Former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has drawn criticism for suggesting that some pro-Palestinian activism in the U.S. is part of a foreign influence operation.
On Sunday, the Democratic representative from California said she would like the FBI to investigate potential Russian connections and funding behind American calls for an armistice in the Israel-Hamas war.
Responding to a question on CNN’s State of the Union about growing anger among Democrats, particularly young people and Arab Americans, at the Biden administration’s handling of the conflict, Pelosi said: “What we have to do is try to stop the suffering in Gaza … But for them to call for a ceasefire is Mr. Putin’s message.”
“Make no mistake, this is directly connected to what he would like to see,” Pelosi continued. “I think some of these protesters are spontaneous and organic and sincere,” she caveated. “Some, I think, are connected to Russia. And I say that having looked at this for a long time now, as you know.”
When asked by CNN correspondent Dana Bash to clarify if she thought some protests were “Russian plants,” Pelosi replied: “Seeds or plants—I think some financing should be investigated, and I want to ask the FBI to investigate that.”
Russian President Vladimir Putin has openly blamed the U.S. and the West for the crisis in Gaza, and experts say he is trying to use the widespread backlash toward the mounting toll on Palestinians to counter the U.S.’s global influence.
Pelosi, however, appears to be the first and most senior U.S. official to publicly claim that Russia, which the U.S. intelligence community concluded meddled in both the 2016 and 2020 presidential elections, is actively attempting to splinter the Democratic Party’s base through the American pro-Palestinian movement ahead of the 2024 contest in November.
Adding to her charges of Russian influence, in a video posted by the anti-war group Code Pink on X on Monday, Pelosi can be seen telling activists outside her home in October to “go back to China where your headquarters is.”
Last August, the New York Times reported links between Code Pink and Beijing. The investigation concluded that the group, which also opposes U.S. funding and arming of Ukraine, “is part of a lavishly funded influence campaign that defends China and pushes its propaganda.” (The GOP-led House Committee on Natural Resources announced in November that it was conducting ongoing oversight into the tax-exempt nonprofit’s potential connections to the CCP.)
Code Pink said in a statement on Monday that it “vehemently condemns” Pelosi’s comments. “It is an egregious insinuation that those activists who want an end to the genocide in Gaza are acting as agents of a foreign state,” the group said. “Such a statement not only undermines the fundamental principles of American democracy but also constitutes a slanderous attack.”
Pelosi also drew condemnation from other advocacy groups and political observers. In a statement on Sunday, the Council on American-Islamic Relations called Pelosi’s remarks an “unsubstantiated smear.”
“Rep. Pelosi’s claim that some of the Americans protesting for a Gaza ceasefire are working with Vladmir Putin sounds delusional and her call for the FBI to investigate those protesters without any evidence is downright authoritarian,” CAIR’s national executive director Nihad Awad said.
Waleed Shahid, a leftist strategist and former spokesperson for progressive Democrats including Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, described Pelosi’s comments on X as “unacceptable disinformation being spread by the most powerful Democratic Party leaders about the positions of the vast majority of Democratic Party voters.” He added: “Foreign adversaries will exploit any and all divisions. But it’s a politician’s job to heal division—not further criminalize Arabs and Muslims.”
Former Democratic congressional candidate and head of the progressive Rebellion PAC Brianna Wu offered a more charitable interpretation, saying in a post on X that Pelosi’s word choice was “not great” but also that “Information warfare doesn’t invent new divisions. It finds existing divisions and exacerbates them.”
“Since Putin wants Trump to win, he will obviously be funding efforts to split the Democratic Party,” she continued. “Why is it so shocking Pelosi might want credible allegations investigated?”
Pelosi’s office issued a statement to media on Monday: “As Speaker Pelosi said on CNN, we have to focus on stopping the suffering in Gaza, and she will continue demanding that all hostages be freed now. Speaker Pelosi has always supported and defended the right of all Americans to make their views known through peaceful protest. Informed by three decades on the House Intelligence Committee, Speaker Pelosi is acutely aware of how foreign adversaries meddle in American politics to sow division and impact our elections, and she wants to see further investigation ahead of the 2024 election.”
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