WASHINGTON - Two Democratic lawmakers who played an important role in navigating the party's policy on Israel in the past several years have recently announced their intention to retire from Congress following their current term, dealing a blow to the forces within the Democratic Party who are aiming to hold the party together on Israel.
Reps. John Yarmuth, one of 25 Jewish Democrats in the House of Representatives and chair of the House Budget Committee, and David Price, among the longest-serving and most respected members of the Democratic caucus, have long been supportive of Israel, but were also tough critics of certain Israeli policies that they believed endanger a potential two-state solution. They are among the lawmakers closely associated with the pro-Israel, left-wing J Street organization.
Yarmuth, the 73-year-old Kentucky congressman, and Price, the 81-year-old North Carolina congressman, have never been shy to use their seniority and clout to hold Israel, the United States, and the Palestinians alike accountable for actions they deemed detrimental to the status quo.
They have been among the most vocal critics of any deterioration on the ground, consistently leading congressional letters and introducing legislation on Israeli settlement activity and the occupation, while remaining supportive of Israel's security needs and opposing Palestinian violence and unilateral actions at the International Criminal Court.
Yarmuth and Price are both co-sponsors on Rep. Andy Levin's Two-State Solution Act, perhaps the most thorough piece of legislation to date aimed at detailing how the United States can help preserve and push for a two-state solution between Israel and the Palestinians.
Most recently, during May's Gaza war, the two congressmen used their leadership positions to push President Joe Biden's administration to take a more immediate and active role in pursuing a cease-fire, and a more active long-term role in pursuing peace.
They also used their platform to reject any narrative of division within the Democratic Party. Yarmuth was among the first Democrats to criticize his fellow Democrats for "overreacting" to Rep. Ilhan Omar's remarks that some alleged equated the U.S. and Israel to Hamas and the Taliban.
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“It’s always fair for a member to criticize the policies of a government or of a governmental leader. I’ve been highly critical of the Israeli government’s policies and former Prime Minister Netanyahu. I don’t think anybody would call me antisemitic,” Yarmuth said at the time.
Price, meanwhile, told Haaretz in May that there’s a history of movement that represents where the party firmly lies, saying that "we’re against unilateral, destabilizing moves on either side. We’re fully in support of two-state diplomacy, we’re broadly in support of reentering the Iran nuclear deal. The notion that we’re all of a sudden divided and have to choose between AIPAC loyalists and the progressive wing is not an accurate narrative.”
Despite their clearly articulated positions on Israel – their local constituencies and party leadership understood their criticisms could not be misconstrued as lack of support for Israel – their departure marks a severe blow for such nuance. "Working with [Price] is always an honor and a privilege. We are so grateful for his wisdom, leadership and consistent advocacy for Israeli-Palestinian peace and diplomacy-first foreign policy," J Street said following Price's announcement. Other lawmakers from a similar ideological perch are also known to be mulling retirement, including Rep. Steve Cohen.