(August 31, 2020 / JNS) Longtime Rep. Richard Neal (D-Mass.) is facing a serious primary challenge from progressive Alex Morse on Sept. 1 in Massachusetts’s 1st Congressional District.
Will Morse, currently the mayor of Holyoke, Mass., continue the streak of progressives—from Jamaal Bowman in New York’s 16th Congressional District to Cori Bush in Missouri’s 1st Congressional District—ousting incumbent Democratic members of Congress this election cycle?
And can he win in the backdrop of allegations of improper consensual relationships with students when he was an adjunct professor at the University of Massachusetts Amherst?
Morse, 31, who is Jewish, has been endorsed by anti-Israel groups, including IfNotNow and Justice Democrats, and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), who upended the U.S. political world in 2018 by unseating longtime Rep. Joe Crowley (D-N.Y.) in New York’s 14th Congressional District.
Morse touted his endorsement from IfNotNow.
“I am so honored to be supported by @IfNotNowOrg,” tweeted Morse. “We are in the fight of our lives and I am committed to working with leaders, across identity and across differences, to ensure our country lives up to its values, abroad and at home.”
I am so honored to be supported by @IfNotNowOrg
We are in the fight of our lives and I am committed to working with leaders, across identity and across differences, to ensure our country lives up to its values, abroad and at home. https://t.co/dm3wNCxjbg
— Alex Morse (@AlexBMorse) June 12, 2020
Mark Mellman, president and CEO of Democratic Majority for Israel, whose political action committee endorsed Neal, told JNS that the primary is “potentially a close race.”
An internal poll shows Neal ahead of Morse, 46 percent to 41 percent, with 13 percent undecided.
An Aug. 23-24 poll conducted by RABA Research for Jewish Insider shows Neal ahead of Morse, 49 percent to 40 percent, with 12 percent undecided.
Regarding the IfNotNow endorsement, said Mellman, “IfNotNow is an organization that does not [believe] in Israel’s right to exist in any borders and [the] fact that they choose to endorse him, I think, says something about his policies.”
Mellman said that Neal, who has been in Congress since 1989 and is chairman of the powerful U.S. House Ways and Means Committee, “has been a champion of the pro-Israel cause.”
“Israel is a representative democracy,” Neal told Jewish Insider in a recent interview. “They embrace the tenets of a constitutional democracy, free speech, freedom of the press and the right to assemble. And I’ve seen the debate in the Knesset. It’s pretty stormy.”
On his campaign website, Morse states, “As a Jew, I deeply understand the need to feel safe and security with rising anti-Semitism in this country and across the globe. As a Jew, I also empathize with the Palestinian community’s struggle against endless occupation and for a homeland of their own.”
Regarding the U.S.-Israel relationship, Morse told Jewish Insider on Aug. 19, “As a congressman, I will use my voice to amplify the grassroots activism of Palestinians and Jewish Israelis to achieve a just future for both peoples, as well as make sure that U.S. support for Israel is used to address security concerns, not perpetuate human-rights violations.”
Morse supports conditioning U.S. assistance to Israel.
“I believe our taxpayer dollars should not be going toward any activities that entrench occupation, annexation, home demolitions, the detention of Palestinian children and undermine the two-state solution,” states Morse on his campaign website.
Although he does not support the anti-Israel BDS movement, he is against legislation to combat it.
“Despite my personal position, I would continue to oppose legislation that would criminalize or prevent other folks from exercising their free speech and First Amendment rights in regards to BDS,” he said.
Neal was one of 292 co-sponsors of the 2017 Israeli Anti-Boycott Act, which would have allowed state and local governments the right to punish state or local contractors from engaging in boycotting Israel.
Morse, like Neal, supports the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, which the United States withdrew from in May 2018, reimposing sanctions lifted under it, along with enacting new penalties against the regime. Additionally, they both back a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
‘A big deal in the Jewish and pro-Israel community’
Regardless, “chairman Neal has an exemplary record in Congress, as a leader of the Democratic Party, standing up for the working people of Massachusetts and America with seniority, and as chairman of the powerful Ways and Means [Committee], and as a principled advocate for strong U.S. global leadership and a close U.S.-Israel relationship,” Josh Block, a former aide to U.S. President Bill Clinton and former head of The Israel Project, told JNS.
Block called Ocasio-Cortez’s endorsement of Morse, who is gay, “a blatant attempt to overshadow recent allegations from the Democratic Party youth wing in Massachusetts of Mr. Morse’s ‘dangerous and inappropriate’ ‘sexual contact’ with college students during his campaign.”
Morse has denied the allegations, though he has acknowledged that he had consensual relationships with male students when he was an adjunct professor at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. (He apologized to those he made uncomfortable with his alleged misconduct.)
According to a report by the left-wing news site The Intercept, the allegations were fabricated by the UMass Amherst College Democrats.
Members of the UMass College Democrats allegedly sought to incriminate Morse by leaking to the press messages exchanged between Morse and the president of UMass Amherst College Democrats—following the two sitting on a panel at a College Democrats event at a local community college—though the group ultimately instead leveled broader charges of inappropriate behavior that were published in August in the UMass student newspaper.
A letter was sent to Morse by the College Democrats telling him that he’s no longer welcome at their events. Neal has denied any involvement of being behind the allegations against Morse.
Regarding outside influence in the race, “it would be horrifying if Justice Democrats and AOC were able to use their manipulative presence from outside the district to deprive Massachusetts voters of Rep. Neal’s leadership, on issues foreign and domestic, including his strong record of protecting children from sexual predators,” said Block. “Defeating Morse will be yet more accomplishment for the protection and betterment of his constituents.”
Democratic strategist Steve Rabinowitz told JNS that it will be “substantial” and “a big damn deal if Neal loses and Morse wins.”
However, he noted, “It’ll be a bigger deal in the halls of Congress than it will be in a Jewish and pro-Israel community, but it’ll [also] be a big deal in the Jewish and pro-Israel community.”
“It’ll just be a bigger deal in a Democratic caucus,” said Rabinowitz, although he thinks Neal will win.
The race is so significant in the pro-Israel community that New York-based billionaire hedge-fund leader and philanthropist Jeffrey Talpins hosted a fundraiser on Friday, according to NORPAC in a mass email that same day, in which the group later said that the initial mass email it sent advertising an “emergency” fundraiser for Neal was an error. Neither the fundraiser nor Talpins was associated with NORPAC.
Pro-Israel America, which has endorsed Neal, has raised $25,000 for the incumbent.
“We are continuing to do our part to help secure chairman Neal’s victory and to send a clear message that Mr. Morse’s hateful anti-Israel views are not welcome in Washington D.C.,” said NORPAC in the email.
Halie Soifer, executive director of the Jewish Democratic Council of America, which endorsed Neal, told JNS that the 16-term congressman “aligns with the values of Jewish Democrats and has done so for decades in Congress. This includes access to affordable health care and education, support of Israel and protecting Americans from the epidemic of gun violence.”
Both Mellman and Soifer declined to answer what a Morse upset would mean for the Jewish and pro-Israel community with the latter saying, “We’re confident he’ll win.”
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