After widespread backlash, Summer Lee cancels CAIR appearance
Uncomfortable companyCAIR event scheduled to feature antisemitic speakers

After widespread backlash, Summer Lee cancels CAIR appearance

"I wanted to join this event with other members of Congress and elected officials to support our Muslim neighbors in the Commonwealth and across the country," she said.

Summer Lee announces her 2022 campaign for a congressional seat representing Pennsylvania. (Photo by Mark Dixon, CC BY 2.0., via Wikimedia Commons)
Summer Lee announces her 2022 campaign for a congressional seat representing Pennsylvania. (Photo by Mark Dixon, CC BY 2.0., via Wikimedia Commons)

Rep. Summer Lee canceled her March 2 speaking engagement at the Council on American Islamic Relations Philadelphia annual banquet after facing harsh criticism for planning to speak alongside individuals who have engaged in antisemitic and homophobic rhetoric.

Both Jewish Insider and Pittsburgh Jewish Chronicle published articles detailing the troubling remarks of the other advertised speakers at the event: author and former professional basketball player Ibrahim Jaaber, stand-up comedian Nadirah Pierre and keynote speaker Shaykh Yasir Fahmy.

In an Oct. 17 Facebook post, Jaaber wrote about the bombing of a Gazan hospital: “This is the best lies these demons could come up with to cover their horns,” invoking a centuries-old antisemitic trope.

In the same post, he accused Israel of wanting ‘GENOCIDE” and said the media was “Chucking and jiving for their Zionist masters.”

Pierre posted on X, formerly Twitter, on Oct. 7: “May Allah destroy them even worse than they have tried to destroy others.”

Fahmy has called Zionism a “sick, sadistic cult,” and has spoken against members of the LGBTQ+ community, calling their lifestyle “destructive.”

Republican Dave McCormick, who is running against Democrat Bob Casey for his seat in the United States Senate, was the first to call on Lee, who represents District 12, to resign for agreeing to speak alongside individuals who spewed hate. In a video, McCormick said the voters of Pittsburgh and Pennsylvania expect a higher standard from their leaders.

“They expect more than associating themselves with antisemites,” he said. “They expect moral leadership, moral clarity.”

A spokesperson for Gov. Josh Shapiro took issue with the hate speech that had been used by the trio and said leaders have a responsibility to both speak and act with moral clarity.

“The governor believes there is no place in our commonwealth — founded by William Penn, centered on the values of tolerance — for religious intolerance, whether it be antisemitism or Islamophobia. This hateful, antisemitic rhetoric cannot be tolerated — and it should be condemned, not elevated by our political leaders,” the spokesman said.

State Rep. Dan Frankel, who represents Squirrel Hill and is a co-chair of the Pennsylvania Jewish Legislative Caucus, expressed disappointment with Lee and her decision to speak “alongside individuals who have made antisemitic comments and praised the Oct. 7 attack.”

He urged her to reconsider her decision.

Additionally, the chairs of the Jewish Legislative Caucus — Frankel and state Sen. Judy Schwank — issued a joint statement noting that many in the Jewish community are afraid to wear kippahs in public and wonder if they should conceal their Jewish identity.

“They count on their representatives to lead by example and stand against all forms of hate,” the statement read in part. “We have grave concerns about an elected official joining individuals who have made openly antisemitic comments and praised the actions of Hamas following the attacks of Oct. 7.”

In an emailed statement, Bhavini Patel, who is challenging Lee in the Democratic primary, called on the congresswoman to cancel her speaking appearance.

“Summer Lee must immediately cancel her appearance with these extremists and apologize for agreeing to stand with them in the first place,” Patel said. “I am grateful to Governor Shapiro, Senator Casey and Representative Frankel for condemning this type of antisemitic and homophobic hate speech and I pledge to stand up to these fringe attacks in Congress, unlike Representative Lee.”

James Hayes, a Republican vying for the District 12 seat, said that Lee has “made her home with extremists her entire career.”

He said he wasn’t surprised that Lee would agree to share a dais with antisemites, calling her out for what he called her “hypocrisy.”
“She calls herself a feminist but will share a table with people who celebrate a sneak attack that included the rape and murder of Israeli women,” Hayes said in a statement. “She talks of a cease-fire while ignoring the fact that it was Hamas that broke the cease-fire in order to murder Jews.”

“Summer Lee says she rejects antisemitism but has yet to reject antisemites,” he added.

Pennsylvania Sen. Bob Casey remained silent on the controversy but condemned statements by CAIR’s Executive Director Nehad Hammad Awad following Hamas’ Oct. 7 terrorist attack.

Awad characterized the attacks as “self-defense” and said he was “happy to see people breaking the siege and throwing down the shackles of their own land and walk free into their land that they were not allowed to walk in.”

“Oct. 7 was a brutal and vicious attack on innocent Israeli civilians,” Casey told Jewish Insider. “I unequivocally condemn the antisemitic and hateful comments made by CAIR’s leadership and any comments that celebrate the despicable acts of Hamas terrorists.”

J Street, which has endorsed Lee, did not issue a statement criticizing her scheduled appearance at the CAIR event, nor did it pull its endorsement from her, something noted by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.

“J Street not only endorses her, but they’re also her top contributor according to Open Secrets,” AIPAC posted on X.

OpenSecrets is a nonprofit that tracks and publishes data on campaign finance and lobbying.

CAIR-Philadelphia attempted to dampen the criticism. It posted a tweet by its Executive Director Ahmet Selim Tekelioglu on the afternoon of Feb. 26 calling out Lee’s critics.

Tekelioglu accused Patel and McCormick of antagonizing CAIR and accused the media of taking comments made by CAIR’s leaders and speakers out of context.

The banquet, he said, already had registered 750 guests and expected more in response to what he called “attacks.”

Despite CAIR’s attempts, by the morning of Feb. 27, the political pressure forced Lee to rethink her position.

She issued a statement saying that she had only learned of the controversial comments made by those with whom she was scheduled to speak after they were publicly reported.

“I wanted to join this event with other members of Congress and elected officials to support our Muslim neighbors in the Commonwealth and across the country, who are desperate to be heard by their own elected officials and feel supported at a time of rising anti-Muslim hate and violence,” Lee wrote.

CAIR’s promotional materials for the event do not list any other members of Congress or elected officials as featured guests at the March 2 event.

Lee added that she doesn’t condone or endorse any of the speakers’ previous comments and condemns antisemitism, Islamophobia, homophobia and transphobia.

She then seemingly aimed at Patel.

“Any political leaders who want to use that as a political wedge between our marginalized communities and to demonize our country’s largest Muslim civil liberties organization should feel ashamed of trying to score cheap political points at the expense of a grieving community,” Lee wrote.

She concluded by saying she wouldn’t attend the event so that the Muslim community wouldn’t be a victim of more “politically-motivated Islamophobia” and to ensure her “Jewish and LGBTQ+ constituents know their concerns are heard.” PJC

David Rullo can be reached at

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