With a few objections, Tennessee passes joint resolution supporting Israel

Rep. Chris Todd of Jackson speaks in the Tennessee House about the pro-Israel resolution

The Tennessee General Assembly overwhelmingly passed a joint resolution in support of the State of Israel, but not without some bumps in the road by some representatives who stated that they support Israel, “but…”, and in some cases the “but” included comparisons of Israel’s actions to Nazi Germany and a charge that Israel is prolonging the war to benefit Prime Minister Netanyahu’s political future.

The resolution notes that Israel has repeatedly been forced to defend itself and its people, and on Oct. 7, “Tennesseans, alongside people around the world, were horrified by the violent terrorist attacks launched against the Jewish people and the State of Israel.”

The resolution stated that Tennessee is “an unequivocal supporter of the State of Israel and its right to exist and to defend itself against terror and threats to the security of its people,” with an “unwavering commitment.”

Therefore, the resolution stated, the legislators “reaffirm our support for all people of the State of Israel and express our hope that the State of Israel and its neighbors can live in freedom and peace with mutual recognition of each other’s dignity and autonomy.” It condemns the “terrorist actions that began on Oct. 7,” offers “heartfelt condolences” to “all victims of the attacks” and reaffirms the state’s support for Israel.

The bill was introduced on Jan 23 by Sen. Joey Hensley of Hohenwald. On Feb. 22, it passed the Senate, 29-2, with one present. The House passed it on April 4, 76-10, with 11 voting present.

Before each vote, several representatives spoke out against the bill, some citing trips to Israel that were meaningful to them spiritually and where they connected to Israeli people, but nevertheless expressed doubts about Israel’s conduct.

On Feb. 22, Sen. Heidi Campbell of Nashville called the resolution “a struggle for me.” She said that Hamas is an evil terrorist organization and the actions of Oct .7 were “evil and irredeemable,” but “they were not perpetrated by innocent Palestinian families.”

She said she supports Israel’s right to defend her people but “the answer is not to kill innocent people.” She also stated that “I do not support their current prime minister, Bibi Netanyahu, who may be intentionally prolonging this issue as a means of holding on to power.”

While she stated “I love the Jewish community and the hostages must be released,” she said she could not support the resolution without a line “expressing support for the Palestinian community.”

Sen. London Lamar of Memphis, who was among those who visited Israel a couple years ago, said “It’s really hard to see a group who has experienced so much tragedy also support the tragedy of another group.”

Lamar said “I do not condone the attack done by Hamas or any terrorist group… they must be brought down.” However, “that does not require the mass slaughter of Palestinian babies… what this resolution should be doing is calling for a ceasefire” and figuring out how to live together in peace.

“Support Israeli families and Palestinian families living in peace,” she concluded. “I’m sick of Jewish babies and Palestinian babies being slaughtered.”

When Sen. Charlane Oliver of Nashville visited Israel two years ago, “I was taken aback by what I saw” in refugee camps in the territories, looking like the blighted neighborhoods in north Nashville and south Memphis.

She said, “I know oppression when I see it and I just cannot for the life of me understand how a group of Jewish people who were unfortunately terribly persecuted by the German Nazis are now inflicting this kind of persecution on another group of people.”

She said it is important to separate views of the Israeli people from their government, and Palestinians from Hamas. Oct. 7 “was a terrorist attack, and it was wrong… but also, 12,000 children have been slaughtered in Gaza. I can’t turn my back on that.”

Oliver charged that Israel is “a government that is committing war crimes with impunity.”

As for the resolution itself, she said “this is a complex issue” and this resolution is crafted in a way to make those opposing it seem antisemitic.

Sen. Raumesh Akbari of Memphis also went two years ago and was baptized in the Sea of Galilee. She said that Hamas is not the Palestinian people.

“We can condemn what happened on Oct. 7, wish for peace in the region and not be against the Palestinian people. That is what I am hoping this resolution is doing,” Akbari said, expressing hope in a “two state solution so both entities can live in peace.”

Responding to the criticisms, Sen. Mark Pody of Lebanon said “We have stood with them in peace, and we stand with them in war.”

To those who questioned why Tennessee would speak about overseas issues, Pody said “Tennessee has a voice. I am taking a side. I am firmly standing with Israel. Israel is fighting for its existence. There are nations around them that want to genocide them.”

Lt. Gov Randy McNally said “As a nation, as a state, we should take a very firm stand against Hamas… all those organizations that believe Israel should not live in peace. I believe we should take a firm stance against Iran that is supporting all this.”

House protests

The debate was shorter in the House on April 4, but when the question was called, chants of “Let Gaza Live” could be heard in the chamber.

Surrounded by co-sponsors, Rep. Chris Todd of Jackson thanked those who had worked on the resolution and made sure it would be a bipartisan expression of “our string support for the state of Israel.”

Todd said Oct. 7 was “unspeakable… by an enemy that was not provoked.”

He added, “We stand with Israel, they are our friend and our ally. This is a very serious moment for the state of Israel and we stand with them 100 percent.”

In her criticism of the resolution, Rep. Aftyn Behn of Nashville, who used to work in the United Nations, stated that “Israel is committing genocide, funded by the United States, and this resolution condones genocide.”

She ticked off a list of statistics, starting with “46,496 children killed.” As of early April, the Gaza Ministry of Health statistics, which come from Hamas and are unverified by any outside source, claims a total of 33,000 killed in Gaza since Oct. 7. The ministry claims the majority are women and children, and does not mention any number of Hamas combatants killed.

Israel estimates 14,000 Hamas combatants have been killed, which would make the civilian to combatants killed ratio one of the smallest in the history of warfare.

She said those killed by Israel in Gaza are “72 percent children and women, with a daily death rate surpassing that of any major conflict in 21st history (sic).”

Behn also mentioned “2 million people displaced, 443 damaged schools, 349 healthcare professionals killed, 300 healthcare facilities destroyed,” not mentioning that schools and healthcare facilities were used by Hamas for military purposes.

She further charged that “this conflict has killed more aid workers than have been killed in any country in the last 30 years.”

She asked “how does this resolution enhance the safety and well-being of Jewish Tennesseeans that face tangible material threats of white Christian nationalism and right wing violence?”

She said that after Oct. 7, she worked with Jewish constituents on legislation that she could not get a first or second for in committee, “while a resolution was passed declaring November Christian heritage month… We have to be working on legislation that protects our Jewish Tennesseans on the ground.”

Dwayne Thompson of Memphis said he has been a supporter of Israel and will continue to do so, “but their reaction to this has been abysmal.”

Thompson said “They are out there killing civilians, hundreds if not thousands of children.” He said “I hope they defeat Hamas… but the majority of people killed are innocent civilians.”

He hoped for a change in Israeli policy, and “maybe a change of prime ministers.”

A copy of the joint resolution was presented to Israeli Consul General Anat Sultan-Dadon with the consulate in Atlanta.