Kamala Harris’ office cleans up after exchange with student about Israel

While visiting a political science class at George Mason University on Tuesday to honor National Voter Registration Day, Harris answered questions from three students, including one who touched on Israel’s domestic funding in a long question.

“You mentioned how very valuable the power of the people, the protests and the organization are in America. I see that over the summer there have been, for example, protests and demonstrations and astronomical numbers with Palestine, but just a few days ago there was funds allocated to continue supporting Israel, which pains my heart because it is ethnic genocide and displacement of people – the same that happened in America and I’m sure you are aware of that, ”the student said in part of his question, saying the funding comes as Americans suffer at home.

“And I feel like there’s a lack of listening, and I just feel like I have to talk about it because it affects my life and the lives of the people I really care about…” , added the student.

Harris, whose husband – second gentleman Doug Emhoff – is Jewish, replied, “I’m glad you did.”

“And again, it is about the fact that your voice, your point of view, your experience, your truth cannot be suppressed and must be heard.… Our goal should be unity, but not uniformity. “said Harris. “And the point you raise about policies related to Middle East policy, foreign policy. We still have healthy debates in our country, on the right way forward. And no one should be hushed up on that. . “

Harris’s lack of perspective to the student when answering questions during the visit became the latest issue for his office which faced a hectic summer, fueled in part by messaging incidents. This latest communications incident comes on a particularly sensitive issue as progressives and other activists have pressured Democrats to take a more critical stance towards Israel, which has long enjoyed bipartisan support in Washington.

After the exchange, senior Harris executives contacted the heads of several large pro-Israel organizations, according to a source close to Harris’s office.

His team began contacting the heads of several prominent Jewish organizations after those leaders contacted the White House to voice their concerns, said two people with first-hand knowledge of the conversations. Harris’ deputy national security adviser Phil Gordon and Herbie Ziskend, the vice president’s deputy director of communications, led the outreach, the sources said, adding that Harris’s silence did not amount to a deal with student allegations of “ethnic genocide”.

“It is recognized that the impression left by his failure to correct the student is problematic and does not reflect his commitment to a strong US-Israel relationship, nor that of the president and the administration,” William Daroff, CEOs of the Conference of Presidents of major American Jewish organizations, told CNN.

Harris’ team contacted the heads of at least three organizations: the Democratic Majority for Israel, the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, and the Anti-Defamation League.

“It touched the base of her friends, allies and supporters who know she is very strong in her commitment to defend Israel and defend Israel’s security,” added the source close to Harris.

In a statement, Harris spokeswoman Symone Sanders said: “The vice president strongly disagrees with the student’s characterization of Israel.

“Throughout her career, the Vice President has been unwavering in her commitment to Israel and Israel’s security. During a visit to George Mason University to discuss voting rights, a student expressed a personal opinion during a political science class, ”Sanders said.

Harris’s office, run in part by his communications team, has taken a deliberate stance in trying to clean up this latter issue. Another source familiar with the Harris office outreach told CNN that the vice president’s team had broadcast facts about his case on Israel in defense to its allies, underscoring its steadfast commitment to Israel.

“We know Vice President Harris and we know that her record on Israel has been constant and unwavering. At no time did we doubt his support for Israel. We wanted additional context to understand what happened, ”Haile Soifer, CEO of the Jewish Democratic Council of America and former Harris National Security Advisor in her Senate office, told CNN.

Harris’s office was in contact with Soifer’s group as well as others. The CEO of the Anti-Defamation League said Thursday he spoke to Harris’s office after the vice president’s interaction.

“Just spoke with @VP’s office. Glad to hear him confirm that she is proud of her support for #Israel, and knows that claiming he is committing ‘ethnic genocide’ is patently false,” tweeted Jonathan Greenblatt Thursday. “We are trying to erase the file so that there is no ambiguity that what this student said was hateful / false.”

In a statement to CNN, Greenblatt added: “To come up with accusations of Israel committing genocide – an inflammatory claim that is patently and patently false – must be exposed because it is this demonization that has led to violence like us. saw in the United States earlier this year, ”referring to the attacks on Jews on the streets of the United States in May.

Mark Mellman, chairman of the influential Democratic Majority for Israel, said Thursday that he had also spoken to senior Harris executives.

“We are delighted that Vice President Harris ‘senior executives reached out to us today to confirm what we already knew: her’ commitment to Israel’s security is unwavering ‘and she’ strongly disagrees with the characterization of ‘Israel by student George Mason,’ ”Mellman wrote in a statement. “The Biden-Harris administration, as well as President Biden and Vice President Harris personally, have exemplary pro-Israel records, for which we are extremely grateful.”

Last week, the House easily approved $ 1 billion in funding for Israel’s Iron Dome air defense system, submitting the bill to the Senate for consideration with just eight Democrats and one Republican voting against it. measure, and two “present” voters.
The air defense system, which has been heavily sponsored for years by the United States, is designed to intercept rockets in the air – by targeting them and firing interceptor missiles to destroy them – before they can. kill civilians living in Israel. This week’s legislation would specifically provide funding to replace the missile interceptors that were used in heavy fighting with Hamas in May.

Last spring, a number of Congressional Democrats stepped up pressure on the Biden administration to engage more forcefully in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as violence in the region escalated. “It’s time to have some serious conversations about conditioning military aid,” said Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a Democrat from New York at the time.

This story and its title have been updated with additional reports.

CNN’s Rachel Janfaza and Arlette Saenz contributed to this report.

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