AIPAC spent more than $4M to prevent Summer Lee from reaching her current office, by Michael Arria

Pro-Israel groups are spending big money on this year’s elections and everyone knows their targets. They want to take out the small number of congressional members who criticize Israel. The ones who have been advocating for a ceasefire since the assault on Gaza began.

One of the major names atop the list is Summer Lee, the progressive representative in Pennsylvania’s 12th district.

In 2022 AIPAC spent more than $4 million trying to prevent Lee from reaching her current office. She narrowly squeaked out a win against former GOP staffer Steve Irwin, who was backed by the lobbying giant and other pro-Israel organizations.

Lee angered the group by criticizing Israel’s 2021 attacks on Gaza. “When I hear American pols use the refrain ‘Israel has the right to defend itself’ in response to undeniable atrocities on a marginalized population, I can’t help but think of how the west has always justified indiscriminate and disproportionate force and power on weakened and marginalized people,” she had tweeted. “The US has never shown leadership in safeguarding human rights of folks its othered But as we fight against injustice here in the movement for black lives we must stand against injustice everywhere. Inhumanities against the Palestinian people cannot be tolerated or justified.”

Lee was given an opportunity to apologize for her remarks at a later event, but refused. Instead she linked the struggle of Palestinians to the fight for civil rights in the United States.

“I was seeing, as a black woman, somebody who has also experienced oppression – we as black folks have experienced global oppression – and really looking at the parallels and being startled,” she explained. “That was I believe a year ago, also during Ramadan, where we saw a mosque being raided. Those are folks who are in their most vulnerable point and they’re holding on, praying and breaking fast, and that was an internationally-recognized event that happened that was an escalation unlike we had seen, and what I heard and what I continue to hear was instead of a cry out to say that was not OK… instead what I saw were American politicians rushing to use that phrase that Israel has a right to defend itself.”

“The question was what were they defending themselves against at that moment and I think that that was specifically what that tweet was speaking about,” she continued. “When we are saying that a powerful entity has a right to defend itself, when no one had done anything needing a defense, that was the parallel that was drawn between Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman who instigated it and then saying he had a right to defend himself. And that’s what I was seeing as a black woman and recognizing that parallel and the trauma that comes with it.”

AIPAC’s concerns turned out to be justified.

Since taking office she’s criticized Israeli violence in the West Bank, called for an independent probe into the killing of Shireen Abu Akleh, and voted against new Iran sanctions. She was one of just ten House members to vote against an October resolution,” standing with Israel as it defends itself against the barbaric war launched by Hamas and other terrorists.”

Lee was one of just five House members to introduce a legislation calling for a ceasefire back in October.

In recent weeks criticisms of Lee from pro-Israel groups and individuals have increased.

First, she faced backlash for an appearance with the Philadelphia chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) over comments that other speakers had made. One had called Israeli “demons”, one had previously praised Farrakhan, and another had implied Disney was brainwashing kids by making Buzz Lightyear gay.

Lee dropped out of the event and put out a statement about the situation on social media. “Yesterday, when it was publicly reported, I learned of previous statements made by other speakers at this event I was scheduled to attend this weekend,” she wrote on social media.

“I wanted to join this event with other members of Congress and elected officials to support our Muslim neighbors, in the Commonwealth and across the country, who are desperate to be heard by their own elected officials and feel supported at a time of rising anti-Muslim hate and violence,” she added. “I do not condone or endorse any of the other speakers’ previous comments.”

40 rabbis and cantors from the Pittsburgh area sent Lee a letter explaining that this wasn’t enough. They called on the congress member to condemn the event’s speakers and criticize the leadership of CAIR.

The group also brought up Lee campaign contributions that came from CAIR executive director Nihad Awad. Pro-Israel groups have accused Awad of “celebrating” the October 7th Hamas attack over comments he made at a Chicago event in November.

“The people of Gaza only decided to break the siege the walls of the concentration camp on October 7,” he said. “Yes, I was happy to see people breaking the siege and throwing down the shackles of their own land and walk free into their own land that they were not allowed to walk in. And yes, the people of Gaza have the right to self-defense, have the right to defend themselves, and yes, Israel as an occupying power does not have that right to self-defense.”

Awad pushed back on the criticism, saying his remarks were taken out of context. “What I actually said while discussing international law: Ukrainians, Palestinians and other occupied people have the right to defend themselves and escape occupation by just and legal means, but targeting civilians is never an acceptable means of doing so, which is why I have again and again condemned the violence against Israeli civilians on October 7th and past Hamas attacks on Israeli civilians,” he explained.

Lee has distanced herself from Awad, but has ignored calls to return the contributions.

The same group of rabbis and cantors sent Lee an open letter in October calling her support for a ceasefire, “grotesque.”

The latest controversy concerns Dear White Staffers, a social media account that anonymously shares information about Washington, DC.

This week Jewish Insider’s Marc Rod published a piece that connects the account to a staffer working for Lee. “How ‘Dear White Staffers’ turned into an anti-Israel, antisemitic account,” blares the title. Rod writes that the account, “has taken on a new tenor in the five months since Oct. 7, morphing into a prominent and vocal anti-Israel platform that some fellow Hill staffers describe as borderline or openly antisemitic.”

The account has certainly criticized Israel since the attacks on Gaza began. What does the website classify as antisemitism though?

First, a post on Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL). The congresswoman had publicly celebrated the fact that the Biden administration had refused to embrace a ceasefire. The Dear White Staffers account shared her sentiments and wrote, “5,000 children was not enough for Debbie Wasserman Schultz.” The Jewish Insider links to an AJC explainer on blood libels. The idea here being that the account is implementing an antisemitic trope because Schultz is Jewish.

The website also implies that a post on the Capitol Police’s violent response to ceasefire protests was antisemitic. The caption on that one? “The United States Capitol Police travel to Israel for training. They are now deploying those tactics on peaceful protestors in DC.”

Lee’s fundraising has been impressive, but she’s going to be up against big money. J Street’s PAC backed Lee’s candidacy in 2022, but she can’t expect much from the liberal group this time around. They’re staying out of primaries altogether. It’s “generally not a fruitful use of our resources to spend in intra-party feuds,” J Street President Jeremy Ben-Ami told Politico.

“Since the start of the war, J Street has abdicated responsibility toward challenging AIPAC’s dangerous mission to purge the Democratic Party of anyone dedicated to Palestinian human rights,” tweeted Democratic strategist Waleed Shahid. “A moral and political disaster. They’ve all but surrendered this battle for the soul of the Democratic Party while AIPAC triples down their efforts.”

Lee’s reelection will surely be an uphill battle.

“Uncommitted” Isn’t Going Away

Last week more than 100,000 voted “Uncommitted” in Michigan’s primary, in an attempt to send a clear message to the Biden administration over Gaza.

Some pundits dismissed the idea that election was bad news for Biden and suggested that some media were “overhyping” the results.

In this past Tuesday’s primaries we saw thousands turn out to send the same message. 88,021 voters in North Carolina. 58,936 in Massachusetts. 50,134 in Colorado. 45,914 in Minnesota, where the movement won 11 delegates.

These numbers are not the result of well-funded campaigns that have been organizing for weeks. This has largely been stoked by word of mouth and social media. It’s impossible to know what will happen between now and November, but it seems very clear that anyone shrugging off Biden’s electoral issues is in denial.

“Whether or not Democrats control Congress will naturally constrain whether Biden makes good on that policy agenda; but having a compelling agenda in the offing to begin with might lift the candidates he’ll depend upon in his next term to victory,” writes Osita Nwanevu in The Guardian. All that aside, faith in Biden’s capacity to lead and accomplish will rest in some part on whether and when the situation in Gaza comes to a peaceable resolution ⁠– getting a handle on the situation and pressuring Netanyahu into ending the war would be a significant turning point in his presidency.

“There and elsewhere, Biden needs to find a new course. Otherwise, the election may be over before he realizes it.”

Some good coverage at NPR

NPR’s “On the Media” has covered the Gaza war in recent months with an emphasis on non-Palestinian experts like David Remnick.

That framing was discarded on March 1 when it aired a show that featured Mona Chalabi and William Youmans discussing the media’s bias against Palestinians.

Youmans, a professor of Media and Public Affairs at George Washington University, said he had reviewed 51 hours of TV coverage on NBC, CBS, ABC and Fox (including Face the Nation and Meet the Press) in the weeks after October 7.

“I found that overwhelmingly, most of the guests were American, 120 out of 140,” Youmans said. “Of those guests, not one of them was Arab or Palestinian-American. The driver of the pro-Israeli arguments in these shows were US officials… I was surprised to find out that there was only one guest who was Palestinian, Husam Zomlot, who is the PA’s representative to the UK.”

Youmans found that the guests were 4.6 times more likely to be sympathetic to Israel than Palestine.

Youmans arrived at that ratio by tabulating such statements as “Israel has a right to self-defense”– pro-Israel—and “Palestinians are resisting against the military occupation” –pro-Palestinian.

Chalabi highlighted bias in the New York Times, by creating visualizations of trends (documented by Holly Jackson, a computer science PhD at UC Berkeley). One visualization was “a graph showing that The New York Times consistently mentioned Israeli deaths more often than Palestinian deaths from October 7th to the 18th, even as more Palestinians were dying.”

Chalabi also tracked the dehumanization of the Palestinians by the BBC. “Israelis were more likely to be humanized in the reporting. Israelis would be described as mothers, grandmothers, daughters, fathers, husbands, sons.”

Host Micah Loewinger summarized: “The term mother or grandmother was used 51 times to 32 times for Israelis versus Palestinians. Daughter and granddaughter was used 35 times to describe Israelis, 15 for Palestinians. The term father and grandfather was used 33 times for Israelis, 9 for Palestinians. Husband 30 times to 5 times for Palestinians. Son/grandson was used 25 times to 11 times for Palestinians.”

NPR also ran an 8-minute piece by Jane Arraf on stateless Palestinian refugees in Iraq that was highly thoughtful about Palestinian history. It described the dispossession of the Nakba, which resulted in over 6 million refugees today. It described the Al-Aqsa mosque as being in ‘Israeli-occupied Jerusalem.”

And it pointed out a glaring double standard: “While Israel allows anyone from anywhere in the world with a Jewish grandparent to live in the country, it bars Palestinian refugees from returning.”

h/t Phil Weiss

Odds & Ends

📰 ‘Here are the latest examples of the astonishingly dishonest ‘NYTimes’ coverage of Israel’s war on Gaza’

🇺🇸 ‘Aaron Bushnell calls U.S. progressives to their greatest traditions’

📝 Biden memos show Palestine advocacy is working’

🇺🇸 ‘Over 30,000 Palestinians have been killed. Biden says critics should, ‘Give this just a little bit of time”

🚫 Jerusalem Post: ‘Tufts student senate adopts BDS resolutions against Israel’

🗳️ Jewish Insider: ‘In Silicon Valley House race, leading Democratic candidates reflect party’s fault lines on Israel-Hamas war’

🇺🇸 Counterpunch: ‘On Aaron Bushnell, Anti-Colonial Solidarity, and the Era of Right-Wing Victory

🏫 Truthout: ‘Academic Institutions in the West Can No Longer Remain Silent on Gaza’

🗳️ The Nation: ‘Gaza Is on the Ballot All Over America’

🇺🇸 Jewish Currents: ‘Understanding Biden’s Settler Sanctions Strategy’

👏 The New Republic: ‘Protestors Lay Some Truth on Jared Kushner During ADL Speech

🪧 SF Gate: ‘Gaza protest organizers say police assaulted peaceful marchers’

💰 Mitchell Plitnick on Twitter: “AIPAC spent nearly $5 million on the CA-47 congressional race, opposing State Sen. Dave Min. It’s not certain yet, but it looks extremely likely that Mim will overcome that enormous spending against him and make the Nov ballot. AIPAC spending is NOT decisive.”

🗳️ Rolling Stone: ‘Super Tuesday Highlights Biden’s Gaza Problem’

🗣️ Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff is headed to California’s Senate runoff in November, but he was unable to deliver a victory speech because he was repeatedly shouted down by Jewish activists demanding a ceasefire.

🇮🇱 ‘White House asks State Dept., Pentagon for Israel-bound weapons list’

🐘 Tennessee GOP Rep. Chuck Fleischmann: “You can tell the Palestinians — I will never support them!”

Protestor: “I am a Palestinian.”

Fleischmann: “Then I will tell you, I will never support you. I will tell you to your face: Goodbye to Palestine!”

🇺🇸 Responsible Statecraft: ‘At the Hague, US more isolated than ever on Israel-Palestine’

📊 A new YouGov poll commissioned by the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) found that 52% of Americans think that the US government should halt weapons shipments to Israel. Among people who voted for Biden in 2020 it’s 62%.

Stay safe out there,

Michael Arria