Democratic Congressman Apologizes for Comparing Israeli Settlers to 'Termites'

Georgia congressman Hank Johnson also likened Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman to Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump.

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Georgia congressman Hank Johnson.
Georgia congressman Hank Johnson.Credit: Screenshot/Twitter
Allison Kaplan Sommer
Allison Kaplan Sommer

A Democratic congressman who was harshly criticized for a metaphor that implicitly compared West Bank settlers to termites has apologized for his remarks. 

In remarks made during an event for the U.S. Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation, Georgia congressman Hank Johnson was quoted Monday by the Washington Free Beacon as using an infestation metaphor to describe the progress of building in the West Bank, saying:

“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, according to the Beacon. “It has come to the point that occupation, with highways that cut through Palestinian land, with walls that go up, with the inability or the restriction, with the illegality of Palestinians being able to travel on those roads and those roads cutting off Palestinian neighborhoods from each other. And then with the building of walls and the building of checkpoints that restrict movement of Palestinians. We’ve gotten to the point where the thought of a Palestinian homeland gets further and further removed from reality.”

Shortly after the report of Johnson’s comments appeared in the Free Beacon bearing the headline “Congressman: Jewish settlers are like termites” the Anti-Defamation League condemned the remarks on Twitter, stating that “This is an offensive and unhelpful characterization. Demonization, dehumanization of settlers doesn’t advance peace. We call on you to apologize and retract this offensive, unhelpful characterization.” 

Johnson then tweeted in response: “Poor choice of words – apologies for offense. Point is settlement activity continues slowly undermine 2-state solution.” 

Speaking to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Johnson’s office challenged the Free Beacon headline that triggered the firestorm, claiming it was a mischaracterization of his remarks. 

“The article (Free Beacon) headline is wrong. 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.”

The congressional office said Johnson had recently returned from a tour of the West Bank with other Democratic congressman, telling the newspaper that the “increasingly violent situation in Israel and Palestine is unsustainable.”

“The corrosive settlement policies undermine the ability of all citizens in the region to enjoy healthy, peaceful lives in safe communities,” he said. “We must work to promote policies that support a two-state solution and encourage trust between both sides.”

Following Johnson’s apology on Twitter, the ADL replied that it “appreciated” the congressman’s response. 

The Free Beacon report also said that Johnson likened Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman to Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, quoting him as saying in “the Israeli government, which is the most right-wing government ever to exist in the state of Israel in its history, you got a guy like Trump who is now the minister of defense in Israel calling the shots.”

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