Cori Bush, a 44-year-old nurse and Black Lives Matter activist, has ousted longtime incumbent Rep. William Lacy Clay in the Democratic primary for Missouri’s 1st Congressional District. She’s expected to prevail in November, making her first Black woman to represent the state in Congress.
Bush (who was backed by Justice Democrats and endorsed by Senator Bernie Sanders) attempted to unseat Clay in 2018, but lost by 20 points. She prevailed in the rematch by just three points.
Days before the election, Clay’s team sent out a mailer that smeared Bush for defending the BDS movement and accused her of having an “anti-Israel agenda.” The mailer featured a photo of Bush next to Muslim activist Linda Sarsour, a consistent target of Islamophobic attacks from the right-wing. The image was altered in a way that made Bush’s face seem darker.
The mailer was presumably inspired by a portion of Bush’s campaign website that has seemingly been deleted. “In these times, it is important to be specific with our language and direct in the actions we take. In our current geopolitical economy, money talks far louder than speech alone,” the website said. “This is why nonviolent actions like the BDS movement are so important—and why the effort to mischaracterize and demonize the BDS movement by its opponents is so urgent,” it read.
Many candidates point to their pro-Israel bonafides when being attacked in such a way, but Bush refused to back down. Her campaign released a statement condemning the mailer and asserting her commitment to Palestinian rights. “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,” it reads.
Shortly before thee election, the St. Louis Palestine Solidarity Committee also put out a statement supporting Bush:
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.
Cori Bush has expressed support for the House bill (HR 2407) which would cut military aid to Israel on the basis of its detention and torture of Palestinian youth—the first bill ever to unequivocally uphold Palestinian rights and to condition financial support for Israel. She would join Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar (the only two members of Congress to support Boycott, Divestment Sanctions (BDS)) as a new member of “The Squad”.
In 2019, Clay (and over 90% of Democratic House members) 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.
Bush’s historic upset comes less than two months after, middle school principal and activist, Jamaal Bowman defeated Rep. Eliot Engel in New York’s 16th district. Engel has been in the House since 1989 and has distinguished himself as one of the most hawkish, pro-Israel members of congress.
“Bowman’s apparent victory is not a setback for the Israel lobby–it is a monumental collapse. Engel is not an interchangeable automaton regurgitating AIPAC talking points,” wrote Josh Ruebner in the aftermath of the election, “As the eighth-ranking Democratic Representative in seniority, Engel has a more than three-decade-long track record unmatched by any other Democrat in the House of Representatives of introducing, sponsoring, and successfully legislating dozens of bills and resolutions to cement unequivocal US support for Israel apartheid rule over the Palestinian people.”
Although he’s not a BDS supporter, Bowman has defended the right to boycott and indicated that he wants to condition aid to Israel. “As Netanyahu calls for expanding settlements and annexing the West Bank, we should seriously consider placing conditions on the billions of dollars of military aid our government provides him in order to make sure that the rights and dignity of both the Israeli and Palestinian people are respected. I just don’t understand why American taxpayers are subsidizing the detention of Palestinian children while Democrats are criticizing child detention at the Mexican border,” he told Jacobin last year.
Although support for Israel remains firmly entrenched within the establishment of the Democratic party, the positions of people like Bush and Bowman are widely popular among the party’s base. A 2019 Center for American Progress poll found that 71% of Democratic voters want to condition Israel’s aid over its human rights record. A University of Maryland Critical Issues Poll from this year found that 49% of Democrats had heard of the BDS movement. Of those who had, 48% said that they “strongly or somewhat” support BDS. Some 80% of them said that they oppose anti-BDS legislation.