Terry McAuliffe Touts Endorsement From Anti-Israel Group

Endorsement from pro-BDS activist group raises questions about VA Dem's approach to Israel

Virginia gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe (D.) / Getty Images
July 6, 2021

Virginia Democratic gubernatorial nominee Terry McAuliffe welcomed an endorsement from an activist group that staunchly defends the anti-Israel boycott movement, calling into question his past opposition to the campaign.

In a June tweet, McAuliffe said he was "tremendously grateful" to have "the support and endorsement" of Emgage Action, a Muslim-American advocacy group that has described Israel as an "apartheid" state and routinely lobbies in favor of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement (BDS). According to the group's website, Emgage asks "every candidate" seeking an endorsement "questions related to Palestine, settlements, and the right to boycott," which make up a "key part" of its "endorsement process."

The endorsement could signal a flip-flop on Israel policy for McAuliffe. In 2017, the Democrat joined a "Governors United Against BDS" initiative, which condemned the boycott movement as "incompatible with the values of our states and our country." The Virginia General Assembly also passed a resolution condemning BDS during McAuliffe's tenure, and the Democrat in 2016 joined the Virginia-Israel Advisory Board on a trade mission to Tel Aviv in an attempt to attract Israeli companies to the state.

Neither McAuliffe nor Emgage responded to requests for comment on whether the Democrat made concessions regarding Israel and BDS to land the group's endorsement. Emgage touted the endorsement in a June tweet but did not release a candidate questionnaire. The group's 2020 endorsement survey asked respondents if they support "efforts to criminalize Americans who engage in political, social, and economic boycotts of foreign countries," increased foreign aid to the Palestinian territories, and "the Trump Administration's position equating criticism of the actions of the state of Israel with anti-Semitism."

Zionist Organization of America president Mort Klein called McAuliffe's "embrace" of Emgage "intolerable."

"At a time of a frightening increase in anti-Semitism and attacks on Jews, to accept the endorsement of and praise a group that promotes hatred and boycotts against the Jewish state is to legitimize hatred against [Israel]," Klein said. "Every Jewish leader must condemn McAuliffe for taking this stance." 

Emgage's endorsement came days before McAuliffe won Virginia's June primary and weeks after every other candidate in the race endorsed BDS during a debate the former governor did not attend. Given his history as a pro-Israel Democrat, the group's decision to endorse McAuliffe over his slew of anti-Israel opponents suggests he may have changed his tune on the boycott movement.

Emgage in 2019 partnered with the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA)—an umbrella group that launched with help from the Muslim Brotherhood—to host a presidential forum with Sen. Bernie Sanders (I., Vt.) and former Obama administration official Julián Castro. Speakers at past ISNA conferences have expressed support for "laws in countries where homosexuality is punishable by death," defended terrorist groups, and fundraised for convicted cop killers.

Emgage received $1 million from liberal billionaire George Soros's Open Society Policy Center in 2019. The group is also tied to the Biden administration. Small Business Administration deputy administrator nominee Dilawar Syed has served on Emgage's board since 2017, prompting concern from GOP lawmakers.

Republican Jewish Coalition communications director Neil Strauss said McAuliffe's welcoming of Emgage's endorsement reflects the Democratic Party's leftward shift on Israel.

"When even [McAuliffe] is touting the endorsement of a pro-BDS group, can there really be any doubt that the Democratic Party is the party of the BDS movement?" Strauss asked.