Pro-BDS, BLM activist Cori Bush defeats pro-Israel candidate in US primary

(Michael B. Thomas - The New York Times)

Middle East Monitor  /  August 6, 2020

Cori Bush, a Black Lives Matter activist and supporter of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement against the Israeli occupation, caused an historical upset yesterday in the US primary elections. The 44-year-old nurse, who was once homeless, ousted ten-term political veteran and keen supporter of the Zionist state, William Lacy Clay.

In a closely fought election, Bush defeated Clay by only three percentage points, gathering 49 per cent of the votes to Clays 46 per cent to become the Democrat candidate for Missouri’s 1st Congressional District in this year’s US elections. The seat is traditionally held by the Democrats.

Yesterday’s result was a major reversal of 2018 when the two candidates went head to head. Bush, who was endorsed by Senator Bernie Sanders, attempted to unseat Clay but lost by 20 points.

Clay’s election campaign has come under sharp criticism. In a last-ditch effort to boost his support in the Jewish community, the 64-year-old circulated campaign literature which has been denounced as an attempt to smear Bush, as it highlighted her support for BDS, accused her of having an “anti-Israel agenda” and drawing attention to her work alongside Palestinian-American activist Linda Sarsour.

Instead of going on the defensive by expressing support for Israel, as is normally the case when a candidate is attacked in this manner, Bush doubled down in her support for the Palestinian cause. “Cori Bush has always been sympathetic to the BDS movement, and she stands in solidarity with the Palestinian people, just as they have stood in solidarity with Black Americans fighting for their own lives,” said a statement released by her team.

A local Palestinian solidarity group also released a statement to highlight her strong anti-Israel position. “Cori Bush has been a staunch supporter of Palestinian rights and harsh critic of Israel. She spoke at our rally on July 3 to oppose Israel’s move to annex the West Bank and she shares our principles of anti-imperialism abroad and anti-racism at home,” a statement by St Louis Palestine Solidarity Committee read.

Pro-Israel groups are likely to view Clay’s defeat with some trepidation. He has been a strong supporter of Israel. In 2019 he was one of the overwhelming majority of Democratic House members who endorsed a resolution that condemned the BDS movement. “My vote stands for the principle that no matter how divided our politics, the protection and support of our ally Israel is a bipartisan trust and should remain as such,” he said at the time.

This defeat for the pro-Israel lobby came on the same day as Palestinian-American congresswoman, Rashida Tlaib, won the primary election in Michigan’s 13th district. Like Bush, Tlaib’s opponent sought to exploit her vocal support for the Palestinian cause and criticism of Israel to undermine her.

In another victory which suggests a shift in the perception of Israel in the eyes of US electorates, 16-term Democratic Congressman Eliot Engel, a staunch supporter of the Zionist state, suffered a humiliating defeat to progressive Jamaal Bowman.

All eyes will now be focused on Ilhan Omar. Pro-Israel groups are out in force to unseat the freshman in this month’s Minnesota’s 5th congressional district primary election.