Janelle Stelson doubles down on ‘Israel’s right to decimate Hamas however it sees fit’ as she challenges Rep. Scott Perry

The former TV news anchor is criticizing the Pennsylvania Republican as unreliable on Israel policy and as having ‘a pretty disturbing history of antisemitism’

Democrat Janelle Stelson is sticking to a staunchly pro-Israel stance as she seeks to defeat Rep. Scott Perry (R-PA), a perennial Democratic target, and is seizing on his vote against the supplemental Israel aid package earlier this year.

Stelson, a former local news anchor, told Jewish Insider that “the U.S. is Israel’s most staunch ally and we need to continue to stand beside her.”

“I have got to say, I also agree absolutely with Israel’s right to root out Hamas and decimate [it],” she continued. “It’s a terrorist organization that doesn’t even believe Israel should exist. So Israel needs to do what it needs to do to defend itself.”

She said that Perry has been inconsistent on Israel policy, accusing the three-term congressman of offering rhetorical support while voting against Israel’s interests. Stelson accused Perry of having “a pretty disturbing history of antisemitism,” highlighting a series of concerning comments and affiliations.

“This is not somebody who’s going to work across the aisle to get anything done for Israel or anybody else,” Stelson warned.

Perry has said that he voted against the supplemental bill because it also contained humanitarian aid for the Palestinains, which he has characterized as support for Hamas. Following that vote, AIPAC paused its fundraising for Perry. Democratic Majority for Israel endorsed Stelson.

Perry said in a recent statement to JI, “I have been and remain one of the most vehement defenders in Congress of the State of Israel. I staunchly support her right to defend herself and her people by responding to the heinous and unprovoked attacks by Hamas on Oct 7th and beyond.”

Stelson told JI in an interview, “There was a cease-fire Oct. 6, and that was shattered Oct. 7,” predicting that “we would see another cease-fire in short order if Hamas would give the hostages back.”

He did not directly address many of Stelson’s criticisms, saying in a statement to JI, “I stridently celebrate Israel’s hostage rescue, and unequivocally condemn the antisemitic, pro-Hamas protests in DC this weekend. Will Janelle Stelson also stand with Israel in the wake of Saturday’s events, or does she cower in the face of her Democrat party’s pro-terrorist radical base — like Biden does and [Vice President Kamala] Harris just did in Michigan.”

In a statement to JI, Stelson celebrated the hostages’ freedom.

“I am relieved that after being kidnapped 8 months ago these four hostages have been reunited with their families and loved ones,” Stelson said. “We must continue to do everything in our power to bring the remaining 120 hostages, including Americans, home.”

Stelson told JI in an interview, “There was a cease-fire Oct. 6, and that was shattered Oct. 7,” predicting that “we would see another cease-fire in short order if Hamas would give the hostages back.”

Pressed on the administration’s moves to withhold some arms shipments to Israel, Stelson again said she supports Israel’s “right to decimate Hamas however it sees fit.”

“I just think that we need to tread lightly,” she continued. “This is an ally, and our allies need to be able to depend on us.”

She distanced herself from Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer’s (D-NY) call for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s ouster, saying, “It’s very important that Israeli citizens are the ones who choose their leader. It’s a democracy.”

Stelson emphasized that she sees Hamas’ unwillingness to return the hostages, including the bodies of those who are deceased, as the key factor blocking a cease-fire. She said that could serve as the starting point to begin building a negotiated two-state solution.

“Part of [Israel’s operation] is [about] sending a strong message to Iran, that this is not going to be allowed to stand,” Stelson said. “Israel is surrounded by Iranian influence.”

Addressing the prospects for peace, she said that Hamas is “hurting its own people more than anyone else.” She said that she’s “really glad” the U.S. is working to deliver humanitarian aid to Gaza, while also calling on Egypt to “step up a little bit more,” reopen border crossings and allow civilians in Gaza to shelter temporarily on Egyptian territory.

On multiple occasions, Stelson, unprompted, raised concerns about the threat of Iran in the region, tying Israel’s efforts to root out Hamas to the broader Iranian threat. Without specifying particular policy approaches, she said that the U.S. must “be really strong here” to send a message to Iran and other U.S. adversaries.

“Part of [Israel’s operation] is [about] sending a strong message to Iran, that this is not going to be allowed to stand,” Stelson said. “Israel is surrounded by Iranian influence.”

Stelson expressed some hesitation about U.S. efforts to broker a trilateral deal with Saudi Arabia and Israel, including Saudi-Israeli normalization. She said that she understands Israel’s desire to normalize relations with its neighbors but also she has concerns about Riyadh’s human rights record and wants to learn more about the situation and the terms of the proposal if elected.

At home, Stelson tied the rise of antisemitism to fading generational knowledge about the Holocaust, highlighting the need for education. She said that she supports efforts to advance the administration’s national strategy to combat antisemitism and is “committed to supporting any legislation that aims to stamp out extremism and hate.”

Jill Zipin, the founder and chair of Democratic Jewish Outreach Pennsylvania, told JI last week that she and other DJOP board members have been impressed by Stelson, whom they have met with.

Zipin said DJOP hasn’t started formally evaluating or issuing endorsements for the cycle yet, but she expects Stelson “will pass with flying colors,” citing the former TV anchor’s support for Israel and the return of hostages as a condition of a cease-fire, stances on domestic policy issues and understanding of domestic antisemitism.

Citing her years on air, Stelson said that she felt that she “needed to move away from the public service of talking about and telling about and doing stories about our issues and our concerns and actually try to do something about them.”

She said she had pursued journalism “to effect change” but feels now that elected office is a more impactful avenue.

She slammed Perry as “one of the most obstructionist members of Congress” and said his tenure has been “12 years of relative inaction.” She said that the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol and abortion rights are both top priorities for her.

Perry, despite being a staunch conservative running in a frequently competitive district centered around the capital of Harrisburg, has managed to win by comfortable and increasing margins in his recent reelection races.

Stelson argued that her time as a “trusted non-partisan voice” on TV in the area for the last four decades will be a boon to her campaign — she has in-built name recognition and popularity among potential voters in a way that almost no other first-time candidate would, she explained.

And she said her skills as a journalist will help her better communicate to voters who have otherwise been “slow to understand” Perry’s “extreme” record in Congress.

A poll of 400 likely voters conducted by the Stelson campaign from May 21-23 showed her and Perry in a statistical dead heat, with Perry leading 51-48%.

Stelson noted that Gov. Josh Shapiro, a Democrat, had won the district over the GOP’s right-wing 2022 GOP gubernatorial nominee Doug Mastriano — who she described as “Scott Perry-lite” — by a dozen points, even though Dr. Mehmet Oz narrowly carried the district in the Senate race over Sen. John Fetterman (D-PA).

She was also a longtime registered Republican — changing her registration before she ran for office — although Stelson said she wasn’t actively involved in party politics for years due to her journalism career and generally voted Democratic.

Stelson said she’s heard frequently from voters concerned about Perry’s ties to the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, noting that ongoing criminal proceedings for Perry relating to his involvement with efforts to overturn the 2020 election results are redirecting much of his campaign cash toward legal bills, which she called a potential vulnerability.

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