Lee and Patel spar during televised debate
2024 PrimaryDebate will air again Sunday at 10 a.m. on WPXI

Lee and Patel spar during televised debate

Patel called out Lee for "not being present" for her Jewish constituents. Lee denied the accusation.

(Photo courtesy of Pexels)
(Photo courtesy of Pexels)

District 12 Congresswoman Summer Lee and her Democratic challenger, Bhavini Patel, faced off in a 30-minute televised debate on WPXI Thursday night. The debate will air again Sunday at 10 a.m.

Moderated by anchor Lisa Sylvester, the debate covered economic development in the region, curbing gun violence and the financial struggles of middle-class families. But the forum became most heated when the candidates were questioned on the Israel/Hamas war and support for President Joe Biden.

Patel stressed the necessity of the Biden administration supporting humanitarian aid to Gaza while emphasizing the necessity of putting policies in place that will lead to a “long-lasting peace” and “a two-state solution.”

Bhavini Patel. (Photo provided by Patel for Pa.)
Military aid to Israel, Patel said, “is directly tied to our own national security. I think it’s critical we look at the bigger picture of what’s playing out here. We can’t have zero-sum solutions to complicated issues. The minute we start to ignore the nuances — I think it stokes antisemitism and hatred.”

Sylvester questioned Lee on a letter signed by 40 area rabbis and spiritual leaders last month that “voiced concerns” about the congresswoman’s “rhetoric and votes in relation to the events of Oct. 7 in Israel, the subsequent war and the rise in antisemitism in America.”

The letter continues, “You have continued to use divisive rhetoric, which, at times, we have perceived as openly antisemitic.”

Rep. Summer Lee (Photo courtesy of summerlee.house.gov)
Lee said she couldn’t respond to that accusation because she didn’t “know what they are considering antisemitic rhetoric.” Instead, Lee said she has “condemned Hamas for the atrocities they committed on innocent Israelis on Oct. 7. I also immediately called for a de-escalation in the region because we have to do anything we can to end the cycles of violence there.”

Lee added that she has called out Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for the “atrocities he has committed against Palestinians” and she accused Israel of “targeting aid workers, journalists, hospitals and hospital workers.”

Patel criticized Lee for saying Israel “targets” civilians in Gaza.

Patel also accused Lee of “not being present” for her Jewish constituents, noting that Lee was absent from two Jewish community gatherings after Oct. 7, and called out Lee for not accepting an invitation from the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh to attend a town hall-style political forum, saying that decision was “deeply problematic.” Patel accepted the Federation’s invitation for the town hall event on April 8.

Lee responded that she has been “present for all the people of our community. I have spoken with Jewish community leaders, faith-based leaders and the community at large, including family members of hostages. But I’ve also spoken to Palestinians and Arabs and our Muslim community … My opponent has aligned herself more with Benjamin Netanyahu than the Biden administration.”

Patel shot back: “My opponent is directly aligned with a movement here in Pennsylvania that’s calling on people to write in ‘uncommitted’ rather than standing with President Joe Biden in the primary and the general election.”

Patel directly called on Lee to “denounce the uncommitted movement.”

Lee failed to do so, although Patel reiterated the request several times. Instead, Lee responded that she’s been proud to “expand the electorate…by not discouraging people from participating in the primaries.”

Lee charged that Patel’s “entire campaign is backed by Republicans, yet she says I’m not a good enough Democrat,” mentioning support from hedge fund manager Jeffrey Yass.

The primary will be held on April 23, the first day of Passover. To get a mail-in ballot, go to vote.pa.gov/Voting-in-PA.

To watch the debate online, go to WPXI.com. PJC

Toby Tabachnick can be reached at ttabachnick@pittsburghjewishchronicle.org.

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