WASHINGTON – Minnesota Democratic Rep. Dean Phillips sharply criticized a progressive leader in the U.S. House for calling Israel "a racist state" ahead of the Israeli president's speech to Congress.

"To condemn an entire people, to call an entire country racist, is beyond the pale," said Phillips, who is Jewish. "It's anything but progressive."

The pushback from Phillips comes as U.S. House Democrats are contending with fierce tensions over Israel following the controversial words from Rep. Pramila Jayapal, chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus. She issued an apology the day after her Saturday comment.

Some progressives, including Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., plan to skip Israeli President Isaac Herzog's speech to Congress on Wednesday.

Omar tweeted last week "there is no way in hell" she'd attend the speech. She went on to detail criticisms of Israel's government and cited as part of her reasoning that she and fellow Democratic Rep. Rashida Tlaib, who is also Muslim, were denied entry into Israel in 2019 for supporting a boycott movement. Tlaib, who represents a Michigan district, also tweeted plans to boycott Herzog's speech.

Phillips took issue with Omar's words.

"While it's a free country, and anybody can choose not to attend a speech in Congress, I thought the language that was used when asked if she would be attending was offensive to me and certainly to the probably 20,000-plus people of the Jewish faith that she represents in the Fifth District," Phillips said.

A spokesperson for Omar declined to comment. Beth Gendler, executive director of Jewish Community Action in Minnesota, said in an email that "no community is monolithic — including the Jewish community, and none of us can or should claim to speak for the entire community."

"But as a Jewish constituent and organizer in the 5th District, I know that Rep. Omar has been outspoken in the fight against all forms of hate, including antisemitism," Gendler said.

Omar has apologized in the past for comments viewed as antisemitic. The stark differences over Israel between progressives and other Democrats have become pronounced again in the leadup to Herzog's appearance.

Progressive New York Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who is also boycotting Herzog's speech, said "we absolutely have a crisis of hate crimes, discrimination and rising antisemitism in the United States and it is our responsibility to stand with our Jewish community and protect our neighbors and protect our residents and constituents."

But Ocasio-Cortez added that "criticism of Israel is often conflated in bad faith with accusations of antisemitism in order to avoid and prevent and skirt difficult questions, geopolitical questions and questions around human rights."

Minnesota's other Democratic congressional members plan to attend the speech, aside from Omar and Rep. Betty McCollum. A spokesperson for McCollum said earlier this week the Democrat was unsure she'll attend, citing meetings and work involving the appropriations committee. McCollum has also been critical of Israel and its current prime minister.

Phillips and Rep. Angie Craig joined a statement with around 40 Democrats rebuking Jayapal for her comments and showing support for Israel.

"Hell YES I will attend President Herzog's address to Congress this Wednesday," Craig, a Democrat, tweeted recently. "I will continue to work with Democrats and Republicans to strengthen our relationship with Israel."

House Democratic leadership also put out a statement saying that "Israel is not a racist state."

In a wide bipartisan vote Tuesday, the U.S. House passed a GOP-led resolution saying "Israel is not a racist or apartheid state," that "Congress rejects all forms of antisemitism and xenophobia," as well as declaring "the United States will always be a staunch partner and supporter of Israel." Omar was one of only nine House Democrats to vote no on the resolution, while McCollum voted present. Minnesota's six other House members were among the 412 legislators who voted for the resolution.

Asked about Herzog's speech before the vote, Minnesota GOP Rep. Pete Stauber said that "it's going to be very important that we're there listening to the president and showing the support that the United States has for Israel. They're our strongest and best ally in the Middle East."

During a news conference, House Majority Whip Tom Emmer referenced Jayapal's comment and the small group of Democrats who have said they will boycott Herzog's speech.

"The contrast between our two parties could not be more clear," said Emmer, a Minnesota Republican.

Yet Phillips' concerns cut across political lines as he shared discomfort "with the tenor and tone of voice of both those on the right and the far left relative to antisemitic tropes, criticism of the people and state of Israel versus the policies of Israel."

Phillips noted that he thinks there's a misunderstanding of "the place that Israel fills in Jewish people's hearts" and "how fearful the American Jewish diaspora feels right now in the face of growing antisemitism, threats, violence and dangerous discourse."

Jayapal has attempted to clarify her words, saying in a Sunday statement, "I do not believe the idea of Israel as a nation is racist."

"I do, however, believe that [Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu's extreme right-wing government has engaged in discriminatory and outright racist policies and that there are extreme racists driving that policy within the leadership of the current government," she said.

Omar, who is deputy chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, tweeted support for Jayapal on Tuesday. She posted that the progressive apologized, and that Democratic leaders should move on and "not join the GOP in continuing to shame her."

"We spend too much time policing the language of Black and brown women who speak out against oppression and not enough time ending the oppression of Black and brown people," Omar tweeted.

While in Israel earlier this year on a congressional trip, Phillips recounted looking Netanyahu in the eye and talking about "the need to move in a more humane direction that protects and preserves the security of both Israel and Palestinians."

Phillips said Israel's current government has "lurched to the right in very unpredictable and disconcerting ways" and called the nation of Israel "imperfect."

"My real message here is less condemnation and more invitation to my colleagues both on the right and the left to understand the tragic recent history of the Jewish people, understand that Israel is the only country in the entire world to which Jews can be guaranteed refuge if another holocaust or cleansing or pogrom was to occur," Phillips said.