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Pittsburgh Congressional Race Puts Democrats’ Criticism of Israel to the Test

An early litmus test for progressive Democrats regarding their stance on the Israel-Hamas conflict is evolving in an upcoming election in Pittsburgh and its suburbs. 

Rep. Summer Lee, who is aligned with the “squad” and is a first-term lawmaker, faces a challenge in the primary from Bhavini Patel, with the war becoming a pivotal issue in the race.

Patel believes that Lee’s criticism of Israel is emblematic of extreme left-wing politics that could be detrimental to Democratic President Joe Biden’s re-election prospects in a critical state. 

Patel, a municipal councilwoman of Indian heritage, entered the race shortly before Hamas’ attack in October. 

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She has courted the Jewish community, criticizing Lee for her association with the “uncommitted” campaign, which protests Biden’s handling of the war.

In response, Lee argues that her advocacy for a cease-fire in Gaza aligns with the shifting sentiments within the Democratic Party.

The conflict has caused significant disruption in Democratic politics across the country and has led to divisions among traditionally progressive groups, including Pittsburgh’s substantial Jewish community.

The issue resonates deeply in Lee’s district, where a synagogue shooting in 2018 left 11 dead.

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The primary on April 23 is poised to reveal whether opposition to Lee’s stance on the war can coalesce into a meaningful challenge. 

If Lee loses, it would mark the first defeat of a Democratic incumbent in Congress this year.

Lee has substantial financial backing and support from Pennsylvania’s Democratic establishment, including Sen. Bob Casey, as well as various progressive organizations representing both Jewish and Muslim constituents. 

Lee has established herself as a strong advocate for marginalized communities, fighting for a wide range of issues such as inequality, climate change, and combating bigotry, including antisemitism and Islamophobia.

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Credits: DepositPhotos

Unlike Biden and many House Democrats, Lee has criticized Hamas’ attacks while also raising concerns about Israel’s actions in Gaza, referring to them as “war crimes.” 

Lee has expressed her desire to stop U.S. military aid to Israel and has emphasized the need for a swift cease-fire to break the cycle of violence.

Although the war features prominently in their debates, the issue has not garnered significant attention from pro-Israel groups such as Democratic Majority for Israel and AIPAC. 

Nonetheless, the primary’s outcome may provide insight into the evolving dynamics of Democratic politics surrounding the Israel-Hamas conflict.

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