Biden’s first Democratic challenger is a Jewish philosopher angered by Biden’s ‘shameful’ Mideast trip
The first person to challenge President Joe Biden for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2024 is Jerome Segal, a 78-year-old retired Jewish philosopher from the Bronx whose decision to run was triggered by what he called Biden’s “shameful” trip to the Middle East this summer.
“He explicitly turned his back on any serious pursuit of peace,” Segal said in an interview. In the West Bank in July, Biden said “the ground is not ripe at this moment to restart negotiations” between Israelis and Palestinians. Segal also denounced Biden for his move “to fist bump a psychopathic killer,” referring to the president’s greeting of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who the CIA deemed responsible for the murder of a Saudi journalist.
Though Segal — who announced his candidacy earlier this month and filed with the IRS so he can start raising campaign dollars — ranks low in voter recognition, he is not new to politics. The 2024 presidential race is his fourth bid for public office, and he has for decades worked to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In 1987, according to his website, he was part of the first Jewish-American delegation to Tunis to open dialogue with Arafat and the PLO. He then, in 1989, founded the Jewish Peace Lobby.
This summer he came in ninth in the 10-candidate Democratic primary for Maryland governor, with .67% of the vote. He challenged Sen. Benjamin Cardin of Maryland in the 2018 Democratic primary, and ran in the 2020 U.S. presidential election as the candidate of the Bread and Roses Party, which he founded.
Segal considers it a “utopian” party. It calls for “a socio-economic framework that makes it easier to pursue a New American Dream, one of modest consumption, solid economic security and abundant leisure, sufficient to do the things in life that matter most.”
He said despite his decades-long focus on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, he discussed a host of domestic challenges during the 45 debates he participated in during his recently ended campaign for Maryland governor.
But it was Biden’s recent trip to the Middle East that prompted Segal to challenge him for the Democratic nomination in 2024.
Biden visited Saudi Arabia, where leaders have pledged not to make peace with Israel before Israel brokers a fair peace with Palestinians, Segal said, yet the president “tried to get them to betray the Palestinians” by promoting a Saudi-Israeli agreement first.
Biden’s trip also prompted Segal to resurrect a peace proposal he first announced in 2012. It would have the United Nations Special Commission on Palestine develop a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict — and present it to voters as a referendum — without consulting Israeli or Palestinian government leaders.
“If the plan said the Palestinians would recognize Israel as a Jewish state and that all land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea would be the common homeland of the Jewish and the Palestinian people, I think that would be an acceptable referendum,” Segal said, adding that it would also garner Palestinian support because it would give the Palestinians Gaza, the West Bank and part of Jerusalem.
He also envisions Israel returning to its pre-1967 borders.
‘A young 78’
Segal’s academic career began at the University of Michigan, where he received his doctorate in philosophy. A resident of Silver Spring, a suburb of Washington, D.C., known for its progressive politics, Segal spent more than two decades as professor at the University of Maryland’s Institute for Philosophy and Public Policy.
He described a Jewish upbringing in New York City. Asked if he spoke Hebrew, he said: “Not since my bar mitzvah at my grandfather’s shul in Brooklyn.” He added that he spoke Yiddish at the Workmen’s Circle and taught Torah at a Reconstructionist havurah for a decade.
Segal is also the author of the 2007 book “Joseph’s Bones,” which his publisher, Penguin Random House Canada, called “a fresh and vigorous reexamination of the oldest part of the Bible.”
Asked about his age — a year younger than Biden — and a recent poll that showed that one-third of Americans believe the president is too old to run for reelection, Segal described different types of longevity, and himself as “a young 78.”
“A lot of people think Joe Biden is too old. It is not a comment on his physical age, it is a question of what world he is living in,” Segal said. “My stuff is creative, cutting-edge and different. I am one of the few people with forward-thinking ideas.”