Meet the Summer Lee Staffer Who Turned 'Dear White Staffers' Into an Anti-Israel Cesspool

Operations director Philip Bennett was arrested over 'spontaneous' participation in Capitol ceasefire protest

L:Phillip Bennett ( R: Sum mer Lee (Alex Wong/Getty Images)
March 5, 2024

Publicly, Philip Bennett serves as operations director for Squad member Rep. Summer Lee (D., Pa.), a role in which he works closely with the congresswoman on scheduling and operation. Privately, however, Bennett moonlights as the hand behind "Dear White Staffers," a once-anonymous Instagram account originally intended to highlight the plight of minority staffers on Capitol Hill.

The account gained popularity in 2022 as an outlet for staffers to gripe about their bosses behind the veil of anonymity and to share "horror stories" from the halls of Congress. Following Hamas's Oct. 7 terror attack on Israel, Bennett has instead used the platform to accuse Israel of genocide. He has also argued that Israel is the hidden hand behind the allegedly inappropriate tactics employed by the Capitol Police and joined Hamas in lionizing Aaron Bushnell, the U.S. airman who lit himself on fire to protest Israel.

For months, Bennett sent those posts anonymously, even as his account amassed tens of thousands of followers and caught the attention of Capitol Hill bigwigs. He told Politico in a 2022 interview—speaking to the publication anonymously in a piece that said Bennett's account "blew up Capitol Hill"—that only his "partner" knew he was behind "Dear White Staffers." Over time, though, Bennett's control of the account became "an open secret among a growing number of Hill staff," according to a Jewish Insider report published Tuesday. While that report identified the account's operator as a Lee staffer who previously worked for Rep. Ilhan Omar (D., Minn.), it did not name Bennett explicitly.

Bennett was arrested in October during his participation in an anti-Israel protest on Capitol Hill, during which demonstrators occupied an office building to demand an immediate ceasefire. Bennett said he joined the protest spontaneously and thanked the organizers for helping him feel "seen, at peace, and validated."

"I came back to the office, and I heard they were in the rotunda. I felt so moved by their action that I joined them," Bennett told the New Arab. "It was really powerful. I didn't have any plan. I was arrested with all of them. I was in my work clothes."

Lee, who called for an Israeli ceasefire just days after Hamas's attack, has accused Israel of committing "human rights violations" and voted against a resolution voicing support for the Jewish state. She's also cozied up to anti-Semitic activists—last month, Lee was scheduled to fundraise for a Muslim advocacy group whose leader said he was "happy" that Hamas invaded Israel but canceled that appearance following criticism from Pennsylvania governor Josh Shapiro, a fellow Democrat, as well as Jewish groups and her pro-Israel primary opponent, Bhavini Patel.

"Gov. Shapiro has been very clear that in the face of rising hate speech, leaders have a responsibility to speak and act with moral clarity," the Democrat said through a spokesman. "The governor believes there is no place in our commonwealth … for religious intolerance, whether it be antisemitism or Islamophobia. This hateful, antisemitic rhetoric cannot be tolerated—and it should be condemned, not elevated by our political leaders."

Before joining Lee's office in 2023, Bennett worked as a scheduler for Omar. He started the job in October 2019, just months after Omar faced criticism for arguing that America's support for Israel was "all about the benjamins, baby." Omar's "radical politics," Bennett said in a LinkedIn post, made working in the congresswoman's office attractive.

"I am eager to join #TheSquad in their movement," he said at the time. "Representation can soothe, but only radical politics can heal."

A California native, Bennett attended Knox College in Galesburg, Illinois, where he appeared on the cross country roster. He graduated in 2014 and went on to work in the Los Angeles mayor's office before joining Rep. Earl Blumenauer's (D., Ore.) staff as a legislative correspondent. While working in Omar's office, Bennett cofounded the Congressional Workers Union and the Congressional Progressive Staff Association, the latter of which has promoted protests calling for an Israeli ceasefire.

While Bennett identifies himself as "Jewish & Socialist" on his private Twitter account, he has more prominently promoted his Hispanic heritage, saying in a 2019 interview with the Congressional Hispanic Staff Association that he is "proud to identify as a brown indigenous Latinx staffer on Capitol Hill."

Still, in one archived social media post, Bennett said he did not "need any of my Republican colleagues to defend me against anti-Semitism," referring to a party line vote that saw House Republicans boot Omar from the Foreign Affairs Committee over anti-Semitic comments.

Omar "should not have been removed" from the committee, Bennett wrote.

It's unclear whether Bennett's status as a Lee staffer will impact the congresswoman's primary fight against Patel, a pro-Israel Democrat who has criticized Lee for accepting campaign contributions from anti-Semitic activists.

Lee's district includes the Tree of Life synagogue, the site of the nation's deadliest anti-Semitic attack, and Jewish leaders in the area have denounced the congresswoman for her "openly antisemitic" rhetoric.

"Last fall, we wrote to you with concerns about your rhetoric and votes in relation to the events of October 7 in Israel, the subsequent war, and the rise in antisemitism in America," more than 40 Pittsburgh-area rabbis and cantors wrote in their open letter. "You graciously agreed to meet with us, and in that meeting, you promised us that you would call out antisemitism and temper your own language."

"Sadly, three months later, you have not followed through on those commitments," the Jewish leaders continued. "Since that meeting, you have continued to use divisive rhetoric, which, at times, we have perceived as openly antisemitic."

Neither Lee nor Bennett returned requests for comment.