Reports that Scott Wallace, the Democratic nominee in Pennsylvania’s First Congressional District, co-chaired a family-run organization that donated money to groups that support the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel, have raised concerns among Jewish leaders in and around Philadelphia.
Democratic Jewish Outreach Pennsylvania announced it will meet with Wallace on May 24 to learn more about his position, a move that bucks convention.
“This is different than what we normally do in the endorsement process,” said Jill Zipin, a DJOP founder. “All Democratic candidates we have supported do not support BDS.”
The DJOP “will not support a candidate who thinks BDS is a good idea,” emphasized Burt Siegel, who serves
on DJOP’s steering committee and is a former executive director of the Philadelphia Jewish Community Relations Council. “Certainly the allegations [against Wallace] did not make us happy.”
Wallace, 66, won the Democratic primary in the heavily Jewish district that encompasses much of Bucks County and part of Montgomery County. He received 56.5 percent of the vote, breezing past main competitor Rachel Reddick, who got 35.3 percent, according to Politico.
But word that the Wallace Global Fund donated thousands of dollars to groups that both endorsed and supported the BDS movement has caused a stir.
“The mission of the Wallace Global Fund is to promote an informed and engaged citizenry, to fight injustice, and to protect the diversity of nature and the natural systems upon which all life depends,” according to the fund’s website.
According to the Forward, the fund gave $25,000 to Code Pink, an anti-war organization that in 2009 endorsed the BDS movement. In 2011, it earmarked $150,000 for Haymarket Books, which later published “BDS: Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions:
The Global Struggle for Palestinian Rights,” by Omar Barghouti. Zipin called Barghouti a “disturbing individual who believes in the eradication of the state of Israel.”
When reached for comment, Wallace’s campaign manager, Eric Nagy, distanced the candidate from the contributions.
“Scott Wallace strongly supports the state of Israel,” said Nagy. “Scott unequivocally disavows the BDS movement. The grants in question were made by a member of the Wallace Global Fund’s leadership from a discretionary fund that other leadership did not exercise authority over. … This is a shameful attempt by the [National Republican Congressional Committee] to attack Scott Wallace on the first day of the general election.”
Wallace said in a statement he denounces the BDS movement and denied knowledge of the funds’ donations to organizations that support it.
“I am unequivocally pro-Israel, pro-peace and pro-democracy. I consider myself a J Street Democrat — and, in fact, provided personal financial support a decade ago to celebrate its founding,” Wallace wrote.
J Street, the left wing pro-Israel organization that sees itself as a counterweight to AIPAC, does not endorse the BDS movement. The organization, however, has come under fire for stances many on the right consider not sufficiently critical of those who do support BDS.
The Bucks County Democratic Committee said it stands behind Wallace and his explanation.
“We are not our brother’s keepers and anyone who has family can appreciate that statement. As far as Scott’s individual’s actions, they speak very well of his support for the state of Israel,” BCDC chairman John Cordisco said.
Siegel said that while Wallace’s platform aligns with DJOP’s domestic agenda — Wallace is pro-choice, supports LBGTQ rights and is focused on combating climate change — the political action committee has no tolerance for the backing of BDS.
“If they’re not supportive in an authentic way, we wouldn’t even look at a candidate’s credentials if we believed they were not supportive of Israel,” Siegel said.
Despite Wallace’s assertion that he denounces BDS, the initial report opened conversations concerning the growing divide among Democrats regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Zipin said characterizations of Israel’s wrongdoing are often misguided.
“Within the more far left side of the Democratic Party, there are those who are not fully knowledgeable of the issue,” she said. Zipin added that DJOP is in favor of a two-state solution.
Last week, Israel celebrated the opening of the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem, a symbolic move that was supported by Jews across the world. Less than 50 miles away, Israeli soldiers responded with gunfire to Palestinian protesters’ attempts to storm the border fence separating Israel from Gaza. Palestinian officials said 58 people were killed in the protests.
“Could Israel have done other things at the border, say using rubber bullets or tear gas? It’s hard to say. But that’s more of a nuanced discussion than someone calling Israel an apartheid state that doesn’t care about Gaza children who are killed,” Zipin said.
Zipin said she heard rumblings of Wallace’s fund having supported organizations friendly to BDS before the primaries. In a phone call prior to the election, Wallace told Zipin the report was untrue.
“Frankly, if my name was on a foundation, I would be a hell of a lot more careful than he was,” Siegel said.
Wallace, the grandson of Henry A. Wallace, who was President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s vice president from 1941 to 1945, will face Republican incumbent Brian Fitzpatrick, 44, who was elected to the House of Representatives in 2016.
The seat is largely representative of Pennsylvania’s old Eighth Congressional District, which hadn’t been held by a Democrat since Patrick Murphy was voted out of office in 2010. Democrats are hoping to capitalize on political instability and flip the House from red to blue in the 2018 midterm elections.
“There are a lot of counties that can be flipped, and [Bucks County] is one of them,” Zipin said. “When we hear about a Democratic candidate we would otherwise support [accused of aiding BDS], we are upset.
Joshua Needelman writes for the Jewish Exponent in Philadelphia.