VP's Office Trying to Do Damage Control After Refusal to Push Back Against Student's Anti-Israel Claims

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Posted: Oct 03, 2021 8:00 AM
VP's Office Trying to Do Damage Control After Refusal to Push Back Against Student's Anti-Israel Claims

Source: AP Photo/Evan Vucci

Vice President Kamala Harris office's now has to do damage control following a recent atrocious response towards a student at George Mason University on Tuesday who claimed Israel was engaging in "an ethnic genocide." Once the young woman was done speaking, Harris told her that "I'm glad you did" bring it up and supported her for speaking "your truth," as she went on to emphasize a sense of unity. 

Alex Thompson and Sam Stein for POLITICO shared some scoop on Friday on how "Harris' office does damage control over student’s Israel 'ethnic genocide' comment" after that exchange. As they began their piece with:

Vice President Kamala Harris’ office is working behind the scenes to mend relationships with pro-Israel Democrats after not pushing back on a student who, in asking her a question, accused Israel of “ethnic genocide.” 

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A senior adviser to Harris also reached out to Rep. Ted Deutch (D-Fl.) the co-chair of the Bipartisan Anti-Semitism Taskforce, a source familiar with the outreach told POLITICO.

Deutch and his office did not respond to a request for comment. But the source said it was “fair to say that the group of House Democrats that super care about this noticed it and talked about it.” Harris’ office also called Jonathan Greenblatt, the CEO of the Anti-Defamation League, Thursday afternoon, the source said.  

Last month, Rep. Ted Deutch (D-FL) called out Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) for her anti-Semitic remarks she made on the House floor. The squad member had opposed funding of the Iron Dome, which overwhelmingly passed the House 420 to 9. 

Staff also got in touch with Democratic Majority for Israel, which the group's president, Mark Mellman, did speak to:

On Thursday, Harris' senior staff contacted the influential Democratic Majority for Israel to clean up remarks she made Wednesday at George Mason University where Harris was visiting a classroom of students. "We were pleased Vice President Harris’s senior staff reached out to us today to confirm what we already knew: Her ‘commitment to Israel’s security is unwavering,’” said Mark Mellman, the president of the group.

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Mellman quoted Harris’ senior staff as reassuring them that the vice president “strongly disagrees with the George Mason student’s characterization of Israel.”

Mellman also signaled that he wanted to move on from the dust-up, saying: “The Biden-Harris Administration, as well as President Biden and Vice President Harris personally, have exemplary pro-Israel records, for which we are immensely grateful.”

Kore scoop about the fallout was also reported by Jasmine Wright and Jeremy Diamond for CNN:

After that exchange, Harris' senior staff has been reaching out to the heads of several leading pro-Israel organizations, per a source familiar with Harris' office. 

Her team began reaching out to the heads of several leading Jewish organizations after those leaders reached out to the White House to express their concerns, two people with direct knowledge of the conversations said. Harris' deputy national security adviser Phil Gordon and Herbie Ziskend, the vice president's deputy communications director, led the outreach, the sources said, making clear that Harris's silence did not equate agreement with the students' claims of "ethnic genocide." 

"There's a recognition that the impression left by her failure to correct the student is problematic and does not reflect her commitment to a strong US-Israel relationship, nor that of the President and the Administration," William Daroff, the CEO of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, told CNN. 

Harris' team reached out to 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. 

"This was touching base with her friends and allies and supporters who know that she's very strong in her commitment to defending Israel and defending Israel security," the source familiar with Harris' added. 

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 to Israel's security. While visiting George Mason University to discuss voting rights, a student voiced a personal opinion during a political science class," Sanders said. 

Harris' office, handled in part by her communications team, has taken a deliberate stance in trying to clean up this latest issue. An additional source familiar with Harris' office's outreach told CNN the vice president's team distributed facts on her record on Israel in her defense to allies, emphasizing her unwavering commitment to Israel.

The reaction and response from Jonathan Greenblatt of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) were also addressed. 

In a statement to CNN, Greenblatt added, "Making accusations of Israel committing genocide — an incendiary claim that is patently and demonstrably untrue — needs to be called out because it's that demonization that has led to violence as we saw in the United States earlier this year," referencing attacks on Jews in US streets in May.

While it may be illuminating to hear such clarifications now from the vice president's staff, it likely would have been best for all involved had Harris herself said such things to push back against such a claim to do with a strong ally as Israel. 

Further, the article does not address why Harris didn't just speak up at the time to provide such assurances on the spot. 

At least even Wright and Diamond recognized it is a pattern, in saying that "The lack of push back from Harris to the student while taking questions during the visit has become the latest hiccup for her office that faced a turbulent summer, fueled in part by messaging mishaps."