Kansas City area Democrats voted ‘present’ on GOP antisemitism resolution. Here’s why

Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, D-Mo.

Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, a Kansas City Democrat, has voted for several House resolutions expressing support for Israel and denouncing antisemism.

But as the House voted on another resolution Tuesday — its third since Hamas’ attacked Israel on Oct. 7 — Cleaver balked.

“The U.S. House of Representatives has already taken votes on five resolutions supporting Israel or condemning antisemitism in April, May, July, October, and just last week,” Cleaver said. “It is clear that Republican House leaders are turning a serious issue into political theater, while taking no substantive action to combat antisemitism and instead further dividing an already divided nation.”

The resolution, which passed 311-14, with 92 members voting present, includes a phrase saying the House “clearly and firmly states that anti-Zionism is antisemitism,” which drew opposition from some Democratic members. Zionism is the support for the existence of a Jewish nation, specifically Israel since its establishment following World War II.

Cleaver, along with 92 Democrats, including Rep. Sharice Davids, a Kansas Democrat, voted “present” instead of voting for or against the measure. Rep. Cori Bush, a St. Louis Democrat who is pushing for a ceasefire, voted against the resolution.

The resolution comes amid a rift in the Democratic Party over the war in Gaza. Many progressive activists are pushing for a ceasefire, while well-established pro-Israel groups are pushing lawmakers to continue to support America’s closest ally in the Middle East.

Cleaver, a pastor and civil rights leader who called ceasefire in exchange for the release of hostages, has largely been aligned with the Biden administration’s approach to Israel — supporting humanitarian pauses, calling for fewer civilian casualties and pushing for Hamas to release hostages.

Fighting resumed Friday after a weeklong truce. While 100 hostages have been released, 140 hostages are still held by Hamas and other militant groups.

Congress has been unable to pass a bill that would provide military and humanitarian aid to Israel.

The Democratic-controlled Senate has tied the funding to aid for Ukraine and a potential compromise on stricter immigration laws, stalling the process. Senate Republicans planned to vote against a $110 billion measure on Wednesday that would have provided military and humanitarian aid but would not have included any changes to border policy.

In the meantime, both Republicans and Democrats have been vocal in opposing rising antisemitism. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, a New York Democrat and the highest ranking Jewish member of Congress, gave a speech last week on the Senate floor condemning antisemitic attacks.

Several Jewish Democrats voted present instead of supporting the House resolution on Tuesday, including Rep. Jerry Nadler, a New York Democrat and the most senior Jewish member of the House. He made a speech condemning the resolution as a Republican effort to “weaponize Jewish lives for political gain.”

He said the line in the resolution saying all anti-Zionism is antisemitism was factually wrong.

“While most anti-Zionism is indeed antisemitic, the authors, if they were at all familiar with Jewish history and culture, should know about Jewish anti-Zionism that was, and is, expressly not antisemitic,” Nadler said. “This resolution ignores the fact that even today, certain orthodox Hasidic Jewish communities—the Satmars in New York and others—as well as adherents of the pre-state Jewish labor movement have held views that are at odds with the modern Zionist conception.”

Davids, who has quietly supported Israel since the Oct. 7 attack, has also voted for several resolutions condemning antisemitism and supporting Israel.

“I strongly condemn all forms of antisemitism and voted to reaffirm Israel’s right to exist as recently as last week,” Davids said. “I support certain aspects of H.Res.894 but am concerned that some of the language was included for political gain rather than a genuine commitment to combating the spread of antisemitism.”

The vote was quickly used by the National Republican Congressional Committee, which is targeting Davids in the 2024 election. Delanie Bomar, a spokeswoman for the NRCC, sent out a statement saying Davids refused to condemn antisemitism.

“It shouldn’t be hard to condemn antisemitism but apparently for Sharice Davids, it’s too heavy a lift,” Bomar said. “Voters in Kansas deserve better than this.”