caucus chaos

North Carolina Democrats reject Jewish caucus, face bipartisan rebuke

Dem activist: ‘It is very hard to hit Mark Robinson on antisemitism when you reject a Jewish caucus.’

Drew Angerer/Getty Images

North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein talks to reporters outside the U.S. Supreme Court after he attended oral arguments in the Moore v. Harper case on December 7, 2022, in Washington, D.C.

In an unusually forceful intra-party rebuke, several top Democratic lawmakers in North Carolina are speaking out against the state Democratic Party amid widespread backlash over its controversial decision to reject an application from a recently created Jewish caucus seeking formal affiliation.

The state party’s executive committee on Sunday voted 17-16 against recognizing the North Carolina Democratic Jewish Caucus, according to a private email by caucus leaders who called the rejection “a shocking defeat” and claimed that the meeting had been “hijacked by the anti-Jewish left.” The email noted that 16 members had abstained from voting, most prominently including the state party chair, Anderson Clayton, and other high-ranking officers.

The decision, a result of increasingly personal internal divisions over Israel that reached a breaking point after Hamas’ Oct. 7 terror attack, has drawn fierce criticism from Republicans who are raising accusations of antisemitism ahead of a major election year.

Now, the vote is facing pushback from leading Democrats in North Carolina amid concerns that the outcome could threaten the party’s chances of maintaining cohesion in a key battleground state.

Multiple House members are expressing disappointment with the vote while urging the party to welcome the Jewish caucus. And the attorney general, Josh Stein, a Jewish Democrat running for governor, is calling on the party to unify as he prepares for a likely general election matchup with the Republican lieutenant governor, Mark Robinson, who is using the controversy to deflect attention from his past antisemitic remarks.

In a statement to Jewish Insider on Thursday, Stein, who spoke at the Jewish caucus’ founding convention in February, said he was “disappointed with the results of the vote,” adding that he is currently “working with” Clayton “to find a path forward.” 

“This is about embracing North Carolina Jewish Democrats who feel silenced and isolated during a time of rising antisemitism,” he explained. “We must come together and focus on our priority — defeating Mark Robinson, who has a well-documented history of antisemitic comments.”

Rep. Kathy Manning (D-NC), the lone Jewish member of the state’s Democratic congressional delegation, echoed that sentiment, saying that she was “deeply disappointed that the Jewish caucus’ affiliation was denied.”

“During this time of rising antisemitism, it is critical that Jewish voices have a seat at the table in the North Carolina Democratic Party,” Manning said in a statement to JI. “I call upon party leaders to articulate a plan for how the concerns of Jewish Democrats will be heard.”

In addition to Manning, Reps. Wiley Nickel (D-NC), Jeff Jackson (D-NC) and Deborah Ross (D-NC) expressed concerns with the vote. “I’m disappointed by the executive committee’s decision,” Nickel told JI on Thursday. “I urge the executive committee to reconsider their decision so we can stand firm and make clear that our party will not tolerate hate or antisemitism.”

“I fully support the Jewish Caucus being recognized,” Jackson said. “It was wrong that it wasn’t and I’m hopeful that this will be fixed as soon as possible.” 

Josie Feron, a spokesperson for Ross, added that the congresswoman “firmly believes that the North Carolina Democratic Party should recognize the Jewish Caucus as an official affiliate and hopes party leaders will remedy this decision.”

In a statement to JI on Tuesday, Tommy Mattocks, a spokesperson for the North Carolina Democratic Party, attributed the 17 “no” votes to “procedural issues,” which he did not explain. Despite the rejection last weekend, Mattocks vowed that the party remains “committed to helping the Jewish caucus achieve recognition” as an affiliated group.

The caucus, in its first public comments on the controversy, said in a statement shared with JI on Thursday that the vote was “not the final word,” stressing that it would continue to seek recognition. “The means, and internal processes by which affiliation will be achieved, are still being explored.”

The statement was decidedly more conciliatory than the private email circulated by two caucus leaders in Durham on Monday, whose subject line blared: “North Carolina Democratic Party to Jews — Drop Dead!” The authors, Irwin Orenstein and Steve Abrams, alleged “various improprieties that occurred during the meeting,” including “potential ineligible voters, false statements, misinformation and outright lies.” 

Even as the email encouraged caucus members to continue working for “specific candidates,” it asked them to “suspend any interactions with” the state party and “its affiliated organizations” until the issue was resolved.

A Democratic source in North Carolina who has spoken with state party leadership in recent days — and asked to remain anonymous to discuss private conversations — said there is now “some talk” of convening an “emergency session” to formally recognize the Jewish caucus. But there was no clear timeline as of Thursday afternoon. The state party did not respond to a request for comment on its plans for the caucus.

Launched in February, the Jewish caucus has since grown to more than 400 members, with five county chapters across the state, according to its latest statement. It was formed largely in response to rising antisemitism in North Carolina, as Jewish leaders have expressed mounting concerns over Robinson’s long history of promoting anti-Jewish conspiracy theories and doubting the Holocaust. 

The caucus also had a separate goal of holding the line on Democratic support for Israel as warring factions of the state party have engaged in taxing fights over platform resolutions and other issues that have fueled internal divisions over Middle East policy.

“You have to be willing to accept the Democratic platform on Israel, and you have to swear off any kind of hate speech,” Matt Sadinsky, the caucus’ former president, who resigned on Sunday, said in an interview with JI last February, summing up its approach.

But while caucus members had hoped to become formally affiliated with the state party to help boost organizing efforts in next year’s election, the group faced a litany of procedural hurdles as well as resistance from critics who accused it of using Israel as an ideological litmus test that ran afoul of the official party platform.

The path to recognition grew increasingly personal due to a complaint filed with the state party in March by Nazim Uddin, a progressive activist and outspoken critic of Israel in Mecklenburg County. The complaint alleged, among other things, that Sadinsky had slandered Nazim, who is Muslim, by calling him a “Nazi” and “an Iranian spy sent to undermine American democracy,” according to an audio recording he shared with party leaders.

In an email sent to caucus members on Sunday, Sadinsky announced he was stepping down as president, writing that his “personal opponents and disinformation have convinced friends in the party that the Jewish caucus will only be affiliated if led by another.”

Two sources with knowledge of the committee proceedings on Sunday, who were granted anonymity to discuss a sensitive issue, said the final vote had been so close because Sadinsky’s resignation had influenced some members aggrieved by Uddin’s allegations to change their minds about approving the caucus — though not enough to result in recognition.

In private mediation proceedings, meanwhile, Sadinsky had also signed a confidential settlement agreement, dated Oct. 30 and obtained by JI, in which he admitted that he had apologized to Uddin while acknowledging that the language he had “used on the audio recording” was “Islamophobic.”

“I acknowledge that Palestinians and advocates for Palestinian human rights can oppose their treatment under the Israeli government without being accused of antisemitism,” Sadinsky wrote in the signed document, which stipulated that he “engage in sensitivity training about the history of the Palestinian people” and read a book, Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine, “within 90 days of the mediation date,” among other requirements.

Sadinsky did not respond to a request for comment. 

Uddin, for his part, did not address the settlement agreement when asked for comment in an email exchange with JI on Thursday evening. He said, however, that he agreed with the vote against the caucus, arguing that North Carolina Democrats “already have a Jewish organization in the party” — the Jewish Democrats of the North Carolina Democratic Party — which is not an official caucus but a branch of the Interfaith Caucus.

Despite the hard feelings and behind-the-scenes recriminations, one Jewish activist familiar with the drama surrounding the caucus vote, who requested anonymity to speak candidly, said his “biggest takeaway” from the committee’s rejection on Sunday was what he characterized simply as a “leadership failure.”

“Either sink it by a wide margin and go all in on ‘procedural issues’ or flip the two votes needed and stay on record as neutral, or don’t abstain and vote for it,” the activist told JI on Thursday. “But now, instead of party unity going into ’24, you create division because it will now continue to be dragged out. It is very hard to hit Mark Robinson on antisemitism when you reject a Jewish caucus.”

Subscribe now to
the Daily Kickoff

The politics and business news you need to stay up to date, delivered each morning in a must-read newsletter.