A Missouri Democrat announced this week that he is giving up a months-long run to unseat outspoken far right Republican Sen. Josh Hawley — in order to stage a primary challenge to progressive Democrat Rep. Cori Bush, citing her support of Palestinians amid Israel’s genocide in Gaza.
Wesley Bell, prosecutor for St. Louis County, announced his decision to drop out of the Senate race on Monday, saying that multiple people had urged him to make the switch. When asked why, Bell directly referenced Bush’s criticism of Israel.
“Our world is in a dangerous place, and we need steady and effective leadership,” Bell told reporters. “I think we have to stand with our allies, and Israel has always been an ally.”
On the same day that Bell made his announcement, the Palestinian government announced that the Palestinian death toll amid Israel’s relentless and indiscriminate attacks had surpassed 8,000; it is now 8,796.
In the Senate race, Bell had the opportunity to oust one of the most outspoken right-wing members of the chamber. Hawley is perhaps most well known for his salute to Donald Trump militants on the January 6, 2021, attempted coup, and Democrats have cited him as a key figure in inciting the militants that day.
Instead, Bell is zeroing in on primarying one of the most consistently progressive and left-wing lawmakers in Congress — one who has garnered praise for being one of only about a dozen lawmakers advocating for Palestinians in the past weeks and years.
Shortly after Israel began its current siege of Gaza, Bush co-led the introduction of a resolution calling for an immediate ceasefire. She was one of only nine Democrats who voted against legislation last week that pledges unconditional U.S. support for Israel amid its current ethnic cleansing campaign against Palestinians. And she has not shied away from using language that mainstream politicians and news outlets have declined to use to describe the genocide — like saying that Israel has committed a war crime in its bombing of a refugee camp.
Bell, who has not been particularly outspoken on his support of Israel in the past, has served as the top prosecutor for St. Louis County since 2019. He ran on a platform as a “progressive” prosecutor, unseating a “tough-on-crime” prosecutor who had held the position for nearly 30 years.
But despite promising change that could tip the scales away from police and criminalization in the area, and despite many expecting him to reopen the investigation into the police killing of 18-year-old Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, Bell failed to deliver, many locals say. In 2020, amid a new wave of protests against anti-Black police brutality, Bell announced that his office wouldn’t be reopening the case, and that police officer Darren Wilson, who shot Brown six times and killed him in 2014, would continue to walk free.
Bell’s challenge to Bush — who rose to prominence as a protester in the Black Lives Matter Movement protesting Brown’s killing and more — is perhaps an indication of how aggressively the Democratic Party is seeking to crush dissent on Israel within the party. It seems to broadcast the message that Democrats would rather give up a potential seat in the Senate, with a challenge by a prominent member of the Missouri Democratic Party, than allow one more pro-Palestine lawmaker in the House.
Bush isn’t the only progressive critic of Israel who’s facing a primary challenge next year. Representatives Ilhan Omar (D-Minnesota) and Summer Lee (D-Pennsylvania) are also facing challengers who have cited their support of Israel as a reason for the challenge, while another New York Democrat is citing Israel as a reason he may run against Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D).
These primary challenges will likely have strong support from AIPAC, a pro-Israel PAC that has spent millions on opposing progressive pro-Palestine candidates, including Bush, Omar, Lee and Bowman, as well as others like Representatives Rashida Tlaib (D-Michigan), Ilhan Omar (D-Minnesota) and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-New York).
Bush and Ocasio-Cortez have spoken out against AIPAC this week.
“AIPAC endorsed scores of Jan 6th insurrectionists. They are no friend to American democracy,” Ocasio-Cortez wrote on social media on Tuesday. “They are one of the more racist and bigoted PACs in Congress as well, who disproportionately target members of color. They are an extremist organization that destabilizes U.S. democracy.”
“Speak on it, sis. AIPAC’s dark money grift & anti-democracy propping up of insurrectionists are attempts to undermine the will of the people,” Bush wrote in a response. “They spread lies, distort truth, and spend millions of dollars targeting Black and brown elected officials working to end hate & injustice.”
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