meet the candidate

A North Carolina congressional candidate has a long history of anti-Israel activism

Nida Allam, a Durham County commissioner, entered the race this week to succeed Rep. David Price

City of Durham, N.C.

Nida Allam

Nida Allam, a progressive activist and Durham County commissioner in North Carolina, announced her campaign to replace retiring Rep. David Price (D-NC) on Monday, touting her support for a litany of left-wing policy goals such as Medicare for All, the Green New Deal and a reduced defense budget.

Allam, the first Muslim woman to win elected office in North Carolina, is already gaining notice in the open-seat primary to represent the state’s newly drawn 6th Congressional District which includes Durham and Orange Counties. 

Shortly after announcing her campaign, the 27-year-old Democrat, who claims to have raised $115,000 in the first 24 hours of her campaign, earned a high-profile nod from Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN), the prominent progressive Muslim lawmaker and member of ‘The Squad.’ “Let’s go Nida,” Omar wrote on Twitter, punctuating her statement with a celebratory emoji.

In a way, Omar was returning a favor from 2019, when Allam was among a diverse group of progressive activists who signed an open letter defending the Minnesota congresswoman against charges of antisemitism, including those stemming from a comment in which she accused pro-Israel advocates of “allegiance to a foreign country” at a public event that February. 

“Americans, including Muslims, can and should be able to criticize Israeli policies or American policies toward Israel without being falsely accused of antisemitism,” the authors stated. “Furthermore, no nation-state should be above criticism.”

Like Omar, who is among the most outspoken Israel critics in the Democratic Party, Allam has positioned herself as a vocal opponent of the Jewish state, whose past statements on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict have drawn scrutiny that is likely to increase now that she is seeking federal office.

Last May amid escalating violence between Israel and Hamas, Allam participated in a pro-Palestinian rally where protestors chanted slogans such as “Israel is an apartheid state” and “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free,” the latter of which is widely considered to be a call to eliminate Israel. 

In a live video she posted to her Facebook page on May 22, Allam appears to have been chanting along with her fellow protestors, as the audio from the video suggests.

A week earlier, Allam attended a May 15 demonstration in downtown Raleigh marking the annual date of the ‘Nakba’ when Palestinians mark the war of 1948. 

Following the May 15 rally, the Jewish Community Relations Council and the Jewish Federation of Raleigh-Cary released a statement identifying alleged instances of “antisemitic rhetoric” used by some demonstrators, including “posters combining Israeli and Nazi imagery.” One poster, the statement said, featured then-Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu Benjamin “wearing a Hitler moustache,” while another declared, “Israel, Hitler would be proud of you.”

“We fully support the protestors’ rights to speak out and assemble,” the statement said, “but we are appalled by the antisemitic language and imagery that was displayed by protestors last week.”

For her part, Allam denounced what she described as “ethnic cleansing of Palestinians and murder of children” in comments to a local newspaper reporter at the event.

Near the beginning of the May conflict, Allam released a statement of her own calling for a wholesale cessation of U.S. military aid to Israel, which is guaranteed in annual installments of $3.8 billion through a memorandum of understanding between the two countries. “We must end this negligent spending that is being used to oppress the Palestinian people,” Allam wrote, echoing the sentiments of a handful of far-left lawmakers in the House who have argued in favor of conditioning or eliminating aid to the Jewish state.

“I condemn all violence in this conflict and urge the United States to acknowledge our complacency in the continuing Israel-Palestine conflict,” Allam argued at the time.

Allam’s involvement in anti-Israel activism extends beyond the recent flare-up. In 2018, for instance, she signed a petition demanding that Durham’s mayor and city council “immediately halt any partnerships” between the Durham police department and Israel, alleging that “the IDF and the Israel Police have a long history of violence and harm against Palestinian people and Jews of color.” 

The petition, whose signatories described themselves as “members of Durham’s community committed to peace and justice from Durham to Palestine,” largely achieved its goal. That year, city council members voted unanimously in favor of prohibiting “international exchanges with any country in which Durham police officers receive military-style training,” including Israel, according to a statement affirmed by the council.

Jewish community members took issue with the controversial motion, which they alleged unfairly targeted Israel.

Two months later, amid reports that the U.S. had quietly frozen aid to the Palestinian Authority, Allam weighed in with an incendiary Twitter comment. “This is the United States of Israel,” she wrote in June 2018, a statement that continues to draw criticism three years later, even after the post was deleted.

Allam’s campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Born in Canada, the daughter of immigrants from India and Pakistan moved to North Carolina at 5, graduating from North Carolina State University in 2015 with a degree in sustainable materials. That year, in a shocking act of violence that drew national attention, three of Allam’s closest friends were shot to death at their home in Chapel Hill in what she describes as an anti-Muslim hate crime that ultimately set her on a path to politics.

“I looked for ways to fight against the hate that took my friends to make sure no one would have to experience the pain we endured,” Allam says in a video announcing her congressional run.

Allam worked as a regional field director for Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) during his first presidential bid and briefly went viral in the summer of 2016, when a photographer captured her tearful visage on the floor of the Democratic National Convention as Sanders fell short of securing the nomination. The Clinton campaign, mistaking her for a supporter, tweeted out the photo, appending a triumphant caption: “We made history.”

The Bernie acolyte was not amused. “guess you didn’t get the memo……,” Allam, then 22, replied, uploading a photo with Sanders. “#StillSanders #ImanImmigrant #ISupportPalestinianRights.”

Allam clarified her remarks in an interview with the Daily Beast following the mix-up. “Hillary needs to start using the word ‘apartheid’ and ‘illegal settlements’ because that’s what they are,” she told the outlet, noting that she was “not an official part of the” Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement targeting Israel but tries “to refrain from buying products from Israel.”

“As a non-Palestinian, I am appalled by the blatant attempt to strip civilians of their rights through the banning of the BDS movement and support of Israeli organizations that use intimidation tactics to target groups and organizations participating in BDS,” Allam wrote in a 2018 letter to a local newspaper, expressing solidarity for supporters of the movement. “This obvious display of the oppression Palestinians are facing should be a wake-up call for our nation and allies, telling us that we must stand with Palestine and protect everyone’s right to peaceful protest.”

Allam served as vice chair of the North Carolina Democratic Party and was later appointed to the Mayor’s Council for Women in Durham. Last year, she won election to the Durham County Board of Commissioners. Allam stepped down from her position as a director with the State Innovation Exchange, a progressive policy group, to run for Congress.

While the issues page on her campaign website includes a section on foreign policy, Allam makes no mention of Israel, but alludes to her position on foreign security assistance. “We 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,” she says.

In both style and substance, Allam’s positions on Israel represent a departure from the long-serving incumbent whose seat she hopes to fill. Price, 81, has expressed criticism of Israel but is nevertheless regarded as a moderating voice in Middle East foreign policy debates. The liberal lion, who has held office almost continuously since 1987, aligns most closely with the left-leaning Israel lobbying group J Street, which recently began advocating for restricting aid to the Jewish state for “legitimate security purposes.”

Price, for his part, is a co-sponsor of the Two-State Solution Act recently introduced by Rep. Andy Levin (D-MI), which would, among other things, bar U.S. aid to Israel from being used to support Israeli settlement expansion in the West Bank.

Wiley Nickel, a state senator from Wake County, is also vying to succeed Price in the House. The 45-year-old Democrat, who previously worked in the Obama administration, was the first candidate to jump into the race, in mid-October. 

As the field takes shape, one possible contender is Rep. Kathy Manning (D-NC), the first-term Greensboro lawmaker who is now stranded in decidedly conservative territory thanks to recent redistricting. Manning, 64, is facing long odds as she prepares for re-election, even as a radically redrawn House map has drawn at least one court challenge over accusations of partisan gerrymandering. 

If the lines hold, however, experts have suggested that the first-term Democrat could still seek another term elsewhere, including the soon-to-be-vacated district overseen by Price, whose seat remains solidly blue.

Manning, a staunch pro-Israel advocate who previously served as chairwoman of The Jewish Federations of North America, would no doubt find herself at odds with Allam, particularly amid mounting divisions between mainstream Democrats and progressives over Israel that have only intensified in recent months.

Either way, it remains to be seen how vocal Allam will be on Middle East issues during her campaign — and how her views will play among voters in the district — with just four months remaining until the March primary.

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