The head of the Georgia GOP is calling on Congressman Hank Johnson, D-Lithonia, to resign after the five-term lawmaker was quoted likening Jewish settlement policy in the disputed West Bank to "termites."
Georgia Republican Party Chairman John Padgett released this statement this afternoon:
"Thanks to President Obama's failed leadership and reckless foreign policy, our relationship with Israel is strained. Congressman Hank Johnson's comments were wildly offensive and undermine efforts to strengthen ties with our closest friend and greatest ally. Time and time again, Rep. Johnson has proven himself to be an embarrassment to our state. He should resign from public office immediately and allow a public servant with a heart for Israel to take his place."
Padgett's comments came a day after Johnson was quoted saying the Israeli government's policy in the West Bank was "almost like termites (that) can get into a residence and eat," according to the conservative news site the Washington Free Beacon, "before you know that you’ve been eaten up and you fall in on yourself."
Johnson's comments quickly drew heat on social media, including from the Anti-Defamation League, which asked the lawmaker to retract his remarks.
Johnson rapidly apologized, and his office released a more thorough statement today:
“We must work to promote policies that support a two-state solution and encourage trust between both sides,” said Congressman Johnson. The congressman regrets his comments. He did not intend to insult or speak derogatorily of Israelis or the Jewish people. When using the metaphor of termites, the Congressman was referring to the corrosive process, not the people. “Poor choice of words – I meant no offense. The point is settlement activity has slowly and deliberately undermined Palestinian land claims.”
Also on Tuesday, the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation, the group that held the event during which Johnson made the disputed remarks, issued a statement along with Jewish Voice for Peace saying the lawmaker's remarks were "taken out of context" in the Free Beacon story:
"This analogy was taken out of context in an article with a misleading headline written by a journalist with a longstanding record of anti-Palestinian reporting. The effect of this deliberate misreading was to distract from the important observations made by Representative Johnson regarding the expansion of Israel’s illegal settlement enterprise and what life is like for millions of Palestinians living under Israel’s nearly 50-year-old repressive military occupation regime.
Representative Johnson is among a growing number of Members of Congress who are speaking out in support of Palestinian rights and a just peace between Palestinian and Israelis. We thank Representative Johnson for his continued fight for the human and civil rights of all people, including Palestinians."
GOP pressure to force Johnson's resignation is little more than rhetorical. Johnson represents the most thoroughly Democratic congressional district in the state.
The district does boast a significant Jewish population, though, one that first rallied around Johnson in 2006 to help propel him to victory in the Democratic runoff against then-incumbent Cynthia McKinney, who has her own history of making anti-Israel remarks.
The groups also posted a video of Johnson's remarks, which you can watch below, courtesy of the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation. The disputed quote begins at roughly the 34:45 mark: