Summer Lee will likely never do an interview with the Chronicle, and for good reason. Imagine if you were asked to interview with a newspaper that has painted you in a poor light and then be expected to trust them to really want to get to know who you are. Ms. Lee was called out by the Chronicle a week before the election about her unwillingness to answer its calls. A week before the election. Yes, Summer Lee has to answer to her constituents. Yes, she needs to engage in meaningful dialogue around Israel, as she has done in trusted circles. However, she should not have to place herself in a situation that feels an awful lot like a set up. As Jews, we need to consider the optics of piling constant criticism on the first Black woman elected to Congress from the state of Pennsylvania. Would it not be more constructive to reach out to the Jews in direct relationship with Ms. Lee and ask how to have meaningful dialogue?
Journalism is supposed to be fair and balanced. The Chronicle showed it would not be toward Ms. Lee right out of the gate when a statement posed to her primary opponent, Steve Irwin, was erroneously phrased as: “You’re going to be running against Summer Lee. She has made statements on Twitter that have been understood by some as anti-Zionist and antisemitic.” The tweet shared supporting this statement was about inhumane treatment toward Palestinian people, but without mention of anything antisemitic or, quite frankly, anti-Zionist. Mr. Irwin later supported Ms. Lee and even spoke at a Jews for Summer Lee event just before the general election.
As for the Chronicle’s contention that Ms. Lee found time to talk to Teen Vogue and not them, I’d like to point out the vast difference in readership of the two publications, with Teen Vogue registering 6.3 million visits online last month. Any elected official wants to make a great impact with the scope of reach of their words and views. Teen Vogue is a well-respected platform, especially when it comes to engaging with young citizens.
So, yes, Ms. Lee should continue to engage in dialogue with the Jewish community, but perhaps a place where we Jews de-center ourselves would serve as a better forum. May I suggest a town hall, an event the Chronicle would be more than welcome to cover? While the Chronicle is the only Jewish publication in Pittsburgh, it does not speak for the entirety of Jewish Pittsburgh and the implication that Summer Lee should “respond to her constituents — even those who are Jewish” is an unwarranted attack that attempts to paint Ms. Lee as anti-Jewish solely for not talking to this paper. She participated in a public conversation with the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh and has spoken to numerous Jewish constituents over the years. She has been with our community as we have honored and remembered those lost in the shooting at the Tree of Life building and she has joined several of us for Shabbat meals and seders. Summer Lee is an ally, whether or not everyone agrees on her approach to Israel, and I must point out what seems should be obvious: Lots of liberal Jews who do support Israel actually agree with the majority of her views.
There are many issues we are facing as a nation, state and city. All of the issues at hand are important and it is essential to recognize that for a lot of Jews, myself included, this includes our ongoing relationship with Israel. And while we have a right to question any decision of any lawmaker, we must look deeper at the totality of problems facing us here. The constant haranguing of Summer Lee goes above and beyond the way other elected officials have been treated by this paper. It’s not a good look for you or for the Jewish community at large. Why is it that we cannot seem to notice that it becomes all too easy to target a Black woman? And if we don’t see it, well then, therein lies the real problem. PJC
Sara Stock Mayo is a musician, poet, spiritual leader and activist. She is currently serving in community engagement for The Rotunda Collaborative, soon to be located in the former B’nai Israel sanctuary.