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Top Democrats call for party to recognize Jewish Caucus, but some progressives still say no

N.C. Attorney General Josh Stein and Charlotte Congressman Jeff Jackson called for the state party to recognize the Jewish Caucus.
N.C. Attorney General Josh Stein and Charlotte Congressman Jeff Jackson called for the state party to recognize the Jewish Caucus.

Some of North Carolina’s top elected Democrats, including Attorney General Josh Stein and Charlotte Rep. Jeff Jackson, say the state Democratic Party made a mistake when it voted Sunday against recognizing the Jewish Caucus as an affiliated organization.

Stein, who is running for governor, said he is “disappointed” with the vote and that he’s working with party Chair Anderson Clayton to “find a path forward.”

“This is about embracing North Carolina Jewish Democrats who feel silenced and isolated during a time of rising antisemitism,” said Stein, who is Jewish.

Jackson, who is running for attorney general, said the vote was “wrong.”

Their comments were first reported by Jewish Insider.

But while top elected Democrats pushed party leaders to change course, the president of the party’s Progressive Caucus said he and others are adamantly opposed to recognizing the Jewish Caucus.

Ryan Jenkins of Durham said Jewish Caucus leaders have not condemned racism within their ranks. He also said the caucus did not follow the rules needed for approval.

In an interview, Jenkins condemned antisemitism but levied harsh criticism against members of the Jewish caucus.

“They have done nothing but whine and play the victim and attack people and we are sick of it,” Jenkins said. “Every single abstention was a no vote that didn’t want to get targeted.”

The vote Sunday on whether to recognize the Jewish Caucus was close.

Seventeen people voted no and 16 people voted yes. Seventeen people abstained from voting, including Clayton.

Jenkins said Jewish Caucus members are now “attacking every single person who either didn’t attend … or they are threatening the people who voted to abstain … I have seen people who have been working for 30 years who run major districts (in the party) in tears over this.”

He said many progressives are adamant that the caucus not be included. He said there is talk they would boycott the 2024 election if the state party reverses course.

“If the Democratic Party caves to it, that’s the end of the Democratic Party. We’re not Democrats, we’re the Jewish Caucus. We’re a Zionist group. Because they control everything. (If we approve the caucus) We’re telling them very clearly they are allowed to threaten and bully us and they will get their way every single time and that our rules don’t apply.”

The Democratic Party nationwide has been divided over the war between Israel and Hamas.

A handful of Democrats in Congress recently voted to censure Michigan Rep. Rashida Tlaib for using the phrase “from the river to the sea,” a phrase that some believe calls for the eradication of Israel. In addition, some progressive Democrats are increasingly pressuring President Biden to push for a ceasefire in Gaza.

After the failed vote in North Carolina, Irwin Orenstein and Steve Abrams of the Durham Chapter of the Jewish Caucus wrote in an email to supporters with a subject line that said “North Carolina Democratic Party to Jews — Drop Dead!”

They wrote that the meeting had been hijacked by what they called the anti-Jewish left, and that the decision by party leaders not to vote was cowardly.

And after their email went public, the state party issued a statement saying it’s a big tent party and it believes in creating safe spaces for its many constituencies. It also condemned antisemitism and left the door open for the Jewish Caucus to be recognized in the future.

Jenkins said a big problem with the Jewish Caucus is comments allegedly made by Matt Sadinsky, the former president of the group.

In March, Nazim Uddin of Charlotte made a formal complaint with the state Democratic Party over Sadinsky allegedly calling him a Nazi and an Iranian spy. There is a tape of the conversation.

Shortly before the vote, Sadinsky resigned as head of the caucus. In an email to supporters, Sadinsky wrote, ”I understand that personal opponents and disinformation have convinced friends in the party that the Jewish Caucus will only be affiliated if led by another.”

He declined to comment about the vote to WFAE.

Jenkins said the Jewish Caucus has not condemned those comments.

“What you are seeing is basically a very small group of rich white people who have never been held accountable for anything, who have never faced consequences for anything, throwing a temper tantrum because they are facing consequences for once,” Jenkins said. “And their only mode is, ‘Oh well you must be antisemitic — because I’ve never done anything wrong.’ ”

Jenkins also questioned the need for a Jewish Caucus when the party already has an “Interfaith Caucus.”

He said past party leaders have not allowed individual caucuses for different religions.

But there are other approved caucuses that overlap with each other.

For instance, the party has recognized an “LGBTQ Community Caucus” and also a “Transgender Community Caucus.” It has a “Young Democrats Caucus” and also a “Teenagers Caucus” and a “College Students Caucus.”

Jeffrey Bierer, who is leading the Jewish Caucus, called Jenkins’ statements “baseless incendiary remarks.”

“We are deeply disappointed to see these attacks from someone whom we believe should be an ally,” he said. “The Jewish Caucus was started to combat antisemitism, help fight fascism, and support a two-state solution to the conflict between Israel and Palestine.”

Jewish Insider reported that at least three other members of Congress, Kathy Manning, Wiley Nickel and Deborah Ross, expressed concerns about the vote.

Manning said she was “deeply disappointed” about the vote.

Update: Jenkins apologized Saturday morning “to anyone who misinterpreted (his comments) as playing to antisemitic tropes about secret cabals and other racist nonsense. Seeing it in print, I realize that I chose my words poorly and should have been more exact.”

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Steve Harrison is WFAE's politics and government reporter. Prior to joining WFAE, Steve worked at the Charlotte Observer, where he started on the business desk, then covered politics extensively as the Observer’s lead city government reporter. Steve also spent 10 years with the Miami Herald. His work has appeared in The Washington Post, the Sporting News and Sports Illustrated.