PHILADELPHIA—A Democrat aligned with Hillary Clinton apologized multiple times late Monday following a Washington Free Beacon report detailing the lawmaker’s comments comparing Jewish settlers to "termites."
Rep. Hank Johnson (D., Ga.), a Democratic superdelegate pledged to Clinton, likened Jewish citizens living in disputed areas of Israel and the Palestinian territories to "termites" that destroy homes. His comments came during an event on the sidelines of the Democratic National Convention hosted by the U.S. Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation, an anti-Israel organization that supports boycotts of the Jewish state.
Johnson, who also claimed that "Jewish people" were stealing Palestinian homes, apologized multiple times for his remarks after the Free Beacon report sparked outrage in the Jewish community and elsewhere.
"There has been a steady [stream], almost like termites can get into a residence and eat before you know that you’ve been eaten up and you fall in on yourself, there has been settlement activity that has marched forward with impunity and at an ever increasing rate to the point where it has become alarming," Johnson said Monday.
The Anti-Defamation League, an organization that fights against discrimination, lambasted Johnson, as did the American Jewish Committee.
Johnson eventually apologized on Twitter, saying that he used a "poor choice of words." However, he doubled down on his criticism of Israeli settlers, who he said "undermine [the] two-state solution."
In a subsequent statement, Johnson’s office criticized the Free Beacon’s reporting, but did not provide evidence of any factual inaccuracy in the original report.
"The article headline is wrong," Johnson’s office said in a statement. "Congressman Johnson did not call Israelis termites but did say the settlement policies threaten peace and the two-state solution. Congressman Johnson did not intend to insult or speak derogatorily of the Israelis or the Jewish people. When using the metaphor of termites, the congressman was referring to the corrosive process, not the people."
Johnson has been endorsed by J Street, a liberal Middle East advocacy group known for its criticism of Israel.