Chicago-area congressional candidate’s remarks about Jews, Israel spark questions

Rush Darwish’s main rivals are Rep. Dan Lipinski and Marie Newman. He’s running to be the first Palestinian-American and Muslim elected to Congress from Illinois. .

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Rush Darwish, 2020 Democratic primary election, U.S. House candidate, 3rd Congressional District, Illinois

Rush Darwish is seeking the Democratic nomination in Illinois’ 3rd Congressional District.

Provided photo

WASHINGTON – Rush Darwish is emerging as a contender in the primary to defeat Rep. Dan Lipinski, D-Ill., as he spotlights his Palestinian American roots, raises money in Arab American communities across the nation and works to register and turn out the vote among Palestinian Americans.

If he beats chief rivals Lipinski and Marie Newman in March in the heavily Democratic 3rd Congressional District, Darwish would be poised to become the first Palestinian American and first Muslim from Illinois to serve in Congress.

As he seeks to make history, Darwish’s newfound political muscle is bringing attention to comments he made this summer and years ago.

At a campaign kickoff event in June, Darwish in a speech incorrectly said Lipinski got $15,000 from the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, a pro-Israel influential lobbying group. However, AIPAC is not a political action committee, does not endorse and does not donate to campaigns.  AIPAC members and allies, like anyone, can contribute as individuals and use their personal networks to raise money for candidates.

Darwish provided no details to back up his $15,000 assertion when the Sun-Times asked him about it, saying “what I can do at this stage” is “take a closer look. … So if I technically said it wrong, then, I would have to look into that.”

After this column was posted online Thursday, Darwish issued a statement Friday saying he made “some inaccurate comments” about AIPAC.

Also at that kickoff event, Darwish turned to Newman, who ran for the seat in 2018.

Darwish said Newman “flipped” her position on the pro-Palestinian Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement targeting Israel and “opposes the right of return, opposes equal rights for all and supports a two-state solution,” which Darwish said no longer “works.”

Darwish then said that Newman, when “asked by key members in the community, our community, ‘Marie, why the change of heart?’ she admitted, ‘I want to attract more Jewish donors.’”

“It is an absolute lie,” Newman said in a Sun-Times interview. “I never, ever said that I would sacrifice my views to attract a specific set of donors.”

Newman said she supports a two-state solution, a right of return “and I always support everyone’s civil rights so about 80 percent of (what Darwish said) was absolutely wrong.” Newman said she did change her BDS view as her 2018 campaign evolved so that by the end of the 2018 contest she was not supporting the global BDS movement, a position she maintains in the 2020 race.

Darwish told the Sun-Times he sticks by his remarks at the kickoff, adding: “I would be the first to say her stand is still better than many other current politicians when it comes to Palestine.”

In February, the Democratic House leadership rebuked freshman Rep. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota when, referring to $100 bills and strong bipartisan support for Israel, she tweeted: “It’s all about the Benjamins baby.” While Democrats differ on Israeli-Palestinian policy, Omar was seen as crossing a line. She apologized.

Asked about his remarks in the context of the “Benjamins” controversy, Darwish told the Sun-Times: “My job is to make sure that I distinguish myself before all my opponents.”

In his statement issued Friday after this column was posted online, Darwish responded to Newman’s comment, saying “I am not a candidate who lies.”

Back in 2015, as a provocative radio talk show host, Darwish excoriated a guest, Ray Hanania — who, among other things, comments on and writes about the  Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Darwish told Hanania he sounded “like you are praising the Israeli people and the Jewish civilization as if they are great people.”

 Darwish told the Sun-Times,  “I’ll be honest with you. I may have misspoke if I said the word Jews. That was a mistake on my part. Usually I think I’m pretty good at knowing on the show not to use the word Jews because Jews are not, that’s not the problem.” His problem, he said is with a “pro-Israeli government agenda.”

Darwish also commented on this in his Friday statement issued after this column was posted online. Darwish said that while hosting his show, “in character, I made unfortunate comments about Israelis and Jewish people” while “playing caricatures of people on either side of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I would like to apologize for the remarks I made on the show as they do not reflect my beliefs or values.

“As a Palestinian-American, I take issue with the actions of the Israeli government, not Israeli citizens or members of the Jewish diaspora.”

About Darwish

In 2018, as progressives mobilized in the Trump era, Newman almost beat Lipinski in a one-on-one primary.

In 2020, all three Lipinski opponents — Newman, from LaGrange; Darwish, from Palos Hills; and Abe Matthew, an attorney from Chicago’s Bridgeport neighborhood — are progressives who agree on many major domestic issues, including abortion rights. Lipinski, a social conservative from Western Springs, is among the shrinking number of anti-abortion Democrats.

Rashad “Rush” Darwish, 42, runs a television and photography production business in Pilsen. He said in the interview he adopted the less ethnic-sounding name of Rush in 2001 — before the 9-11 attacks — when he was hired for an on-air TV news job in Tyler, Texas. He later switched careers and returned to the Chicago area.

His parents, now Lemont residents, were born in the West Bank village of Beitin. At age 6, his family moved from Stone Park back to Beitin for two years to live with his maternal grandmother. At that kickoff event this summer, Darwish said, “The very foundation of who I am, the values I learned growing up in Palestine, is embedded in me.”

Darwish’s fundraising ability and a potential base of voting support give him a shot in the primary, since only a plurality is needed to win. In the past months, his campaign said, Darwish has held fundraising events targeting Arab-American donors in Washington; Los Angeles; Anaheim; Dallas; Houston; St. Louis; Milwaukee; and North Carolina.

When it comes to cash-on-hand, as of Sept. 30, Lipinski had $693,088; Newman,$514,237; Darwish, $318,113 and Matthew, $57,724. Darwish also loaned his campaign $80,000.

Darwish is on the executive board of AMVOTE, the American Middle East Voters Alliance PAC, a state-level political action committee.

The district sweeps in portions of the Southwest suburbs as well as parts of Chicago’s South Side.

According to an analysis of census data by University of Chicago political science Prof. John Mark Hansen, the district is the most Polish-American congressional district in the country, and the most Arab-American district in the state. It’s also home to the most Palestinian Americans in Illinois. The largest Palestinian community in the U.S. is clustered in the southwest suburban Chicago area, according to Marquette University Prof. Louise Cainkar.

The district does not have a politically significant number of Jewish or evangelical Christian residents — voters who may focus on Israel, the West Bank and Gaza policy. A few weeks ago on Yom Kippur, the holiest Jewish holiday, Darwish, using a traditional Hebrew greeting, tweeted: “Wishing a g’mar chatima tova and an easy fast to all celebrating Yom Kippur today!”

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