Representative Nancy Pelosi, Democrat of California and the former House speaker, on Sunday called for the F.B.I. to investigate protesters demanding a cease-fire in the Israel-Hamas conflict, suggesting without evidence that some activists may have ties to Russia and President Vladimir V. Putin.
“For them to call for a cease-fire is Mr. Putin’s message,” Ms. Pelosi said during an interview on CNN’s “State of the Union.” “Make no mistake, this is directly connected to what he would like to see. Same thing with Ukraine. It’s about Putin’s message. I think some of these protesters are spontaneous and organic and sincere. Some, I think, are connected to Russia.”
When pressed on whether she believed some of the demonstrators were “Russian plants,” Ms. Pelosi said: “Seeds or plants. I think some financing should be investigated. And I want to ask the F.B.I. to investigate that.”
Ms. Pelosi, who was first elected speaker in 2007 and again in 2019, led House Democrats for 20 years before stepping aside for Representative Hakeem Jeffries of New York, the minority leader. Still, she remains influential among congressional Democrats. Her remarks appear to be the first time a prominent U.S. politician has publicly suggested Russia may be backing cease-fire protests to help foment division among Democrats.
The Council on American-Islamic Relations condemned Ms. Pelosi’s comments as “an unsubstantiated smear” and “downright authoritarian.”
“Her comments once again show the negative impact of decades of dehumanization of the Palestinian people by those supporting Israeli apartheid,” Nihad Awad, the group’s national executive director, said in a statement. “Instead of baselessly smearing those Americans as Russian collaborators, former House Speaker Pelosi and other political leaders should respect the will of the American people by calling for an end to the Netanyahu government’s genocidal war on the people of Gaza.”
Progressive activists and voters who support a cease-fire in Gaza have warned President Biden that his approach to the conflict would threaten his re-election and cost Democrats support at the ballot box in November. A variety of groups, including Jewish, human rights and antiwar organizations, have led protests around the country demanding an end to Israel’s military campaign, which began after Hamas’s deadly attack on Oct. 7. Pro-Palestinian demonstrators, citing the soaring death toll and deep humanitarian crisis in Gaza, have disrupted Democratic campaign events in recent weeks, including Mr. Biden’s public appearances and a speech Ms. Pelosi gave in Seattle last week.
In a statement, a spokesperson for Ms. Pelosi pointed to a social media post by Ian Bremmer, a political scientist and professor at Columbia University, who wrote that “putin benefits from continued war in gaza and expanded chaos in the middle east.”
The spokesperson said Ms. Pelosi would continue to focus on “stopping the suffering in Gaza” and demanding that all hostages be released.
“Speaker Pelosi has always supported and defended the right of all Americans to make their views known through peaceful protest,” the statement said. “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.”
Russia has expressed support for a cease-fire in Gaza, and Mr. Putin has used the conflict to criticize the United States’ role in the Middle East. Russia has also meddled in the United States’ past two presidential elections.
Democrats have been deeply divided over policy toward Israel since Hamas killed about 1,200 people and abducted another 240 during its Oct. 7 attack. Israel’s military response has killed more than 26,000 people, according to Gaza’s Health Ministry.
A New York Times/Siena College poll found that voters broadly disapproved of Mr. Biden’s handling of the conflict, with nearly as many Americans saying they want Israel’s military campaign to stop as those who said it should continue. The split poses an acute challenge for Mr. Biden as he seeks re-election and tries to hold together a Democratic coalition that elected him to the White House in 2020.
Many countries have advocated a cease-fire, with 153 nations in the United Nations General Assembly voting in favor of an immediate cease-fire in December. The International Court of Justice told Israel on Friday it must take action to prevent genocide in Gaza.