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Democratic congressman faces accusations of Islamophobia over anti-BDS flyer

Congressman William Lacy Clay has been accused of putting 'Muslim lives in danger' by progressive challenger Cori Bush
Campaign literature by Clay's campaign featured photo of Muslim-American activist Linda Sarsour to attack Bush (AFP/File photo)
By Ali Harb in Washington

Congressman William Lacy Clay, a Missouri Democrat, is facing accusations of Islamophobia after his campaign sent a flyer featuring the photo of Muslim-American activist Linda Sarsour to attack his progressive challenger over her support for the right to boycott Israel.

The campaign literature calls out Clay's progressive challenger Cori Bush over being endorsed by Sarsour, describing the Muslim organiser - who is a frequent target of right-wing attacks - as "an anti-Israel activist and a leader of the BDS movement in the United States."

Bush, who entered public life as a leading activist in the Black Lives Matter protests after the killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, has expressed support for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement in the past, but foreign policy has not been a major issue in the race.

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The challenger's campaign was quick to condemn Clay's attack, saying that Bush rejects all forms of bigotry and believes that Israelis and Palestinians "alike deserve to live in dignity and security."

"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.

The campaign also noted that the photo on the mailer showing Sarsour and Bush together was taken at an interfaith event featuring Jewish, Muslim and Christian leaders rallying against racism and anti-immigrant policies by the Trump administration.

"Of course, Clay failed to provide the context in which the photo was taken to stoke fears of antisemitism and promote Islamophobia, both of which are unacceptable," the campaign said.

Rise in hate crimes

On Twitter, Bush went on to accuse Clay of putting Muslim Americans at risk, noting that the flyer coincided with Eid al-Adha, which Muslims celebrated on Friday.

"Although Missouri has among the smaller Muslim populations in the country, it ranks in the top 10 in hate crimes against Muslims. Since you took office, these hate crimes have consistently risen. Our Muslim community in St. Louis is at risk," she wrote in a series of tweets addressed to the congressman on Saturday.

'Your mailer isn't a political smear campaign. It puts Muslim lives in danger'

- Cori Bush

"Your mailer isn't a political smear campaign. It puts Muslim lives in danger. You should be affirming your commitment to protecting St. Louis' Muslim community, especially during Eid, among Islam's holiest days. Instead, you're stoking Islamophobia. You should be ashamed."

Clay's office did not respond to MEE's request for comment by time of publication.

For her part, Sarsour said using her photo to attack Bush seems "desperate".

"He fails to mention that he's using a Palestinian-American supporter of BDS who raised funds to restore a Jewish cemetery that was vandalised in St. Louis to smear a brilliant Black woman," Sarsour told MEE.

In 2017, Sarsour helped lead efforts by Muslim Americans to raise $100,000 to repair a Jewish cemetery that had been attacked in an apparent hate crime.

Tuesday primary

Bush and Clay will face off for the party's nomination in the secure Democratic seat on Tuesday. The challenger, who has been endorsed by progressive groups including Justice Democrats, is looking to emulate the success of Jamaal Bowman who primaried senior Democratic Congressman Eliot Engel in New York earlier this year.

Bowman has endorsed Bush against Clay, who has been in Congress for nearly 20 years, having succeeded his father, Bill Clay, who was first elected to the seat in 1968.

Tuesday's race will be a rematch from 2018 when Bush fell short in her challenge against Clay.

In the anti-BDS mailer, Clay asserted his support for Israel, citing his support for sanctions against Iran.

Robert McCaw, government affairs director at the Council on American Islamic Relations, said while condemning BDS is not in itself Islamophobic, the mailer was problematic.

"The mailer is absolutely tone-deaf as it prominently features a Muslim woman wearing a hijab in a very negative context, while ignoring the fact that anti-Muslim hate crimes are rising in his state," McCaw told MEE.

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