2020 Election

Linda Sarsour Campaigns to Oust Pro-Israel Dem

Liberal activist hammers Eliot Engel for supporting Israel

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A leftist candidate has enlisted the help of his friend and radical activist, Linda Sarsour, to oust Rep. Eliot Engel (D., N.Y.), the leading pro-Israel Democrat on the Hill.

Andom Ghebreghiorgis, an anti-Israel activist, cohosted a virtual town hall with Sarsour to attack Engel, the chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. Engel has been a consistent defender of Israel during his 27-year tenure in Congress—a policy record that his left-wing primary challengers see as a vulnerability.

Ghebreghiorgis, who first met Sarsour while working as an English teacher in the West Bank, called Engel an "uncritical and reflexive supporter of Israel" while painting himself as a loyal Palestine supporter aligned with Sarsour, a top anti-Israel activist.

"[Engel] has said that conditioning military aid to Israel is one of the stupidest things ever. To me, that is just a wild statement," Ghebreghiorgis said. "Those are actually integral parts of our campaign, ending military aid to not just Israel and Egypt but also Saudi Arabia, UAE, [and] the Philippines."

Sarsour lavished praise for the leftist challenger, telling viewers that "the kids loved him" while he taught overseas. The controversial activist, who has faced accusations of anti-Semitism, also sharply criticized Engel's pro-Israel stance as "not acceptable for any member of Congress."

Engel has been a reliable defender of Israel on the Hill since he assumed office in 1993 and has broken with fellow Democrats to support the Jewish state on occasion. The New York congressman praised the Trump administration for moving the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem even as fellow Democrats criticized the decision. He has opposed blanket condemnations of Israeli settlements in contested territories and drafted a bill condemning a U.N. resolution that denounced Israeli settlements in 2017.

While many congressional Democrats share Engel's pro-Israel views, leftist candidates such as Ghebreghiorgis are hoping that the party base does not. Ghebreghiorgis has adopted radical anti-Israel policies as part of his campaign platform, opposing all Israeli settlements and demanding a suspension of military aid to Israel. The activist is hoping that those liberal positions will appeal to voters in a district that voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016 by a 53-point margin.

But while Engel's district is reliably blue, it remains unclear whether it will support an anti-Israel agenda. Nearly 12 percent of the district is Jewish, according to the Berman Jewish Databank, making it one of the most Jewish districts in the United States. Ghebreghiorgis's relationship with Sarsour might backfire since she has faced several accusations of anti-Semitism. For example, Sarsour previously invoked an anti-Semitic trope by saying Israel is built on the idea that "Jews are supreme to everyone else" and refused to disavow noted anti-Semite Louis Farrakhan.

In a comment to the Washington Free Beacon, Ghebreghiorgis defended his position on Israel, saying "the Israeli government must be held accountable for human rights abuses just like any other nation."

Ghebreghiorgis is not the only anti-Israel candidate seeking to dethrone Engel. Jamaal Bowman, another progressive candidate running against Engel, has also vowed to cut all military aid to Israel. Bowman currently leads Ghebreghiorgis in fundraising, hauling in $540,000 this cycle while Ghebreghiorgis has raised $202,000, according to election filings.

The New York primary is scheduled for June 23.