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A candidate mistrusted by some in the Jewish community decries antisemitism — and apologizes

Nida Allam, a county commissioner running for Congress in a deep blue North Carolina district, has frustrated some in the Jewish community who say her criticism of Israel has crossed the line into antisemitism.

But Allam — who has been billed as a potential future member of “the Squad,” the progressive cadre in the U.S. House — recently wrote an op-ed decrying rising antisemitism and apologizing for instances in which she said she showed her own insensitivity.

“We cannot sit by while our Jewish neighbors are under attack; we must stand in solidarity with them and unequivocally condemn anti-Semitism in all its forms,” she wrote last month in INDY Week, an alternative news source that covers the Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill area. Allam, 27, who describes herself as the first Muslim woman to hold elected office in North Carolina, cited FBI statistics that show 55% of religious-bias incidents target Jews.

Nida Allam

Durham County Commissioner Nida Alam/Facebook screenshot

She also wrote that she is holding herself accountable, pointing to a tweet about the withdrawal of U.S. aid to the Palestinian Authority in which she “unintentionally invoked anti-Semitic tropes.” In 2018 Allam tweeted: “This is the United States of Israel.”

And she wrote she was sorry for livestreaming a protest in which participants used antisemitic language and imagery.

“I deeply apologize,” she wrote.

The daughter of immigrants from Pakistan and India, Allam in November entered a competitive race to represent the state’s 4th District — centered in an known as the Triangle — and succeed retiring Rep. David Price, who has critiqued Israel, but is generally regarded as a left-leaning supporter.

Many consider the front-runner to be Valerie Foushee, a state senator who boasts a long list of endorsements and was the first Black woman elected to the Orange County Board of Commissioners. Kathy Manning, a first-term U.S. House member from the neighboring district to the west, and the first woman board chair of the Jewish Federations of North America, faces a tough reelection bid thanks to redrawn district lines. She may decide her chances are better running against Foushee, Allam and others who have declared their intention to seek the open seat.

A wild card entered the race on Monday: “American Idol” star Clay Aiken, who ran unsuccessfully in another part of the state eight years ago, announced he was joining the race as a “loud and proud Democrat.”

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Allam’s views on policy align well with the Squad’s. She supports Medicare for All, the Green New Deal and a reduced defense budget. She served as a regional field director for Bernie Sanders, the independent senator from Vermont, when he ran for president in 2016.

In the “platform” section of her campaign website, Allam does not mention Israel, but states that the U.S. “must stop enabling regimes committing human rights abuses by selling weapons and providing direct aid and instead refocus on humanitarian relief, poverty reduction, and peacebuilding.”

In 2019, she joined other progressive Democrats in an open letter defending one member of the Squad, Ilhan Omar, a Minnesota Democrat, who had been accused of trafficking in antisemitic tropes about Jews’ loyalty to Israel. When Allam announced her candidacy, Omar tweeted, “Let’s go Nida.”

Like Omar, Allam wears a hijab, and has been subjected to anti-Muslim discrimination. And in 2015, three of her friends — all Muslim, and the two women wore headscarves — were shot to death by a Chapel Hill neighbor who had posted anti-religion screeds on Facebook.

“As a Muslim woman, I know the dangers of religious discrimination and how bigoted language can lead to acts of violence,” she wrote in her op-ed, in which she also calls attention to the plight of Palestinians.

“I stand by the urgent need to end Israel’s illegal, violent occupation of the Palestinian people. But the movement to end the occupation, secure a lasting and peaceful resolution with Israel, and defend the human rights of everyone living in the region is a movement for justice and peace, in which anti-Semitism must have no home.”

Some Jews who live in the Triangle applauded Allam’s op-ed. Some just had questions for her.

Dr. Robert Gutman, a retired kidney specialist formerly on the faculty of Duke University Medical Center, was moved to write to Allam: “I hope you and I could meet to discuss your political position in the House and on BDS, should you emerge a victor,” he wrote, referring to the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement, which he opposes.

Allam has said she disagrees with laws that discourage boycotts against Israel, writing in a 2018 letter to the editor that they conflict with the right to peaceful protest. In that same letter she called Israel an “apartheid state.” In a 2017 interview with the Daily Beast Allam said that while she is “not an official part” of the BDS movement, she tries not to buy products from Israel as long as the occupation persists.

Gutman and Allam were on opposite sides of a 2018 controversy over police training, one that divided the area’s generally liberal Jewish community.

Allam had signed a petition backed by pro-Palestinian activists, including Jewish Voice for Peace, that called on Durham’s mayor and city council to ban local police partnerships with the Israeli military. None were contemplated in Durham, though other American police forces had entered into such partnerships. The council approved a resolution that barred military-style training offered by any country.

Rabbi Daniel Greyber, the spiritual leader of Beth El Synagogue in Durham, welcomed Allam’s op-ed. “It’s clear that she’s engaged in an important process of reflection,” he said, adding that “it’s refreshing to hear a politician apologize.”

But he also wanted her to elaborate on the phrase that was chanted at the pro-Palestinian protest she attended and livestreamed: “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free.” To Greyber, it’s an expression of antisemitism and the same as saying Israel is an illegitimate state.

He wants Allam to state whether she believes Israel as a Jewish state has a right to exist alongside a new state for Palestinians.

Allam did not respond to the Forward’s requests for comment.

Note: This story has been updated to clarify the description of the Durham County Council’s resolution.


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