Khanna calls

Rep. Khanna hosts district town hall on rising antisemitism, appears on podcast with Oct. 7 conspiracy theorist

On Sunday, Rep. Ro Khanna pledged further action against antisemitism at a town hall. He also participated in an interview with Briahna Joy Gray, where he pushed back against her denial that Hamas committed rape on Oct. 7

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Rep. Ro Khanna (D-CA), who represents Silicon Valley, leaves the U.S. Capitol after voting on legislation that could ban TikTok at the U.S. Capitol on March 13, 2024 in Washington, DC.

Rep. Ro Khanna (D-CA), a progressive leader in Congress, hosted a community town hall on antisemitism in his district on Sunday evening, pledging afterward to take further action. 

The next day,  Briahna Joy Gray, a far left commentator who has become a prominent source of Oct. 7-related conspiracy theories, including efforts to cast doubt on Hamas’ use of widespread sexual violence on Oct. 7, published an interview with Khanna.

Khanna, who has urged the administration to call for a permanent cease-fire and take a harder line toward Israel, told Jewish Insider on Monday that he scheduled the town hall because he’s been concerned about rising antisemitism in his district, including harassment and blocked speaking events at local high schools and colleges, and a general climate of fear for Jews inside the district.

“I was just very moved by the personal stories” that constituents shared, Khanna told JI. 

“I think it took a lot of courage for a lot of the young folks to come and share the level of antisemitism they’re facing,” he continued. “I was saddened by it, to see some of it happening in school districts and in my district, and I plan to have very frank and difficult conversations with the administrators at these schools, to make it clear that antisemitism has zero place in the 17th District of California.” The district is situated in Silicon Valley.

Khanna said that, in response to the event, he’s appointing a dedicated staff member in his district to handle reports of antisemitism, and plans to reach out to leaders at local colleges and high schools where community members reported antisemitism. He said he’ll also be reaching out to Stanford University, where he was a visiting lecturer.

Gray’s “Bad Faith” podcast also released an interview with Khanna on Monday, during which the far-left host questioned comments by Khanna that Hamas had committed sexual violence on Oct. 7.

The congressman offered some pushback, pointing to a United Nations report that supported accusations that Hamas had committed sexual assault on Oct. 7 and that hostages taken to Gaza were also assaulted. Gray repeatedly attempted to discredit or downplay the U.N. report.

“Why not just acknowledge that Oct. 7 was a horrific terrorist attack where sexual violence took place and now we need to figure out how we get to a solution and peace, but we unequivocally condemn that?” Khanna asked Gray. “It seems to me not worth arguing over that point, just like I wouldn’t want to argue over the point of, are women and children in Palestine dying.”

Khanna, asked about his decision to participate in the interview with Gray, given her track record of espousing antisemitic conspiracy theories since Oct. 7, told JI that he participated for the same reason that he appears on conservative media.

“I am often criticized for speaking with people who I disagree with, whether on Fox, NewsNation, or progressive podcasts. But I continue to engage and think we shouldn’t shy away from debates and discussions with people who have different ideologies,” he said in a statement to JI after the interview. “I went on Bad Faith and made clear that what happened on October 7th was a terrorist attack and unequivocally condemned the rapes and brutal sexual assault.”

Gray, during the interview, also repeated claims that pro-Israel interests and leaders are the primary driving force behind efforts to force the sale of or ban TikTok in the U.S.

Khanna told JI in a statement that he does not agree with Gray on this issue, adding, “There are real national security concerns with the Chinese government and that was the driving force behind the legislation although I disagree with the specifics of the bill on First Amendment grounds.”

Pressed during his interview with JI on rising antisemitism since Oct. 7 from progressive and pro-Palestinian spaces, Khanna emphasized the need for “respectful dialogue” between the pro-Israel community and the Muslim and Arab community and others concerned about the humanitarian situation in Gaza.

“I’m hopeful when the temperature comes down to facilitate that kind of dialogue,” Khanna said. “But what I’ve emphasized always is the need for respect and civility and dialogue.”

The California congressman said he believes a permanent cease-fire and release of all hostages is necessary to reduce tensions between the Jewish and the Muslim and Arab American communities to facilitate direct dialogue.

He said he’d raised the subject of intercommunal dialogue at his antisemitism town hall and an Iftar dinner in his district on Sunday, “and I got a good reception from both communities.”

At the same time, Khanna said that the antisemitism town hall required extra security, due to rumors of planned protests, although no protests actually occurred.

“It’s sad to me that we needed to increase security, and it increased my resolve to go through with it, and be very public with it and to stand in solidarity with Jewish Americans in our district,” he said. “[I] will do my part to make sure any person in our district feels safe, and I found it very concerning that a lot of people [on Sunday] said that they were not feeling safe.”

He also repeatedly highlighted his support for a bipartisan resolution urging schools to adopt standards ensuring a “nuanced and accurate understanding” of the Holocaust and World War II, to “prioritize and integrate” lessons on antisemitism and the Jewish people and calling for federal funding to support such programs. The legislation is nonbinding.

“We have seen a tremendous rise in antisemitic incidents in our community, many related to anti-Israel hate, to the point that kids cannot safely attend school anymore,” Oded Shekel, the founder and executive director of the Bay Area Jewish Coalition, said in a statement about the town hall. “We appreciate Rep. Khanna for coming here today to hear from the community, and we hope to see leaders like him continuing to fight antisemitism in Congress and beyond.”

Asked what progressive leaders can do to show American Jews that they are taking antisemitism seriously, Khanna again pointed to the resolution, as well as his visit to the Chabad House at Harvard, the town hall in his district and his willingness to meet with representatives from a range of American Jewish groups such as the Anti-Defamation League, J Street, AIPAC and the Jewish Community Relations Council.

Speaking to JI about his advocacy for a permanent cease-fire, Khanna said that the best way to achieve reform and new governance in Gaza is through an end to the war and a diplomatic summit with Arab allies, Israel and Palestinian municipal and civic leadership from Gaza and the West Bank. 

He has separately called for the U.S. to unilaterally recognize a Palestinian state.

“My belief… is that the solution to [Hamas] is not a military solution, that you will not be able to eliminate 30 to 40,000 Hamas fighters. There has to be a political solution,” he told JI.

Khanna said that Hamas should have no role in the future governance in Gaza, or in diplomatic talks, but he said he does not think that it’s militarily “achievable” to eliminate Hamas’ military capacity.

“It’s going to take tough diplomacy and negotiation from our Gulf allies like Saudi Arabia, the [United Arab Emirates]— who also have a problem with the Muslim Brotherhood and their ties to Hamas, as does Egypt — to figure out what an alternative governance looks like,” he said. “I’m not saying it’s easy. Obviously, if it was easy, Clinton or Obama or someone would have been able to solve it.”

He did not offer a clear solution as to how diplomatic efforts would address Hamas’ continued military capabilities, which could allow the terrorist group to continue to dominate Gaza by force.

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