Summer Lee, a progressive Democrat who represents Pennsylvania’s 12th District — which includes Pittsburgh and several surrounding suburbs — has spoken to a myriad of media outlets, including KDKA, NPR, Teen Vogue, Black Pittsburgh, MSNBC and Rolling Stone. Her staff, though, has not made her available for an interview with the Chronicle despite numerous requests after her Democratic primary win last May and following her election as a United States representative in November.
Lee’s office did not respond at all to most of those requests.
This should concern our readers because Lee represents a significant percentage of the Jews in greater Pittsburgh, including those in Squirrel Hill.
In contrast, Lee’s predecessor, Democrat Mike Doyle (who, from 1995 to 2023, represented District 18, which covered much of the same territory as the new District 12) was generous with his time when it came to interview requests from the Chronicle, as our other representatives have been.
The Chronicle wants to talk with Lee because it’s our mission to inform Pittsburgh’s Jewish community about the issues they care about, including Israel.
About a year before the Democratic primary, in a tweet about the May 2021 conflict between Gaza and Israel, Lee criticized U.S. politicians for using the refrain “Israel has the right to defend itself” in response “to undeniable atrocities on a marginalized pop.” Then, at a town hall event organized by the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh’s Community Relations Council during the primary, Lee said she didn’t know if Israel is an apartheid state.
“I don’t necessarily know the answer to that,” she said. “I don’t know that I am as well-versed in the intricacies of this.”
Lee said at that event that aid to Israel should be conditioned on progress for peace with the Palestinians. She also said that while she is not involved with the BDS movement against Israel, she is concerned by efforts to “criminalize a tactic that is rooted in peaceful protest.”
We wanted to ask Lee to clarify her positions on Israel before the general election. After weeks of being ignored, Lee’s campaign manager finally responded to the Chronicle, but said that although she would be scheduling interviews with other media outlets, she could not commit to an interview with us. We asked that our place be held in the queue for an interview, but were told that was not possible because other requests coming in after ours might take precedence. We were, however, told that Lee would speak with us after the election.
That still hasn’t happened, despite our repeated requests.
Late last month, Lee joined “Squad” members Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Jamaal Bowman of New York, Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts, Cori Bush of Missouri and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan in a letter to the Biden administration urging a change in U.S. policy toward Israel. We reached out to Lee to question her about the letter, but her communications manager first tabled our request, then did not respond at all to our follow-up request.
On April 6, the first day of Passover, Lee posted an inflammatory Al Jazeera video on Twitter, ostensibly depicting Israeli forces beating Palestinians who were barricaded inside the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem. Lee tweeted above the video clip: “This is unjustifiable violence against Muslim worshippers whose only crime was praying during Ramadan. How much longer are we going to let political bullies silence us from calling out atrocities? US taxpayers should not be paying for any of this.”
That video was misleading, Laura Cherner, director of the Federation’s Community Relations Council, said.
“It is disappointing to see such a reductive video widely circulated online,” Cherner wrote in an email to the Chronicle. “What the video does not show are the extremists who had barricaded inside Al Aqsa with stockpiled rocks, fireworks and explosives. As they have done for the past several years, extremists have taken advantage of the sensitive time when Ramadan and Passover coincide to further escalate an already tense situation.
“Muslims deserve and have the right to worship peacefully during Ramadan, just as Jews deserve the right to peacefully observe Passover. Misleading videos such as this do nothing to improve the lives of Palestinians, they only perpetuate misinformation and the demonization of Israel.”
Whatever views you have about Israel, you should be concerned that Lee won’t speak with the Chronicle. You have a right to know what, if anything, she has done to increase her knowledge of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. You have a right to know why she signed that letter to the Biden administration, and if she did any independent research into its claims against Israel or the positions of her co-signors, some of whom have made virulent anti-Israel statements. You have a right to know how she will vote on upcoming bills related to the Jewish state and its ability to defend itself. How concerned is she about the safety of Israelis and Jews in general?
If Lee wants to serve and be engaged with Pittsburgh’s Jewish community, she needs to speak with the Chronicle, the only media outlet solely dedicated to informing, educating and connecting that community.
Jewish Pittsburghers may wonder: If Lee had time to speak with Teen Vogue, why doesn’t she have time for us?
In a democracy, an elected official has the solemn responsibility to talk to the media and respond to her constituents — even those who are Jewish. PJC