As Turner-Brown race enters final days, Israel is a quiet issue

Yesterday Nina Turner, the progressive candidate for Congress in Ohio’s Democratic primary on August 3, held an enthusiastic get-out-the-vote rally in Cleveland, at which she and Senator Bernie Sanders decried the millions of dollars coming in from outside the district in support of her opposition, establishment candidate Shontel Brown.

Neither Turner nor Sanders mentioned Brown’s pro-Israel views as a cause for these donations. Sanders slammed Wall Street, drug and insurance companies, and fossil fuels corporations. While Turner knocked “every special interest, big oil to big banks to big drug companies.”

Why are they spending all of that money on little old me? Inquiring minds want to know.

That’s somewhat misleading: It’s well-known that a major source of Brown’s donations are endorsements by pro-Israel organizations that adore her fulsome embrace of Israel.

Democratic Majority for Israel (DMFI) has spent a reported $800,000 on the race, has put out the word to pro-Israel donors to support Shontel Brown and has been running TV ads against Turner that are careful not to mention Israel. The Intercept documents that several big donors who back Israel, and are connected to DMFI, such as Robert Kraft, are pouring money into the Brown campaign. While the Jewish Democratic Council of America brags of its “robust” print and digital ad buy for Brown.

Nina Turner frightens the pro-Israel groups because she is a forceful figure on the left — a former Sanders spokesperson whom Sanders embraced yesterday as a “close personal friend of mine… one of the smartest and hardest working people I know” — and would expand the Squad in the Congress, the progressive cadre epitomized by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez that wants to condition U.S. aid to Israel over its human rights abuses.

Of course, Turner is progressive on many causes, not just Israel, that Brown has hedged on.– the Green New Deal, Medicare for All, canceling student debt, immigrants’ rights, and a $15 minimum wage.

Though Nina Turner talks about those issues and not Israel when she is making her case. That’s not surprising. According to the Jewish Democratic Council of America, Jewish voters make up “5% of the total electorate, and 28% of the total 2020 Democratic primary turnout in OH-11.” That’s incredible. And a good reminder that Jews are not just the big donors in the Democratic Party, but are a key part of the Dem coalition in blue states. Even progressive candidates feel they risk alienating those voters by being critical of Israel, though Democratic attitudes are shifting on Israel.

The issue came up most directly back in March, when the Jewish Democratic Council of America held a candidates’ forum, and Shontel Brown led off with a lovesong to the U.S.-Israel relationship as a way to help black people in the U.S. fight “hatred” and “persecution.” Yes, you heard that right. Brown:

In 2018 I had the opportunity to visit Israel with other elected officials from around the country… What I’ll never forget were the similarities and familiarities of communal culture shared between the Jewish and black community. While there we visited a kibbutz near the Gaza Strip. It was an unexpected yet familiar experience of community, camaraderie, and collaboration. Everyone shared what they had to offer for everyone else’s benefit. But there was also an unforgettable feeling of vulnerability. When I think about the emergency bomb shelters scattered through the area where people work live and play, visiting the state solidified why the bond beween the U.S. and Israel is and should always remain strong. Not only do we share democratic values but the shared experience between the Jewish community and the black community on issues dealing with hatred, persecution only amplified the importance of our partnership to work together to advance our common goals… I will continue to work together to strengthen this crucial international relationship if elected.

Brown also said she supports more money for Holocaust education and opposes the boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign.

I will always oppose the global BDS movement which uses antisemitic rhetoric and arguments to weaken, isolate and delegitimize Israel.

In that forum Nina Turner expressed pro-Israel views, including support for U.S. aid. Though she got in a word for Palestinians.

I believe firmly in the right of Israelis to live in safety and peace, free from fear of violence and terrorism from Hamas and other extremists. So of course I support continued U.S. aid to Israel to confront the security challenges. I also believe that our Palestinians are entitled to the same human rights and safety from violence and to be able to have self determination in a state of their own. I am strongly pro Israel and pro-Palestinian. I have taken exception with some of the policies of the current Israeli government. I do not think that Netanyahu is following a path to lead to peace. and in my view the role of the United States of America is to be an evenhanded arbiter in the Middle East, and to make sure that each side lives in peace and freedom.

Coverage of the race has downplayed the Israel angle. WKYC in Cleveland did raise an eyebrow over Democratic Majority for Israel:

We did, however, find a pro-Israel Political Action Committee called Democratic Majority for Israel spending a lot of money to support Brown and oppose Turner. 

Screenshot that ran with WKYC piece on the Turner-Brown race, highlights ad from “DMFI PAC”

NBC News noted that Turner is for conditioning aid to Israel.

[P]ro-Israel groups also have gone big for Brown.

Turner, unlike Brown, doesn’t favor unconditional U.S. aid to Israel, and she has expressed sympathy for Palestinians in their conflict with Israel. A recent Democratic Majority for Israel ad rehashed Turner’s remark in July 2020 comparing a vote for Biden to eating fecal matter. The organization, which supports Brown, has spent more than $800,000 on TV and digital spots in the race.

The Intercept has an article about all the big donors to Democratic Majority for Israel who have given to Shontel Brown.

Most notable among them is New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft, a close ally of Donald Trump who donated $1 million to Trump’s inauguration and has supported a slew of Republican candidates. A staunch supporter of Israel, Kraft in 2019 also launched and donated $20 million to a foundation to combat anti-Semitism and the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement, earning him a gala reception in Jerusalem to receive the Israeli Genesis Prize. Kraft has individually donated the election maximum $5,800 to Brown’s campaign, and with his family contributed more than $20,000…

Reached for comment, a spokesperson for Democratic Majority for Israel accused The Intercept of wanting to “cherry pick contributors” and said that DMFI has only supported “outstanding” Democratic candidates. Shontel Brown’s campaign did not return a request for comment.

The irony here is that pro-Israel groups openly promote Brown’s pro-Israel stances in messaging. Ron Klein of Jewish Democratic Council of America:

Shontel Brown… aligns with our values…  She shares our views on key issues such as gun safety, the economy, President Biden’s Build Back Better agenda, combating hatred and antisemitism, and supporting the U.S.-Israel relationship

Israel was never mentioned in that progressives rally for Nina Turner yesterday (I saw 90 minutes of 115). The rally was a fervent appeal to the leftwing base to get out the vote to change the country.

“Incrementalism is not enough. Nina Turner knows that we the people demand comprehensive sweeping change….[to] defeat the elites that stand in our way.” — Joseph Geevarghese, executive director of Our Revolution, Campaign for America’s Future.

“I’m voting for Nina Turner because I want the angry black woman to go down and represent me in Congress.” –Blaine Griffin, city council member in Cleveland.

“Here’s the problem. The people who have been wrong about everything have been in power so long, we are out of time.” –Lucas Blower, Akron attorney.

“In this race, we don’t just need an ally, we need an advocate… an advocate is someone who is going to go fight.” –State Rep. Juanita Brent. fair housing. ”

“We need leaders not in love with money.. [but] in love with humanity.” –Selina Pagan, Latinx community advocate.

Keith Ellison at Nina Turner rally, July 31, Cleveland, OH. Screenshot from Facebook.

“When you send Nina to Congress, she is going to change that place.. She’s going to be there with AOC and she’s going to be there with Bernie Sanders.” –Keith Ellison

Cornel West at Nina Turner rally, July 31. Screenshot from Facebook.

“She represents the best of love, of freedom, of wounded healing, of joy spreading and that’s a moral spiritual achievement, that’s not just about politics…. Tell the corporate wing of the Democratic Party with their milquetoast neoliberalism. We want vision and integrity.” — Cornel West.

“We have started asking questions that this country has never asked in a very long time.. the result of that is we are transforming politics in this country and in Washington, D.C.” — Bernie Sanders.

Nina Turner herself said, “This is about class and caste… Big money interests, corporate interests– they benefit from trying to keep us separated.”

Of course it goes without saying that some of the questions the progressives are asking for the first time in a long time are about our Israel policy. Yes — it goes without saying– and it is a big reason this race is getting so much attention.

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