During the 2020 presidential campaign, Karine Jean-Pierre applauded the decision by every Democratic candidate to skip the annual conference put on by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, better known as AIPAC. She slammed it for “racist, Islamophobic” rhetoric and for inviting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to speak. Netanyahu, Jean-Pierre correctly noted, was facing allegations of war crimes and a raft of corruption charges.
Though Netanyahu still faces those allegations, and many more, Jean-Pierre has defended Netanyahu’s bombardment of Gaza in her current role as press secretary for President Joe Biden.
“Netanyahu not only has personal charges levied against him—he’s been indicted on both bribery and fraud charges—but under his leadership of Israel, according to the United Nations, Israel may have committed war crimes in its attacks on Gazan protesters,” Jean-Pierre wrote in a March 2019 column in Newsweek.
“It’s time to call a spade a spade,” she continued. “AIPAC is not progressive. You cannot call yourself a progressive while continuing to associate yourself with an organization like AIPAC that has often been the antithesis of what it means to be progressive.”
Jean-Pierre at the time was a spokesperson and senior adviser to the liberal group MoveOn, a former Obama administration official, and a commentator for MSNBC. The column explicitly noted that it represented her personal views, not those of her employer.
As White House press secretary, Jean-Pierre’s rhetoric has more closely aligned with AIPAC’s than with her own previous assessment. “I’ve seen some of those statements this weekend,” Jean-Pierre said in mid-October, referring to calls by some Democratic lawmakers for a ceasefire. “And we’re gonna continue to be very clear. We believe they’re wrong. We believe they’re repugnant and we believe they’re disgraceful.” (It was not entirely clear what she was referring to as repugnant.)
When recently asked about whether “anti-Israel protesters” were extremists, Jean-Pierre conflated protest against Israel with antisemitism and pivoted to talk about white supremacists who marched in Charlottesville, Virginia, saying the White House also condemned those neo-Nazis.
Her tough words were directed instead at AIPAC before Biden was sworn in. “Its severely racist, Islamophobic rhetoric has proven just as alarming” as its choice of speakers, Jean-Pierre went on. “The organization has become known for trafficking in anti-Muslim and anti-Arab rhetoric while lifting up Islamophobic voices and attitudes. As we’ve seen over the course of the Trump administration’s tenure, words can prove just as destructive as laws. Anti-Muslim and anti-Arab rhetoric doesn’t simply sit in a silo. It interacts with the world, creating and fuming hatred that leads to hateful acts, whether the package is individual hate crimes—or collective—the Muslim ban.”
The war crimes Jean-Pierre referred to relate to the Great March of Return, which began in early 2018, with Gazans gathering each Friday and peacefully marching to the Gaza border. The Israeli army responded by shooting and killing hundreds of unarmed Palestinians and wounding many more. Israeli forces famously began shooting at their legs.
“The number of wounded has reached colossal proportions,” the AP reported. “The upsurge in violence has left a visible mark on Gaza that will likely remain for decades to come. It is now common to see young men walking through dilapidated streets on crutches. Most have legs bandaged or fitted with a metal frame called a fixator, which uses pins or screws that are inserted into fractured bones to help stabilize them.” The United Nations warned that, on top of maiming the population, Israel had rejected requests by Palestinians to leave Gaza for medical treatment.
Jean-Pierre herself has been dubbed “anti-Israel” by critics. When she was named to replace Jen Psaki as White House spokesperson, her Newsweek column resurfaced. “Amidst all the celebration of Biden’s new press secretary checking multiple boxes in identity politics,” Donald Trump’s ambassador to Israel David Friedman told Haaretz, “the mainstream media forgot to mention that she hates Israel.” The false charge that she “hates Israel” rhymes with Jean-Pierre’s current lumping of protests against Israel with antisemitism. Richard Grenell, the former acting director of National Intelligence under Trump, also said to Haaretz: “Has there ever been a White House spokesperson so hostile to Israel?”
Biden, however, defended her, as did the group Democratic Majority for Israel, which is aligned with AIPAC. “Jill and I have known and respected Karine a long time and she will be a strong voice speaking for me and this administration,” Biden told Haaretz at the time. Outgoing press secretary Psaki had kind words as well. “Karine’s role as Press Secretary will be to speak on behalf of President Biden, who throughout his 50-year career – in the Senate, as Vice President, and as President – has been, and will continue to be, a steadfast supporter of Israel,” she said.
In her Newsweek column, it was AIPAC that Jean-Pierre accused of going soft on antisemitism.
“AIPAC itself has refused to condemn the repeated and callous anti-Semitic remarks that have come out of the Trump administration,” she wrote. “Steve Bannon, a close ally and former member of the Trump administration, reportedly had his kids removed from school because of ‘the number of Jews that attend’ and that he ‘didn’t want [his children] going to school with Jews.’ These ‘reports’ are according to Bannon’s wife. Time after time, policy after policy, speech after speech. At nearly every opportunity, AIPAC has shown that it is no bastion of progressivism.”