Bhavini Patel shares ‘Coffee and Conversation’ with Jewish community
2024 PrimaryHouse hopeful meets with Jewish community

Bhavini Patel shares ‘Coffee and Conversation’ with Jewish community

"When you use language like that it stokes antisemitism and puts the Jewish community in a very precarious position."

Bhavini Patel (left) sat down with Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh CRC Director Laura Cherner for Coffee and Conversation about her race in Pennsylvania's 12th House District. (Photo by David Rullo)
Bhavini Patel (left) sat down with Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh CRC Director Laura Cherner for Coffee and Conversation about her race in Pennsylvania's 12th House District. (Photo by David Rullo)

Bhavini Patel entered the race for Pennsylvania’s 12th District’s House seat because she wants to ensure the promise of the American Dream can be fulfilled for others like her.

Patel’s family, she said, faced economic insecurity while she was growing up. She was raised by an immigrant single mother who built a business that allowed Patel to be the first college graduate in her family, attending both the University of Pittsburgh and the University of Oxford.

“It taught me a lot about Western Pennsylvania values, grit and hard work,” Patel said, detailing the struggle of her mother, who eventually owned two food trucks where Patel worked.

Patel told her story in response to an opening question from Laura Cherner, director of the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh’s Community Relations Council and host of the organization’s Coffee and Conversation, a town hall-style discussion on April 8.

Cherner asked the candidate running against incumbent Summer Lee about a range of subjects, including infrastructure and the local technology industry, threats to democracy and foreign policy, including funding for Ukraine’s ongoing war with Russia. Terrorism, Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack on Israel, identity, health care, gun violence, the Abraham Accords, women’s reproductive rights and the responsibility of politicians to hear from their constituents were also discussed during the far-reaching discussion.

Patel, an Edgewood Borough councilwoman, also shared thoughts about the recent acts of vandalism and antisemitism that have occurred in Squirrel Hill, including the desecration of several yard signs supporting Israel with red handprints.

“I think that when your property in front of your home is vandalized in that way with hands, it’s important to understand the history of what that means and the message that’s being sent,” she said.

Patel called that vandalism “antisemitism.”

“This shouldn’t be complicated,” she said.

Patel said that she watched the footage of Hamas’ Oct. 7 terrorist attack in Israel, calling the acts she witnessed “deeply, deeply traumatizing.”

She took the opportunity to contrast herself to Lee, noting that, unlike Lee, she attended the Oct. 8 vigil in support of Israel and the Jewish community and that she makes herself available to the Pittsburgh Jewish Chronicle whenever asked.

“It’s incredibly important to be a shoulder to lean on in the community, to educate myself and continue to be present,” she said.

Patel said that Lee’s social media posts about the recent deaths of several relief workers in Israel were “careless.”

“She tweeted out something, knowing that the Biden administration had called for a full investigation by the Israeli government as to what happened,” Patel said of Lee. “She tweeted language calling it a ‘targeted’ attack against humanitarian aid workers. It’s important to point out, because when you use language like that it stokes antisemitism and puts the Jewish community in a very precarious position.”

Asked about the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of antisemitism, adopted or endorsed by 43 countries, including the United States and a large number of political organizations, Patel said she supports it and spent time learning about the definition. She said that she was recently endorsed by the Beacon Coalition, which asked about her position on the definition. (The Beacon Coalition, a local group that advocates for Jewish wellbeing in politics, said it “strongly supports” Patel on its website assessment of the race.)

In defining antisemitism, the IHRA is guided by examples including the “targeting of the state of Israel, conceived as a Jewish collectivity.”
Patel said she supports the Biden administration’s efforts to help normalize and advocate for the IHRA definition. Her support for the administration was something the candidate went back to time and again, contrasting herself to Lee. Patel noted that Lee voted against a recent spending bill that was supported by most Democrats and a resolution condemning countries that provide weapons to Iran.

Asked about Lee’s frequent claims that Patel is funded by AIPAC and the United Democracy Project, Patel called the allegations “unfortunate.”

“I think my opponent wishes that she were running against a Republican with the kind of messaging she’s putting out,” she said. “I’m proud to say that roughly 70% of our money was raised last quarter in the state of Pennsylvania, and 65% of our contributions were $250 or less.”

Patel called donors to her campaign a “representation of the diverse coalition that we’ve built in this district.”

In fact, it is Lee, Patel said, who has taken money and endorsements from questionable sources. She also pointed to the incumbent’s unwillingness to denounce the Uncommitted Movement, formed as a protest to President Biden’s support of Israel after Hamas’ Oct. 7 terrorist attack.

“She cannot bring herself to do that,” Patel said. “I think that’s more telling because, if there were a barometer of who was more a Democrat, I think I would be the one.”

When questioned about the Abraham Accords, Patel voiced support, then noted that the Biden administration is “doing all it can in the Middle East,” including providing humanitarian aid to Gaza, something she called “critical.”

That doesn’t necessarily mean, though, that she is a strong supporter of the current Israeli governing coalition.

“Israel is a democracy,” Patel said. “There are people that are protesting in the streets right now, calling for the removal of Benjamin Netanyahu. I think it’s important that we allow that process to play out until we can move towards peace.”

The goal, Patel said, is lasting peace and a two-state solution.

“As we continue to engage in, hopefully, nuanced discussion, we cannot stoke hatred and we cannot stoke the danger of alienating people,” she said. “That just makes things worse. Right now, I feel like I’m running against someone who continues to do that and fails to understand the larger implications.”

The Coffee and Conversation program with Patel can be viewed on the CRC’s Facebook page. PJC

As of press time, Summer Lee had not accepted the CRC’s invitation for her own Coffee and Conversation.

David Rullo can be reached at

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