Why won’t Cori Bush talk to the Jewish Light?

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JEWISH LIGHT EDITORIAL

U.S. Rep. Cori Bush’s staff has refused to grant the St. Louis Jewish Light an interview with the Democratic lawmaker.

This should trouble our readers because Jews constitute a small, but not insignificant, portion of the first-term Democratic lawmaker’s congressional district, which includes St. Louis and the suburbs University City, Olivette and Maryland Heights, among other municipalities.

This stands in contrast to U.S. Rep. Ann Wagner, who represents a local district that also includes a sizeable Jewish population, and her challenger in the 2020 election, State Sen. Jill Schupp, both of whom have responded to the Light’s interview requests.

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The Light wishes to speak with Rep. Bush because we do our best to inform our local Jewish community about the issues they care about most. And Bush, during the campaign, took an unusual position for a Democratic or Republican candidate on one such topic: Israel.

As a candidate, Bush expressed support for the boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) against Israel movement.

“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,” her website stated. “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.

“I stand by the right of Palestinians to live as a free people just as the people of Israel and we as U.S. citizens are allowed to do,” the statement continued. “We also stand by their right to call for a boycott on goods and services that the government that is currently oppressing them profits from, in order to draw attention to their plight.”

Then, around the same time that then-U.S. Rep. Lacy Clay sent out a campaign flyer highlighting his Democratic primary opponent’s support for the BDS movement and ties to Palestinian-American activist Linda Sarsour, Bush’s campaign deleted the page with her views on the BDS movement.

When Bush defeated Clay and then won in the general election, she became the third U.S. lawmaker who supports the BDS movement.

That is, if she still holds those views.

Wherever you are on the spectrum of opinions on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, from disinterested, to Israel can do nothing wrong, to Israel can do nothing right, to anywhere in the vast expanse in between those positions, the deletion of that page and Bush’s subsequent refusal to sit down for an interview with the Light should be a cause for concern, if you are concerned about accountability.

Support the BDS movement? You deserve to know if Bush continues to support its ideas.

See the BDS movement as a cover for anti-Semitism? You deserve to know how Bush responds to that charge.

Israel is, of course, only one topic among many that Jews care about. When Bush’s communications director, after putting the Light’s request for an interview off for months, asked which issues we would like to ask the lawmaker about, the newspaper responded in an email, “voting restrictions; efforts to achieve racial justice; relations with the Jewish community; Israel; and anti-Semitism.”

The communications director then stated in an April 20 email to the Light that she was still “working on finding the time on the Congresswoman’s calendar. Her schedule is set for this week, but I hope to find a time for the following week.”

Since then, Rep. Bush’s staff has not responded to the Light, despite our continuing efforts to reach out and gain an interview.

But Bush has not been silent on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. On May 6, Bush responded to a conflict over efforts to evict Palestinian residents from an eastern Jerusalem neighborhood, Sheikh Jarrah, by tweeting, “I know what it’s like to be brutalized for simply advocating for my own humanity. I stand in strong solidarity with our Palestinian siblings mobilizing to #SaveSheikhJarrah.”

On May 10, she tweeted, “As someone who has been brutalized by police, I continue to stand in strong solidarity with Palestinians rising up against military, police, and state violence. Congress must stop funding human rights abuses by the Israeli military.”

But what of Bush’s concern for her St. Louis Jewish constituents, who may see her linking Black people’s struggle in the United States with Palestinians’ struggle in the Middle East as an unfair conflation of two separate, complex issues?

Or her concern for Israelis? They have had to take shelter in recent days as Palestinian militants in Gaza fired hundreds of rockets into Israel. Three Israelis have been killed, Haaretz reported Tuesday afternoon. The Israel Defense Forces have delivered retaliatory strikes in Gaza, killing 28 people, according to Palestinian media.

There are plenty of local Jews who may see one side as more deserving of the blame for the latest round of fighting than the other — and are also aghast at all the lives lost. But they see their congressional representative only expressing concern for Palestinians, not Israelis, which tracks with some parts of the Black Lives Matter movement.

When the Movement for Black Lives released a platform in 2016 that endorsed the BDS movement; described Israel as an apartheid state; and stated that Israel was committing genocide against the Palestinian people, Jewish organizations such as the Anti-Defamation League and National Council of Jewish Women, condemned those parts of the platform while expressing their shared concern about police brutality, racial profiling and other civil rights issues.

“While we are deeply concerned about the ongoing violence and the human rights violations directed at both Israelis and Palestinians, we believe the terms genocide and apartheid are inaccurate and inappropriate to describe the situation,” the National Council of Jewish Women wrote in a statement. “Further, BDS is too often used to de-legitimize Israel’s right to exist.”

In spite of Bush’s refusal to answer the Light’s questions, her staff has engaged with the Jewish Community Relations Council of St. Louis, according to Maharat Rori Picker Neiss, JCRC executive director.

“We appreciate building a relationship with the congresswoman’s staff and look forward to, as with all of our elected officials, working closely on areas where we are aligned and can advance together, and to sharing our concerns where we are not aligned,” Picker Neiss told the Light.

The organization has been in contact with Bush’s staff about racial equity efforts, environmentalism, voting rights, LGBTQ equity and issues affecting immigrants and refugees, Picker Neiss said.

“Obviously we are having conversations about Israel and Palestine,” Picker Neiss added. “We are discussing many of the concerns of our Jewish community.”

There are also plenty of Jews who voted for Bush and have been happy with her work since she took office. Two such Jews recently held a fundraiser for Bush but declined to comment or did not respond to the Light’s questions on the lawmaker.

If Bush and her supporters wish to affect positive change within or outside the Jewish community, silence is not the answer.

If Bush is concerned about the welfare of her Jewish constituents — many of whom have taken active roles in the Black Lives Matter movement — and their brothers and sisters in Israel, she should say so. And what better way than by granting an interview to the Jewish Light, which seeks to inform, inspire, educate and connect local Jews on the issues they care about, including the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the treatment of Black people in America.