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Supporters of progressive Democrat blame pro-Israel group for Ohio primary loss

The race between Shontel Brown and Nina Turner was one of several in the past year to pit pro-Israel Democrats against pro-Palestinian ones in congressional races.
Shontel Brown and Rep. James Clyburn

Some supporters of a progressive Democrat are blaming her defeat in a primary election on the influence of a pro-Israel group.

Shontel Brown defeated Nina Turner and the lesser-known Jeff Johnson in Ohio’s 11th congressional district Democratic primary election Tuesday. Brown won with 50.2% of the vote to Nina Turner’s 44.5%, according to results from The New York Times. The election took place outside of the traditional election season because the previous congresswoman serving the district, Marcia Fudge, left her post to join the Biden administration. 

Like in some other recent Democratic Party primaries, the race pitted a pro-Israel candidate against one supportive of the Palestinian cause, and was covered by Israeli media. Brown was endorsed by the pro-Israel group Democratic Majority for Israel PAC.

“Shontel Brown’s victory, as a champion of the U.S.-Israel relationship, reaffirms that being pro-Israel is good politics as well as wise policy,” Democratic Majority for Israel PAC said in a statement following Brown’s win. 

Some supporters of Turner quickly blamed the Democratic Majority for Israel for Turner’s loss. Briahna Joy Gray, who was press secretary for Sen. Bernie Sanders’ 2020 presidential campaign, attributed the outcome to high voter turnout in the largely Jewish Shaker Heights neighborhood of Cleveland. 

“New information may emerge, but early indication is that high turn out in white affluent shaker heights was dispositive here. Two million dollars was spent by DMFI galvanizing this population,” Gray tweeted early Wednesday, using an abbreviation for Democratic Majority for Israel. 

Kyle Kusinki, who co-hosts the left-wing talk show Secular Talk, tweeted late Tuesday that “Nina lost for a very simple reason” and then accused the Democratic Majority for Israel PAC of spending money to spread “lies” about her. 

Some Twitter users accused Gray of anti-Semitism for her tweet. Other progressive commentators similarly criticized Democratic Majority on Wednesday for its support for Brown. 

For her part, Turner made a vague reference to “evil money” in her speech following the results, and claimed she did not lose the election. “We didn't lose this race — the evil money manipulated and maligned this election,” she said. 

Brown and Turner had divergent reactions to the conflict that broke out in May in Israel and Gaza. Brown stood by Israel in the face of Hamas rocket attacks, while Turner expressed “solidarity” with Palestinians facing eviction in Jerusalem’s Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood. 

Turner was endorsed by some relatively pro-Palestinian Democratic politicians, including Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, the leader of the self-styled “squad” of progressives in Congress. Ocasio-Cortez is often critical of the Israeli government. 

Brown expressed support for Israel during her victory speech.

The race was only the latest between Democratic candidates on opposite sides of the Israeli-Palestinian issue. In August 2020, Rep. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota defeated a challenger in the Democratic primary by nearly 20 percentage points. Omar is a vocal critic of Israel, and her opponent, Antone Melton-Meaux, was backed by pro-Israel groups. Rep. Jamaal Bowman of New York City also easily defeated longtime Rep. Eliot Engel in the June 2020 Democratic primary. Engel was a staunch supporter of Israel, but Bowman has more pro-Palestinian positions. In February, Bowman criticized Israel over the relatively slow vaccine rollout in the Palestinian territories. 

Other relatively pro-Israel Democrats have won their primaries. In September 2020, Rep. Richard Neal of Massachusetts handily defeated progressive challenger Alex Morse, who wanted to condition US aid to Israel.

Americans are increasingly divided on the Israel-Palestinian conflict. During the May war between Israel and Hamas, violence broke out between pro-Israel and pro-Palestinian protesters in New York City. Jewish Americans were also attacked in relation to the conflict. 

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