(August 25, 2020 / JNS) Ahead of the Sept. 1 Democratic primary for the Massachusetts 4th District, questions are growing over one candidate’s past stances regarding the BDS movement.
Progressive Jesse Mermell, a former Brookline select board member, who has emerged in recent weeks as a frontrunner in the crowded field, has come under fire for her conflicting stances on the anti-Israel BDS movement. The Massachusett’s 4th district is home to the largest Jewish population in New England, with several Jewish candidates vying for the open Congressional seat. As such, policies affecting the Jewish community, including Israel, have played an important role in the race.
In a questionnaire produced by the Massachusetts Peace Action, a pro-BDS group, Mermell, who is Jewish, answered “yes” to the question on opposing “anti-BDS” legislation, which has been supported by 32 states and is being considered on the federal level. Mermell also said that she would back legislation by Rep. Betty McCollum, who supports the BDS movement, which accuses Israel of human-rights violations of Palestinian children.
In a statement to JNS, a spokesperson from the Mermell campaign said that her answer to the BDS question “was an error due to misunderstanding a very opaquely worded question. It has since been corrected.”
The spokesperson added that Mermell opposes the BDS movement because “it does not support a two-state solution” and strongly opposes “any anti-Semitic rhetoric” coming from the movement. If elected, she also says she will support House Resolution 246 that opposes the BDS movement.
However, the spokesperson said that Mermell “also firmly believes in individual civil liberties and the First Amendment, which guarantees the right to free speech.”
Critics of the anti-BDS legislation make a similar argument, saying that the law would curtail the First Amendment and free speech.
The Mermell campaign also backtracked on her support for the McCollum bill, saying that her “Jesse’s response reflects her opinion of a previous version of the bill.”
“She has great concern for the issue of children’s rights, including those flagged in this bill, but as the substance of the bill changed over time, she has become increasingly concerned about overreaching language and unintended consequences, including reducing Israel’s ability to defend itself.”
As such, Mermell currently opposes the McCollum bill, said the campaign spokesperson.
‘So much divisiveness within the Jewish community’
The shifting stances by Mermell on the BDS movement come as one of her other progressive opponents, Ihssane Leckey, a Democratic Socialist, has also generated concern over her comments regarding BDS.
In a survey for the Boston Chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), she backed the BDS movement, but then later clarifies that she does not “support sanctions.” Similar to Mermell, in a Massachusetts Peace Action survey, Leckey said “yes” to the question on opposing “anti-BDS” legislation, backing McCollum’s legislation accusing Israel of mistreating Palestinian children.
Unlike Mermell, Leckey also said that she would skip any AIPAC-sponsored trips to Israel.
However, in a recent Jewish voter webcast, Leckey attempted to walk back her previous stances on BDS, saying she would “not be pigeonholed into that box of ‘yes’ or ‘no’ ” with the DSA survey.
“We know that there has been so much divisiveness within the Jewish community because we spend so much time talking about ‘yes’ or ‘no’ instead of talking about the issue itself and how we’re going to resolve it,” she said. “I always said I will not stand against a peaceful protest. I will not stand against people coming peacefully and asking for something that they believe that is the right way to get things done.”
Eight Democratic candidates are vying to replace Rep. Joe Kennedy, who is running for Senate, for the Massachusetts 4th District, which spans from the western Boston suburbs to the state’s south coast. Newton City Councilors Jake Auchincloss and Becky Grossman, who have both strongly denounced BDS, are also considered frontrunners in the race.
“The pro-Israel community deserves a representative they can trust to build further bipartisan support for the U.S.-Israel relationship and to fight back against BDS. As a veteran, as a Jew, and as an elected official, I am committed to a strong relationship with the state of Israel,” Auchincloss told JNS.
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