CNN commentator Bakari Sellers seeks to remove the sole Palestinian American in the US House of Representatives through effort of new PAC. (Photo: Bill ClarkCQ Roll Call)
Bakari Sellers is the most prominent supporter of a new PAC dedicated to defeating Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib. The Urban Empowerment PAC has a goal of "electing pro-Israel Black democrats" and supports a Detroit politician in their effort to defeat Tlaib.
This article was originally published in Electronica Intifada.
CNN commentator Bakari Sellers is aiming to remove from Congress its one Palestinian American representative.
The longtime Israel supporter is backing a new political action committee that is pouring money into a primary challenge against Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib of Michigan.
Urban Empowerment Action PAC says it will spend “upwards of $1,000,000 on TV, digital, mail, radio and print advertising to support Detroit City Clerk Janice Winfrey.”
Winfrey is running against Tlaib in primary elections scheduled for August.
The winner will be the Democratic Party’s nominee in the US general election in November when voters will choose a new House of Representatives. Because the southeast Michigan district at play votes heavily Democratic, whoever wins the August primary is almost guaranteed to go to Congress.
Winfrey has told the pro-Israel publication Jewish Insider that she is running because she feels the district “is not being represented.”
She cites Tlaib’s vote against the Biden administration’s infrastructure bill last year. The legislation passed, but Tlaib and some other dissenting Democrats maintain Biden’s plans did not go far enough.
But while professing concern about local and domestic issues, Winfrey is vocal that her support for Israel – and her false claims that its critics are motivated by hatred of Jews – is a key motivator for her effort to unseat Tlaib.
“I don’t care what your dislike is with the Jewish people, you don’t just wipe out a whole country, a whole group of people — that’s never the answer,” Winfrey told Jewish Insider in April.
“As an African American woman, it angers me to my soul that you hate another group of people just because they are,” she added. “It grieves my soul and I will work against it, and I have always worked against it all my life.”
Winfrey, as previously reported by The Electronic Intifada, has claimed that the United Nations, International Criminal Court, and the Palestinian-led boycott, divestment and sanctions movement are “terrorist organizations.”
That position paper has not changed its “terrorist” wording in the nearly two months since The Electronic Intifada first reported it.
She accuses her opponents of advocating genocide of Jews when they are, in fact, pressing for equal rights for Palestinians and an end to Israel’s apartheid system.
Urban Empowerment Action PAC claims to be comprised of “a broad coalition of African American business, political and civic leaders, working alongside peers in the Jewish community.”
What it actually appears to be is a right-wing Israel lobby effort to promote Black supporters of Israel within the Democratic Party at a time when the party’s base is decisively shifting its support to the Palestinian struggle.
The political action committee’s biggest donations have come from Daniel S. Loeb.
Loeb is also central to the newly established New York Solidarity Network which aims to “encourage donors to give to candidates they regard as being pro-Israel,” according to The New York Times.
Loeb has so far provided more than $75,000 to Urban Empowerment Action PAC.
The hedge fund billionaire also happens to be a major donor to Republicans – an indication that the group is intent on putting forward more right-wing Democrats even as Sellers claims otherwise.
In 2017, Loeb accused Andrea Stewart-Cousins, a Black woman leading the Democrats in New York’s state senate, of having done “more damage to people of color than anyone who has ever donned a hood.”
Senator Stewart-Cousins’ failing in Loeb’s eyes was giving insufficient support to his pet project of privatizing public education through charter schools.
Loeb’s racist comparison of a Black legislator to the Ku Klux Klan – not his first foray into racist language – prompted calls for candidates to return his campaign donations.
Brought together by Israel
What brings the likes of Daniel Loeb and Bakari Sellers together in support of Janice Winfrey, through Urban Empowerment Action PAC, is one concern: Israel.
Sellers has been promoting Israel since his university days, when as student president of Morehouse College he was recruited to attend the policy conference of AIPAC, the powerful Israel lobby group, on the first of many such trips.
He later served on AIPAC’s national council and helped the Israel lobby push back against prominent Black supporters of Palestinian rights, such as Cornel West.
After college, Sellers was elected as a state representative for South Carolina. There, he worked with anti-Palestinian Republican Alan Clemmons.
They were instrumental in 2011 in passing a “Standing with Israel” resolution, since copied by more than a dozen other states.
That resolution turns history and reality on their heads by supporting “Israel in their natural and God-given right of self-governance and self-defense upon their own lands, recognizing that Israel is neither an attacking force nor an occupier of the lands of others.”
Sellers has also participated in the Israeli apartheid regime’s efforts to co-opt the Black struggle for civil rights in the United States.
The Israel lobby has courted and promoted Sellers during a period when major lobby groups have fretted about growing expressions of solidarity and support between Black Americans and Palestinians.
The Israeli government and the Israel lobby have tried to cultivate an alternative pro-Israel Black leadership, while attacking and smearing grassroots Black organizations and activists.
More recently, Sellers used sexist and anti-Palestinian language in describing the effort to oust Tlaib to Politico.
“We want someone, particularly in these Black communities, that does not get distracted by shiny things or media opportunities, but is focused on the uplift of our communities and does right by them.”
“Shiny things” is simultaneously sexist and subtly demeaning of equal rights and freedom for Palestinians.
The comment is also extremely disingenuous given how Winfrey and key backers Sellers and Loeb appear not to be focused on the “uplift” of communities, but on shoring up US funding and support for Israel’s denial of Palestinian rights.
Notably, Sellers disregards that Tlaib will be running in “one of the largest Arab American communities in the country,” as her district has been redrawn to include Dearborn, in addition to neighborhoods in Detroit, the largest majority-Black city in the US.
He indicates that Tlaib, who was born, raised and still lives in Detroit, is not a good fit for the city because she is not Black and allegedly does not prioritize the same issues that Black people do.
“Our goal is to get Black folk in office, support them, give them the infrastructure necessary, and make sure the issues that we care about are at the forefront,” Sellers claims.
Like Winfrey, Sellers points to Tlaib’s vote against the infrastructure bill, suggesting she is not “focused on the uplift of that minority district.” This is profoundly unfair.
Tlaib voted no because she feared, rightly as it turned out, that Democrats would fail to pass the Build Back Better bill that provided significant spending for the environment – a serious issue in Detroit due to environmental racism – and social programs.
In other words, Tlaib wanted to do far more for her constituents and was right to worry Democratic Party leaders would settle for partial measures.
More to the point, constituents might ask themselves whether they support someone who fights for equal rights for both Black Americans at home and Palestinians living under US-armed and funded Israeli apartheid.
Sellers unsurprisingly dissembles regarding his concern about Tlaib’s Israel stance.
He admits her position on Israel’s actions is “definitely high up on the list,” but then immediately claims “it’s not the primary focus.”
Anyone looking at Sellers’ political history and the donors and activities of Urban Empowerment Action PAC may well come to a different conclusion.
It would appear that rather than “uplift” communities, Sellers seeks to divide African Americans, Arab Americans and Jewish Americans on the issue of equal rights for Palestinians.
The new political action committee – and its campaign to unseat Tlaib – is just the latest salvo in that effort.
Michael F. Brown is an independent journalist. His work and views have appeared in The International Herald Tribune, TheNation.com, The San Diego Union-Tribune, The News & Observer, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, The Washington Post and elsewhere.