than a leader with the courage of her convictions."
The Simon Wiesenthal Center also questioned the vice president’s response.
"Israel Genociders? Your truth can’t be suppressed? No VP Harris don’t validate PA/Hamas talking point lies. Truth is not a multiple choice question. Don’t validate big lies that spawn anti-Semitism," the group wrote on Twitter.
Multiple news outlets highlighted Harris’s professed support for Israel during the 2020 election. McClatchy reported in 2019 that she was "resisting pressure from the left flank of her Democratic Party to take a more critical stance on the Israeli government" and was "holding firmly to her moderate approach to U.S.-Israel relations."
Harris's then-spokeswoman Lily Adams told the news service that Harris’s "support for Israel is central to who she is" and that she was "firm in her belief that Israel has a right to exist and defend itself, including against rocket attacks from Gaza."
After she was selected as President Joe Biden’s running mate, Harris vowed that their administration would have "unwavering support" for Israel and said she agreed with Biden's commitment to "not tie security assistance to any political decisions that Israel makes."
"I pledge to you the Biden-Harris administration will sustain our unbreakable commitment to Israel's security, including the unprecedented military and intelligence cooperation pioneered during the Obama-Biden administration," Harris said in August 2020.