Summer Lee’s primary tests influence on critics of U.S. Gaza policy | Israel’s Gaza War News

Washington DC – That was not a common attitude. Tensions were high.

Nevertheless, on October 16, less than two weeks after Israel’s war in Gaza began, U.S. Representative Summer Lee joined other progressive Democrats in calling for an immediate ceasefire in the Palestinian enclave.

That caught Tanisha Long’s attention. Long, a 34-year-old community activist from the Lee area of ​​western Pennsylvania, remembers being impressed by her representative’s willingness to take a stand.

After all, the bombs raining down on Gaza risked creating a humanitarian crisis. However, few in Congress at the time criticized the military operation.

“A lot of people didn’t even want to touch on this issue,” Long said.

But Ms Lee’s critical views on Israel’s war in Gaza have made her a target in the upcoming US election season. On Tuesday, Lee faces a competitive primary in her own district, with one of her fellow Democrats seeking to unseat her as too “radical.”

Observers say the race will depend on whether progressives can challenge the U.S. government’s longstanding support for Israel and whether Mr. Lee himself can remain in an area long dominated by establishment politics. He said that it would be a referendum on the question.

But activist Long is optimistic. She sees Lee’s call for a ceasefire as a bold move for a rookie lawmaker and a sign that he won’t be easily swayed by pressure for re-election.

“She earned a lot of my respect, and she will continue to have my respect because she refuses to pretend that’s not the case,” Long said of the ever-growing death toll. He talked about the war.

“She didn’t act like someone who was coming up for a primary.”

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Mr. Lee is a 36-year-old lawyer who has risen rapidly in American politics. Born and raised in western Pennsylvania, she began her career as a community organizer and entered politics to reform the public school system.

In 2019, she successfully ran for the Pennsylvania House of Representatives and founded a group to help other progressives seek public office.

After the incumbent Democratic congressman in Pennsylvania’s 18th District announced his retirement, Lee campaigned to succeed him and win the seat in 2022. Her victory made her the first black woman to represent the state in the U.S. House of Representatives.

But Mr. Lee’s stance on the war in Gaza became a career-defining position.

The war began on October 7, when the Palestinian organization Hamas launched attacks on southern Israel, killing at least 1,139 people. However, Israel’s response in Gaza has killed more than 34,000 Palestinians and left many more displaced and facing starvation. Some UN experts have warned of the risk of genocide.

Therefore, this conflict has divided the Democratic Party and has become a divisive issue. A growing number of Democrats are questioning the $3.8 billion in military aid the United States provides to Israel each year.

Prominent progressives like Lee have also accused US President Joe Biden of providing “unwavering” support to Israel despite numerous allegations of rights violations in Gaza.

Support for Israel has long been considered sacrosanct. And her opponent in the upcoming Democratic primary, Babini Patel, has focused on Lee’s criticism of Israel as an area of ​​vulnerability.

“Sustainability” test

The two candidates engaged in a heated argument over the issue ahead of Tuesday’s showdown.

Patel said Lee’s comments about Israel highlight that he is far left and out of step with voters in western Pennsylvania.

Mr Lee, meanwhile, accused Mr Patel of relying on outside forces to advance his campaign and of treating Israel as if it were above reproach.

Christopher Bolick, a political science professor at Muhlenberg College in Allentown, Pennsylvania, said the race has exposed and exacerbated the fault lines within the Democratic Party.

Bolick explained that the results of the primary could indicate which direction the party is leaning in the future.

Pennsylvania’s 18th Congressional District has long been solidly Democratic. Includes the former industrial city of Pittsburgh and its surrounding suburbs.

But before Lee’s victory in the 2022 House election, the district tilted more toward centrist candidates.

“Compared to other districts that have produced some of the most progressive members of Congress, this is a district where it’s not a given that progressives win,” Bolick said.

For example, in the 2018 election, a wave of progressive candidates like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ayanna Pressley won victories in ultra-liberal urban enclaves like New York City and Boston, Massachusetts. .

Other progressives like Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib won historic victories in Minnesota and Michigan.

But Lee is part of a new wave of progressives representing traditionally centrist Democratic areas, Bolick explained.

This group also includes congressmen like Cori Bush of Missouri and Jamal Bowman of New York, both of whom face primary challenges from more centrist candidates. ing.

“The primaries show the staying power of candidates like Lee and may give us optimism for progressives to gain ground,” Borick said.

Criticism of Israel is growing

Like Lee, centrist candidate Patel portrays himself as part of a new generation of young politicians who aim to represent western Pennsylvania’s diverse regions.

Patel, a member of the Edgewood Borough Council and co-founder of a high-tech startup, was raised by a single mother who ran a food truck after immigrating to the United States from India. Her camp says her upbringing instilled in her “hard work and grit” that has influenced Patel’s professional life ever since.

As in most primaries, she and Lee have more policy overlap than differences. As a result, their differing views on Israel’s war in Gaza have become more pronounced.

Mr Patel took criticism that Mr Lee’s comments were reckless. When war broke out on October 7, 40 Pittsburgh-area rabbis and cantors published a letter criticizing Lee’s response.

In March, they released a second letter accusing Lee of “divisive rhetoric” that they “perceived to be openly anti-Semitic.”

Mr. Patel echoed that condemnation, emphasizing the danger of anti-Semitism in the shadow of war.

She pointed to anti-Semitic attacks like the 2018 shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Squirrel Hill, near Pittsburgh, that killed 11 people.

And at an event in January, Patel said Lee’s approach was “inciting hatred”.

“There are local implications,” Patel said at the time, Pittsburgh Public Radio reported. “This is a community that has experienced some of the worst anti-Semitic attacks on American soil.”

But Lee stood his ground, insisting that criticizing Israel was not anti-Semitic.

“We must make it clear that no government or nation is above criticism,” Lee said. “The method is [Israeli Prime Minister] Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s direction of this war is indefensible. ”

Congresswoman Summer Lee (right) helps her colleague Cori Bush make a keffiyeh before the 2024 State of the Union Address on March 7. [Evelyn Hockstein/Reuters]

District “flashpoint”

Mr. Patel also criticized Mr. Lee’s support for the “non-commitment” movement, in which voters in several key battleground states cast protest votes during primaries.

They hope that by refusing to vote for Biden in the Democratic primary, they will send a signal that they do not tolerate the Democratic president’s approach to war.

Mr Bolick, a political scientist, said the issue had become a “flashpoint within the campaign and within the district itself”.

“I think some of the more moderate voters, including a significant portion of some Jewish voters in the Pittsburgh area, have been dissatisfied with Summer Lee for some time, but certainly [that] “It has grown even more since October,” he said.

“At the same time, support for Summer Lee is only growing among progressive voters, young voters, left-leaning voters, and voters of color.”

For example, as the primary approaches, Mr. Lee is garnering support from a wide range of moderate and progressive groups, as well as elected officials.

For example, J Street, a moderate pro-Israel lobbying group, has endorsed Lee. Groups such as the Justice Democratic Party, EmGage, and the Working Families Party have also offered support to Lee.

Meanwhile, Patel received the support of the 14th Ward Independent Democratic Club, which encompasses the Squirrel Hill community. She also received buy-in from several Hindu American organizations and labor groups.

Additionally, the Moderate PAC, whose top donor is prominent Republican donor Jeffrey Yass, has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on ads for Patel, although she has denied any affiliation with the group.

She also claims her campaign does not work with pro-Israel lobbyists.

changing politics

But as Tuesday’s race approached, Patel’s attacking line seemed unable to ignite. Pittsburgh-based Democratic strategist Mike Mikus attributed her lack of traction to changing opinions in the United States, particularly among Democrats.

For example, the number of members of Congress calling for a complete ceasefire has increased from 11 to 82, according to a tracking survey maintained by several anti-war groups.

The American public is also growing wary of Israel’s approach to war. A poll conducted by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research in January found that 50% of American adults think Israel has gone too far in the Gaza Strip, up from 40% three months earlier.

A March Gallup poll similarly found that 55% of U.S. residents do not support Israel’s actions.

Mikus said there are virtually no high-quality polls for Pennsylvania’s primary, but there are some indicators that Lee is in a “comfortable position.”

Most notable, he explained, is the lack of involvement from the pro-Israel lobbying group, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC).

AIPAC has reportedly been building a war chest to take on progressive critics of Israel who are considered vulnerable in the primaries. The group is expected to spend heavily on Mr. Bush and Mr. Bowman, who were among the first members of Congress to call for a ceasefire.

“If this race were close, AIPAC would be on TV. That’s my view as someone who’s worked on campaigns for 30 years,” Mikus said.

AIPAC and its affiliated super PACs spent nearly $4 million to defeat Lee in the 2022 Congressional elections.

Days before that election, AIPAC described Lee as part of an “anti-Israel fringe.” The organization has repeatedly criticized Lee’s position since the war began.

“But they’re not here,” Mikus said. “That means there are no polls that show this is a winnable race.”

Even if Lee rides to an easy victory, community activists like Long still wonder what the long-term vision for the Democratic Party will be. Will the war in Gaza change the party’s foundations in the coming months and years? Or will the party split?

“If we want to continue winning elections, we have to work together,” Long said. “But there are some positions and policies and beliefs that are non-negotiable.”

“So I think we need to register more new voters and start reaching out to younger generations earlier, because some of these voters may be lost forever. Because I think there is.”

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