Lake Eerie

Nina Turner and Shontel Brown diverge on Israel-Gaza conflict

The two Democrats are leading candidates in race to fill Ohio-11, which includes much of Cleveland

Nina Turner and Shontel Brown

The leading Democratic candidates now competing in Ohio’s 11th-district special election, Nina Turner and Shontel Brown, are divided on several fundamental issues, Israel chief among them. Turner, a progressive stalwart backed by Justice Democrats, supports conditioning aid to the Jewish state, whereas Brown, a moderate with close ties to establishment Democrats, holds more mainstream pro-Israel views.

Further underscoring that contrast, both candidates offered sharply divergent statements this week as violence escalated between Israel and Hamas. “In times like these the United States must stand firmly behind our close ally Israel,” Brown said in comments to Jewish Insider on Wednesday, while urging “all sides, regardless of fault, to exercise restraint and de-escalate the crisis.”

“Hamas’s massive rocket attacks are deeply troubling and must stop,” Brown added. “Hamas is placing civilians on both sides at risk. Israel has the right to defend its citizens in the face of these attacks. Israeli families should never have to spend the night in a bomb shelter.”

Turner, on the other hand, positioned herself firmly on the side of the Palestinians. “Solidarity is a verb,” Turner declared in a briefly worded Twitter message, adding a raised-fist emoji to the end of her comment.

The congressional hopeful was emphasizing her support for a separate tweet from IfNotNow, the far-left Jewish group. “NOW: American Jews are joining with Palestinians and others in front of the State Department to say #SaveSheikhJarrah and #EndApartheid,” the message read, referring to the East Jerusalem neighborhood where six Palestinian families are facing eviction. “The Jewish moral tradition demands action.”

Turner’s approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has drawn scrutiny among Jewish community members in the 11th district, which includes a large swath of Cleveland as well as a sliver of Akron. 

“By promoting the attack that Israel engages in ‘apartheid,’ Nina Turner does nothing to advance ‘solidarity’ and only furthers division,” Rob Zimmerman, a Shaker Heights city councilmember who knows Turner from her time as an Ohio state senator, charged in an email to JI. “Her views are uninformed and out of step with the Jewish community she wishes to represent.”

Turner’s campaign did not respond to requests for comment.

Meanwhile, Brown, a Cuyahoga County councilwoman and party chair, appears to have captured support from Cleveland’s sizable Jewish community. Advocacy groups such as Pro-Israel America and Democratic Majority for Israel have also thrown their support behind Brown, who has had to contend with Turner’s substantial warchest with less than three months remaining until the August 3 primary, according to the latest filings from the Federal Election Commission.

Turner and Brown are among several Democrats vying to succeed former Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-OH), who was recently confirmed as the Biden administration’s secretary of housing and urban development.

John Barnes, Jr., who is also running for the seat and previously served as an Ohio state representative, was eager to weigh in on the conflict between Israel and Hamas. “Any aggression against the State of Israel is an aggression against the United States of America and we must be strong and unapologetic in our stance with our ally,” he told JI. “I urge all sides to come together and work towards an immediate de-escalation of the tensions and against further extremist provocations.”

“We need to condemn the actions of Hamas for indiscriminately firing rockets into Israel,” Jeff Johnson, another candidate and a former Ohio state senator, said in a phone interview with JI. “But I think we also need to lead by asking both sides to step back to focus on a way to have a ceasefire and not go any further because it’s leading toward war. We have to be able to use the United States’s power and influence to get some diplomatic relations to try to solve this.”

Brown said the clash has only reinforced her commitment to a negotiated two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. “It is the only way to bring hope and prosperity to the people, ensure Israelis and Palestinians live in the safety and peace they deserve, and to stop these eruptions of violence,” she said.

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