How Marie Newman's Ethics Scandal Put Her in Bed With a Terrorist Sympathizer

As a college professor, Illinois Dem's foreign policy adviser praised convicted Palestinian terrorist

Rep. Marie Newman (D., Ill.) / Getty Images
February 10, 2022

Democratic congresswoman Marie Newman's (Ill.) decision to bribe a local Palestinian activist out of her 2020 primary race hasn't just led to ethics issues—it also put a terrorist sympathizer in charge of her campaign's foreign policy.

Last June, Newman began paying Palestinian activist and Columbia College Chicago adjunct professor Iymen Chehade roughly $10,000 a month as her campaign's "director of foreign policy and research," financial disclosures show. The hire came about a year and a half after Newman promised Chehade a six-figure job to keep him out of her competitive primary race, a bribe that sparked an ongoing ethics investigation.

Years before he joined Newman's campaign, Chehade helped facilitate a 2015 panel that brought Rasmea Odeh to campus through his position as faculty adviser for his college's Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) chapter. A convicted terrorist, Odeh was sentenced to life in prison for her role in a 1969 bombing that killed two college students in Jerusalem—but Chehade praised her as "extraordinary" in a now-deleted tweet.

Chehade's employment in Newman's campaign in a crucial foreign policy role has sparked bipartisan backlash as she faces a difficult primary fight against fellow Illinois Democratic representative Sean Casten. Pro-Israel Democrats have already mobilized to oppose Newman in the race—Democratic Majority for Israel (DMFI), for example, endorsed Casten in January, with the group's founder later lamenting that Newman is "worse than we thought."

"It's alarming that Mr. Chehade would praise or even associate with Rasmea Odeh, a terrorist convicted of two bombings that killed two college students and injured others," DMFI spokeswoman Rachel Rosen told the Washington Free Beacon. "That Mr. Chehade would hold her up as a role model on a college campus is depraved."

Chehade defended Odeh in a statement, telling the Free Beacon that following her 1980 release from jail in a prisoner swap, the terrorist worked "to make positive contributions to her community." Chehade also said he did not ask his SJP students to invite Odeh, though he did defend her presence on campus. Newman did not return a request for comment.

Chehade started teaching "Middle Eastern History and the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict" at Columbia Chicago in 2007, his website states. According to anti-Israel website Mondoweiss, Chehade also serves as faculty adviser for the school's SJP and Jewish Voice for Peace chapters—both groups back the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement against the Jewish state.

In 2015, Chehade's SJP chapter hosted a panel featuring Odeh, who settled in Chicago after concealing her status as a convicted terrorist on her U.S. immigration forms. In a now-deleted tweet, Chehade promoted the event by asking students and local residents to "support these extraordinary Palestinian Women at Columbia." Chehade also told Columbia Chicago's student newspaper that the panel "helped humanize the Palestinian issue of what happened 67 years ago in Palestine and the same struggle that continues today."

Years later, Newman began weighing a second congressional run after an unsuccessful 2018 primary challenge against former congressman Dan Lipinski (D., Ill.). Newman attributed her loss in part to her failure to "understand the Palestine-Israel issue very well," and in May 2018, Chehade began informally advising Newman on the issue.

But Chehade had congressional ambitions of his own, so in late 2018, Newman entered into negotiations with the activist to make him her "chief foreign policy adviser" should she secure election to Congress. Chehade explicitly told Newman that he "agree[d] not to announce or submit his candidacy for election" in Newman's district in exchange for the job, emails show. He also asked Newman for a "commitment to endorse" him once Newman decided to leave office. Newman endorsed the proposal in an email responding to Chehade.

"Hi there," Newman wrote to the activist in November 2018. "Took some time to digest the doc. Most of it looks good."

While it's against federal law for a candidate to offer employment to procure political support, Newman and Chehade went on to sign a contract that solidified the agreement. After Newman defeated Lipinski in 2020, however, she refused to hire Chehade, prompting a breach of contract lawsuit.

Newman and Chehade settled the suit—which included a nondisclosure agreement—just 10 days after congressional investigators informed Newman of a federal probe into the contract in June 2020. Within two days of the settlement agreement, Newman's campaign began paying Chehade a salary of roughly $10,000 a month to serve as its "director of foreign policy and research." That move led to yet another ethics complaint against Newman, with the Foundation for Accountability and Civic Trust arguing that Newman used "her campaign funds to attempt to cover up a criminal or ethics investigation."

Republican Jewish Coalition national political director Sam Markstein said Newman should resign over the scandal. 

"We all know that congresswoman Newman is an extreme, far-left, anti-Israel member of Congress," Markstein told the Free Beacon. "Now we've learned that she isn't just extreme, but corrupt. Beyond her outrageous policy positions, it appears she traded her votes for political favors. Let's be clear: Any member whose policy positions are for sale should resign."

In addition to his role as Newman's foreign policy adviser, Chehade launched a congressional campaign of his own in December, which he described as "another platform" to promote his anti-Israel activism in an interview with Palestine Broadcast International. Chehade's campaign quickly earned the support of Suhair Nafal, a fellow Palestinian activist who has called Israelis "sick ugly monkies," compared the Jewish state to Nazi Germany, and called to "exterminate the government of the [sic] Israel."

This is not the first time Newman has sided with terror-tied activists and organizations. In October, the Democrat backed a resolution celebrating six designated Palestinian terror groups as "courageous."