Rep. Jayapal talks Gaza, island treatment center at Vashon speaking event

U.S. Representative Pramila Jayapal held court at Vashon Center for the Arts on Tuesday, Dec. 19, where Islanders questioned her on local healthcare plans, roads, and her position on the growing humanitarian catastrophe in Gaza.

The speaking event capped a whirlwind visit to the island for Jayapal, which included stops with the Vashon Food Bank, Seattle Indian Health Board (SIHB), and Vashon Island Fire & Rescue (VIFR).

Jayapal, who chairs the House Progressive Caucus, praised what seems to be “a resurgence of the labor movement around the country,” and criticized her Republican colleagues in Congress — telling the crowd that Republicans have prioritized impeaching Joe Biden and pushing for anti-immigrant provisions at the U.S.-Mexico border — as well as the overall body’s relative lethargy in passing legislation.

“I am very sad to say that I am part of one of the most unproductive Congresses that I can imagine,” Jayapal said. “… This has been a do-nothing Congress. … We still have not funded the appropriations bills. We are still under a continuing resolution.”

Jayapal said she shares islander’s concerns over the state ferry system. Her work on that front includes pulling millions to the state for ferry construction through the infrastructure bill, securing $5 million to refurbish existing ferries, and advocating for workforce training on the Congressional Labor Committee, she said.

Speakers brought up housing, childcare, energy, and myriad local and international issues.

Two questioners shared concerns with Jayapal over the upcoming SIHB substance use treatment facility, for which Jayapal has secured $5 million in federal funding.

The first shared support for treating addiction but said the island “does not have the resources” to support the facility, citing problems with the ferry system and a concern that VIFR would be spread thin by the facility.

Jayapal said concerns are legitimate for such a new project but shared hope that “we can keep our hearts open” to SIHB’s Indigenous, traditional approach to healing on the island.

“We’ve obviously heard some of these concerns as well, and we’ve made it clear to Thunderbird and all the partners, that this is a partnership that should bring benefit to the community,” Jayapal said. “And I believe it will. I think it’s important to engage in those conversations … but also to not give into the fears.”

Another asked what could be done to keep the facility adequately staffed, again citing transportation problems. Jayapal said that the question would be better answered by the SIHB itself.

For their part, the SIHB’s leadership team told a VCA crowd in late November that they are working to secure their own reliable transportation — and have discussed options ranging from their own 24-hour water taxi to seaplanes.

“We’re working every single angle we possibly can,” Esther Lucero (Diné), President and CEO of the Health Board, said at that November meeting. “I don’t have the answer yet, but I can assure you that we will not be serving pregnant parents and parenting people until we have that response.”


The Gaza crisis, caused by Israel’s mass aerial bombardment and blockade of the Gaza Strip, was the most popular topic, along with Jayapal’s approach to international conflicts like the Russia-Ukraine war in general.

Jayapal cited her conversations with Muslim and Jewish leaders and with anti-terrorism experts in cleaving out a position on Israel’s overwhelming military campaign in Gaza since October.

“The pain and the trauma of what happened on Oct. 7 when Hamas attacked Israel, took hostages, did terrible things to people, raped women … I don’t find that there are any words that are sufficient to describe … what the pain has been for Israelis, but also Jews around the world,” Jayapal said, earning applause from the audience when she said: “I think that it’s important that we take in horror and pause with that trauma. And I think the way to address this cannot be to kill 20,000-plus Palestinians.”

Jayapal, mentioning her Oct. 17 call for a ceasefire, said that remains “the right thing to do.”

“I think we all agree that Hamas needs to go, that it needs to be taken out, but there is disagreement around how we do that,” she said.

A ceasefire would allow for humanitarian aid to help the Gazans facing “death and destruction,” help get hostages returned, and resume the path toward “a permanent solution for peace in the Middle East,” she said, acknowledging that “not everybody agrees” with her perspective.

“If we just keep attacking Gaza the way we are, not only are we putting collective punishment on Palestinian people, but I think we are creating the next version of Hamas,” she said.

An audience member pushed Jayapal to address the history of Israel and the broader plight of the Palestinian people, and another echoed the call for a ceasefire as well as calling for an end to the U.S. military funding of Israel.

Framing the crisis in Gaza as a situation that began with the Oct. 7 Hamas attack ignores Israel’s history of treatment of Palestinians and “only legitimizes the settler colonialism and occupation (by) the Israel government. … There is 75 more years of ethnic cleansing … as well as the situation in the West Bank,” an audience member said.

“There is certainly a long history that I think a lot of people in this country are just waking up to,” Jayapal said in reply. “This is a very difficult topic. I am the only member of Congress in our state delegation who has called for a ceasefire, and frankly, I’ve been under attack for it. … I think this is very, very complicated and challenging, and there’s a lot of pain and tragedy out there on every front. … That’s what I’m focused on. And that’s why I think we need an immediate ceasefire.”

As far as funding for Israel, Jayapal said: “I believe that our be our biggest leverage is our aid. We are the biggest funder of military aid to Israel, other than Israel itself. And we cannot just wash our hands of this and say, ‘Well, it’s just what’s happening.’ We have power and we should have condition the aid. Or we should not give it.”

She stressed that she was referring only to offensive military aid, not defensive programs like Israel’s Iron Dome, which she said is important for protecting Israelis.

“I’ve said this publicly: It is outrageous that the United States has blocked a ceasefire at the U.N., and that we are increasingly isolating ourselves,” she said. “Benjamin Netanyahu is saying he doesn’t want a two-state solution. It is the policy of the United States government that we want a two-state solution.”

She added later in the evening that the U.S. must focus more on diplomatic solutions in general in handling international conflicts.

“I just voted against our defense budget because it’s ridiculous … more than the Defense Secretary even asked for, but somehow we’re told we don’t have money for education or childcare or housing,” she said.

And Jayapal rejected conceding to Republican demands for U.S.-Mexico border changes in exchange for Ukraine aid.

“I want to fund Ukraine aid,” she said. “I believe there are the votes to fund Ukraine aid, but to tie that to destroying our asylum system is the wrong direction. And I’m gonna fight back against that, and I’ve made it clear to the White House that they will not have the votes for this from a significant number of progressives in the House.”

Well over 100 people packed Vashon Center for the Arts for a speaking event with U.S. Rep. Pramila Jayapal. (Alex Bruell photo.)

Well over 100 people packed Vashon Center for the Arts for a speaking event with U.S. Rep. Pramila Jayapal. (Alex Bruell photo.)