OpinionU.S. News

When anti-Israel radicals win local elections

We must mobilize to counter an insidious movement that threatens democracy itself.

Anti-Israel andpro-Palestinian demonstrators march through central London in support of the Hamas terrorist group, Oct. 14, 2023. Credit: Andy Soloman/Shutterstock
Anti-Israel andpro-Palestinian demonstrators march through central London in support of the Hamas terrorist group, Oct. 14, 2023. Credit: Andy Soloman/Shutterstock
Dillon Hosier
Dillon Hosier is the CEO of the Israeli-American Civic Action Network.

In the shadow of Oct. 7 and the subsequent discord on campuses and in the streets, an alarming question has emerged: What happens when activists from anti-Israel groups like Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) move on from student government to real government?

This is no longer a hypothetical scenario. It happened in the last local election in West Hollywood, Calif., which has historically been strongly pro-Israel.

The ascent of Chelsea Lee Byers—an SJP activist and chapter founder—to the office of vice mayor should be a wake-up call. It highlights the need for proactive political engagement as antisemitism spreads into local, state and federal government.

Byers’s ability to successfully conceal her extremist agenda behind her innocent-seeming nonprofit organization Beautiful Trouble is a warning sign of a significant threat to the Jewish and pro-Israel communities, as well as the integrity of local government. Her story is a cautionary tale.

You would never guess that Byers is the voice of a violently antisemitic and anti-Israel movement. At first glance, she appears no different from any first-time local elected official. This is not a coincidence.

Byers rose from radical activism to real political power in the course of a decade. In 2012, she tweeted, “I am the President of Northern Arizona University’s SJP—let’s make this day of action huge!” In 2022, she ran in her first election. Mere weeks after Oct. 7, she was sworn in as vice mayor.

Throughout her activism, Byers engaged in regular anti-Israel defamation. She called for boycotts, an end to foreign aid and war crimes trials of Israeli officials. In 2011, she protested an appearance by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. In what was likely a deliberate lie, she falsely accused the hosting organization of sexual assault. In fact, she simply had to be physically removed from the event due to her deplorable behavior. In 2018, Byers led a protest at the Israeli consulate in Los Angeles at which the crowd chanted the genocidal slogans “Intifada, intifada, long live the intifada. From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free.”

What may be most dangerous about Byers, however, is the insidious nature of her tactics. In 2021, when it was clear she was going to run for public office, she tried to erase her digital footprint and hide her anti-Israel incitement.

This strategic rebranding was only the beginning. Byers uses her nonprofit organization Beautiful Trouble to conceal her commitment to virulent anti-Israel ideologies. Though it claims to advocate for social justice, Beautiful Trouble regularly crosses the line into outright anti-Israel hate and incitement. Its social media platforms and public rhetoric are rife with demonization, distortions and racist stereotypes against the Jewish state.

Multiple sources prove Byers’s involvement with Beautiful Trouble. Indeed, her official biography on the City of West Hollywood’s website identifies her as a “core team member” of the organization. Before the 2022 election, Beautiful Trouble’s website directed donations to Byers’s home address, showing her direct financial association with the organization.

A more complete bio at Women’s Voices Now states, “Chelsea is part of the Beautiful Trouble collective, where she facilitates resources development and content creation for an online toolbox that supports organizers and activists around the globe.”

Byers’s idea of activism is insidious and deceptive. Beautiful Trouble, for example, advises: “Don’t dress like a protester. … Dress like a Republican so you can talk like an anarchist.” This manipulation of public perception enables more overt expressions of Byers’s agenda.

As an example of the latter, Beautiful Trouble’s website features a quote that attempts to rationalize Hamas’s terrorism: ”Hamas explains itself. It is a demonstration in both senses of the word: a protest and an exposition of the reasons for that protest.” This clearly attempts to legitimize a U.S.-designated terrorist group and downplays its atrocities. It further advances the agenda of demonizing Israel and Jews with the rhetoric of social activism.

Byers was elected vice mayor by a slim margin of 54 votes. But she did not abandon her divisive anti-Israel agenda. She simply changed tactics. From her election victory to Oct. 6, she maintained a low profile with little overt activism. This changed dramatically following the horrific atrocities of Oct. 7.

In the wake of the atrocities, Byers has more or less openly supported the monstrous pro-Hamas “protest” movement that has taken to America’s campuses and streets. For example, she posted, “Keep showing up in the streets to #shutitdown4palestine.” A sitting vice-mayor clearly should not be inciting mob events. It is not just reckless but a blatant dereliction of her official duties.

Then there is Beautiful Trouble’s “Get Up, Rise Up Direct Action Fund.” This initiative is a cornerstone of the organization’s anti-Israel efforts. It funds “creative, provocative actions” ostensibly to advocate a ceasefire in Gaza, which is little more than an attempt to rescue Hamas from destruction.

Byers’s involvement in this effort raises serious questions. In particular, about the potential funneling of public resources—whether funds, permits or official endorsements—towards initiatives aligned with Beautiful Trouble. This would constitute a very disturbing conflict of interest.

In a recent post on Instagram, Beautiful Trouble shared an image that manipulated a well-known fast-food brand’s logo with the words “Genocide You Can Taste” and “Since 1948”— the year of Israel’s establishment. Beneath the altered logo is the defamatory phrase “IS-RA-HELL.”

Byers’s decision to platform such content in the context of rising antisemitism is profoundly disturbing given her office. It irresponsibly fuels antisemitism, compromising the safety and security of the Jewish and Israeli communities in West Hollywood she has sworn to serve.

The rise of Chelsea Lee Byers should serve as a stark warning to the Jewish and pro-Israel communities. It raises the question of whether, as a radical anti-Israel activist who continues to support a radical anti-Israel organization, she can truly represent all the citizens of West Hollywood.

Byers’s journey also exemplifies how radical campus environments are serving as incubators for the next generation of anti-Israel and antisemitic political leaders. These leaders will leverage their disreputable skills and tactics to win elections, starting with local city councils and school boards.

Extremism and antisemitism are threats to democracy itself. Complacency is not an option. We must mobilize at the local level to counter this insidious movement. It is our collective responsibility to ensure that our governments at all levels are not hijacked by those who threaten not just Jews and Israelis, but all Americans.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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