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Can you address antisemitism at the ballot box?

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In my running tally of new organizations created to fight antisemitism (57 since 2015 at last count), very few are focused on local communities. But a couple weeks ago I wrote about events in Rochester, New York, where a group called ROC Against Antisemitism has been active, and now the Beacon Coalition is getting off the ground in Pittsburgh.

Part of the organization’s work is run of the mill — raising awareness about antisemitism — but what caught my attention was Beacon’s plan to make political endorsements and donate to local candidates.

Jeremy Kazzaz, a legal consultant, helped start the group last fall after he and several friends noticed that a county official had posted a celebratory poem alongside footage of Palestinians demolishing the security barrier around Gaza on Oct. 7.

And in addition to its local focus, Beacon is also distinct among groups fighting antisemitism because it manages a political action committee. While lots of PACs spend money to support pro-Israel candidates, the Beacon Coalition is the first group I’ve seen that plans to support politicians primarily on the basis of whether or not they’re antisemitic.

Israel factors into scoring

Kazzaz said that Beacon’s understanding of antisemitism, based on the controversial International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s definition, covers a lot of the same ground. “A lot of folks hold double standards for Israel,” he said.

But in its first few months the group has also been working closely with the Pennsylvania legislature’s Jewish caucus on other issues, including trying to move the date of the primary election, which remains on the first full day of Passover.

They’ve weighed in on five races so far, four statewide and one local Democratic Congressional primary, where they picked pro-Israel challenger Bhavini Patel over incumbent Rep. Summer Lee, a progressive critic of the country. Elsewhere, they knocked Mark Pinsley, a candidate for state auditor, for attending a pro-Palestinian rally “where chants included ‘from the river to the sea,’” although they acknowledged that Pinsley had also “spoken out against Jewish hate.”

A new model?

Kazzaz says that Beacon is more willing to issue scorecards for politicians and directly lobby them than local Jewish federations and community relations councils, who may fear being seen as too partisan.

“There aren’t really organizations at the local level set up to organize and mobilize even at small scale: ‘Call your elected officials and let them know Passover is a real holiday,’” Kazzaz said.

Kazzaz, who moved to Pittsburgh three years ago, thinks that Beacon could be a model for others. Local politics can be an easy place to have an impact because small amounts of money — and relatively few votes — can make a big difference.

The Beacon Coalition is currently run by volunteers, but Kazzaz hopes to hire staff before the general election in November, and to weigh in on everything from county races to school board elections.

“We are getting inundated with calls for help,” Kazzaz said. “The Jewish community has opened its eyes to the fact that you can’t just sit back.”

The post Can you address antisemitism at the ballot box? appeared first on The Forward.

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