Patel campaign calls on Summer Lee to return contributions from ‘antisemitic donors’
Lee's troubling fundraisingCAIR executive director, others with troubling ties donate

Patel campaign calls on Summer Lee to return contributions from ‘antisemitic donors’

“Taking money from antisemites who celebrate terrorist attacks and encourage their followers to monitor synagogues is abhorrent behavior,” she said.

Summer Lee (Photo by Maureen Kelly Busis)
Summer Lee (Photo by Maureen Kelly Busis)

This story has been updated to include a statement Summer Lee made via X, formerly Twitter, on Feb. 27.

Bhavini Patel has called on political rival Rep. Summer Lee to return contributions from several donors whom Patel characterized as “Hamas sympathizers and antisemitic donors.”

Patel is challenging incumbent Lee for her seat in the state’s 12th Congressional District. Lee is a member of the “Squad,” an informal group of several House Democrats known for being among the most left-wing members of Congress, and who are calling for a cease-fire in Gaza.

Those who donated to Lee’s campaign in December 2023 include:

• Nehad Hammad Awad, the executive director of the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR). Awad donated $1,000 to Lee’s campaign on Dec. 29. Awad characterized Hamas’ Oct. 7 terrorist attack as “self-defense,” saying, “I 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,” during a November conference hosted by American Muslims for Palestine.

The White House distanced itself from CAIR in December after Awad’s speech.

The Anti-Defamation League has said that key CAIR leaders often traffic in antisemitic and anti-Zionist rhetoric. Awad, the ADL said, has claimed “that Zionist organizations make up the core of the Islamophobia network in the United States. He has also alleged that pro-Israel groups have ‘corrupted’ the U.S. government and that Israel’s existence has no legitimacy.”

• Hatem Bazian, co-founder of Students for Justice in Palestine and founder of the American Muslims for Palestine (AMP). Bazian donated $2,500 to Lee’s campaign on Dec. 29.

According to the ADL, Bazian has accused Israel of having a policy of organ harvesting. The ADL calls AMP “the leading organization” for anti-Zionist training and education to students and Muslim community organizations in the country. It promotes “extreme anti-Israel views and has at times provided a platform for anti-Semitism under the guise of educating Americans about ‘the just cause of Palestine and the rights to self-determination,’” according to ADL.

Students for Justice in Palestine chapters were suspended at several campuses including Brandeis University, Columbia University, George Washington University and Rutgers University. In October, Florida Gov. Ron Desantis directed state universities to deactivate their SJP chapters. In Pittsburgh, the organization has organized or been a part of several anti-Israel rallies that included antisemitic and anti-Zionist rhetoric.

• Zahra Billoo, the executive director of CAIR California, gave $350 to the campaign on Dec. 8.

In a Nov. 27, 2021, speech at a pro-Palestinian conference in Chicago, Billoo told attendees they should focus on “polite Zionists.” She included in that group, the Anti-Defamation League, Jewish Federations, Hillel and “Zionist synagogues,” according to an article in the Times of Israel.

In a July 2014 tweet, Billoo wrote “Blaming Hamas for firing rockets at (Apartheid) Israel is like blaming a woman for punching her rapist.”

After her tweets surfaced, Billoo was voted off the board of the Women’s March only days after being appointed to the role.

• Osama Abu Irshaid, executive director of AMP, donated $500 on Dec. 29.

Irshaid has called Israel “a parasite living off the American body” and in 2018, embraced the antisemitic Khazar theory, which espouses that Khazars were a group of non-Jewish Eastern Europeans who converted to Judaism. According to the ADL, some antisemites believe modern Jews are descended from those Jews, rather than the ancient Israelites. Abu Irshaid has claimed that the overwhelming majority of Jews are Khazars. In 2016, he repeated the trope that Zionist figures have “double loyalty, where they put the Israeli agenda and the Israeli interest ahead of the American agenda.”

Temple Sinai Rabbi Daniel Fellman was one of 40 Jewish clergy members who signed an open letter to Lee in October “concerning her continuing inability to support Israel in its war against Hamas.”

“Hate has no home in Pittsburgh and Summer Lee’s decision to accept contributions from directors of an organization whose leaders amplify antisemitic tropes is an affront to the progressive movement,” Fellman said in a prepared statement last week. “Lee must immediately return this money and apologize for her decision to associate with these dangerous individuals.”

Students at both Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Pittsburgh are circulating a petition asking Lee to return contributions from these individuals. They plan to deliver the document to her office by week’s end.

In a news release, Patel called on Lee to “follow President Joe Biden’s lead and distance herself from these hateful, dangerous individuals by returning their tainted contributions.”

“Taking money from antisemites who celebrate terrorist attacks and encourage their followers to monitor synagogues is abhorrent behavior from the elected official who purports to represent the Tree of Life community in Congress,” she said.

Earlier this month, Patel’s fundraising became an issue in the Pittsburgh City Paper when a reporter from the alternative newsweekly joined a call the candidate hosted with Mihir Meghani, a board member and co-founder of the Hindu American Foundation.

The City Paper said the call was notable for “the number of callers who mentioned residing outside Pittsburgh; attendees’ vociferous praise of Israel; their interest in defeating progressive Democrats and ‘Squad’ members, including Patel’s opponent, incumbent U.S. Rep. Summer Lee; and Hindu nationalist rhetoric.”

According to FEC filings, the majority of Lee’s funders reside outside of Pittsburgh.

Lee is scheduled to speak at a CAIR event on March 2, alongside “several speakers who have made antisemitic and homophobic comments,” including author and former professional basketball player Ibrahim Jaaber, Jewish Insider reported.

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

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

Stand-up comedian Nadirah Pierre is also scheduled to speak at the March 2 event.

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

The event’s keynote speaker, Yasir Fahmy, has called Zionism a “sick, sadistic cult,” according to Jewish Insider, and has spoken out against members of the LGBTQ+ community, calling their lifestyle “destructive.”

Lee also is scheduled to join a Feb. 27 event sponsored by Women for Palestine, along with Reps. Rashida Tlaib and Jamaal Bowman.

Tlaib has been criticized for posting videos on X of pro-Palestinian rallies and writing, “Joe Biden supported the genocide of the Palestinian people.”

She has also said that the chant “From the river to the sea” is an “aspirational call for freedom,” a claim rejected by mainstream Jewish leaders.

In January, J Street pulled its funding for Bowman over his anti-Israeli rhetoric since Oct. 7, according to The Times of Israel. In 2018, the organization pulled its endorsement from Tlaib after she refused to support a two state solution and “other core principles” to which the organization is dedicated. J Street has not pulled its endorsement of Lee.

Patel’s call for Lee to return contributions from “Hamas sympathizers” comes on the heels of the Allegheny County Democratic Committee voting to endorse Lee in the race. The Democratic primary is on Tuesday, April 23.

In addition to Lee and Patel, Center for Victims CEO and President Laurie MacDonald is in the race for the District 12 Democratic nomination. MacDonald’s nomination petition is facing a court challenge.

Update: After criticism from both Democrats and Republicans, Lee canceled her appearance at the March 2 event. She wrote on X:

Lee did not respond to the Chronicle’s requests for an interview. PJC

David Rullo can be reached at

read more: