Days after former Democratic congresswoman Cynthia McKinney came under fire for a tweet deemed antisemitic, the man Georgians elected to replace her was quoted comparing Jewish settlements in the disputed West Bank to “termites.”
The conservative news site the Washington Free Beacon reported Monday that Lithonia Democratic U.S. Rep. Hank Johnson made the remarks while speaking at an event sponsored by the U.S. Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation.
“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 during an event sponsored by the U.S. Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation, an anti-Israel organization that galvanizes supporters of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement, or BDS.
“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,” Johnson continued. “And then with the building of walls and the building of check points 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.”
The Anti-Defamation League called Johnson’s comments “offensive and unhelpful” and asked the lawmaker to retract his remarks. “Demonization, dehumanization of settlers doesn’t advance peace,” the organization tweeted.
Johnson later apologized for his remarks, saying they were a “poor choice of words:”
In a statement to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Johnson, who recently returned from a trip to the West Bank with several House Democratic colleagues, said 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.”
His office also elaborated on the Free Beacon story:
“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 Free Beacon also reported that Johnson also likened Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman to GOP nominee Donald Trump.
McKinney came under fire on social media over the weekend for a tweet that implied Israel was behind recent terrorist attacks in France and Germany, the latest in a history of anti-Israel remarks from the ex-Georgia lawmaker and her father, the late state Rep. Billy McKinney.
Jewish voters and donors were among those who rallied behind Johnson in 2006 to oust McKinney during the 4th District Democratic primary and subsequent runoff.
In the years since, Johnson has arguably become the most liberal member of Georgia’s congressional delegation. A member of the House Armed Services Committee, he specializes in defense issues but is perhaps best known for a botched quip about whether the island of Guam could tip over due to the U.S. military presence there.