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Cori Bush was attacked over BDS before election; she did not back down

Days before defeating Congressman William Lacy Clay on Tuesday, Bush reaffirmed her commitment to Palestinian human rights
Cori Bush (AFP)
Cori Bush's campaign says she 'has always been sympathetic to the BDS movement' (AFP)
By Ali Harb in Washington

A few days before Cori Bush defeated 10-term Congressman William Lacy Clay, ending a political dynasty that represented St Louis in the House for more than a half century, she was attacked by the incumbent over her support for the right to boycott Israel.

Her response? Bush doubled down on backing the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement. 

"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," her campaign said in a statement on Saturday. 

She went on to shock the Democratic establishment and defeat Clay by a 3-percent margin on Tuesday. Palestinian rights advocates were quick to hail her victory, which they said proves that criticising Israel is no longer necessarily a costly stance in Democratic Party politics.

"Blind support for Israel now no longer is helping candidates, but is even becoming a hindrance for them," said Ariel Gold, national co-director of Code Pink, an anti-war feminist group.

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Anti-BDS mailer

Earlier this week, Clay was accused of stoking Islamophobia by sending campaign literature featuring a photo of his opponent with Muslim-American activist Linda Sarsour that was critical of Bush over her stance on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The flyer, which underscored Clay's support for pro-Israel measures in Congress, described Sarsour as "an anti-Israel activist and a leader of the BDS movement in the United States".

Initial results on Tuesday showed a significant lead for Clay, before Bush claimed the race by a 3-percent margin in dramatic fashion before the end of the night.

After the results, Sarsour dubbed Clay's mailer featuring her an "epic fail".

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"Any consultant who wants to run an anti-BDS, anti-Palestinian comms/voter outreach strategy in this political era should be fired. Rookies, I tell ya. Save your $$$," she wrote on Twitter. 

Bush's race coincided with Rashida Tlaib's primary victory. On Wednesday, the Palestinian-American lawmaker said "the Squad" - a group of progressive legislators - is "only getting bigger".

Late in June, left-wing challenger Jamaal Bowman defeated longtime staunchly pro-Israel senior Democratic Congressman Eliot Engel.

Gold said recent results do not bode well for pro-Israel groups.

"I think what we're looking at now is the future. There was a lot of talk when the Squad came in that this was possibly just a fluke, and we see two years later, it is not a fluke," Gold told MEE.

"This is the direction that the Democratic Party is taking, and establishment Dems need to get on board or they're going to find themselves ousted by progressives."

Palestinian-Black solidarity

Bush, a nurse, pastor and activist who was one of the leading organisers of the protests in Ferguson, Missouri, after the shooting of Michael Brown in 2014, first ran against Clay in 2018. 

She fell short by about 20 percent of the votes. But with progressives gaining momentum, aided by the endorsements from Senator Bernie Sanders and triumphant challenger Bowman, she closed the gap on Tuesday.

'People are powerfully connecting the dots between shared struggles against racism and oppression'

- Rasha Mubarak, Palestinian-American activist

The incumbent was elected to Congress the first time in 2000, succeeding his father Bill Clay, who had held the seat for 32 years. And while the elder Clay was one of the founders of the Congressional Black Caucus, Bush will be the first African-American woman to represent Missouri in Congress. 

After winning the primary, she is almost certain to be elected to the House of Representatives in the overwhelmingly Democratic district in November.

Palestinian-American activist Rasha Mubarak said Bush understands that freedom must be demanded for all oppressed people without exception.

"When people talk about health care and clean water and climate justice, you can't leave Palestine out of the equation, and I think Cori Bush represents what it means to fight for justice for all," Mubarak told MEE.

Mubarak added that the congresswoman-to-be brings a long history of Palestinian-Black solidarity from activist circles to the halls of Congress, along with Tlaib. "People are powerfully connecting the dots between shared struggles against racism and oppression," she said.

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