Progressives are pulling their support for state Sen. Emily Randall, who is running for Congress in the 6th District, after she signaled a strong commitment to Israel in her first public stance on the ongoing genocide in Gaza.

Some allege Randall took such a position to prevent the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) from spending big bucks on her opponent, outgoing Washington State Lands Commissioner Hilary Franz. As Franz leads the fundraising race by about $300,000, the powerful and well-resourced PAC’s donation could bury Randall if she were to come off as too sympathetic to Palestine. This dynamic put Randall, who is running to the left of Franz, in a tricky political position, but her critics say she fell right into the trap that monied interests set. 

“This sets a precedent that [Randall] would lead from a place of cowardice,” said Yousef, a queer Palestinian politico in Washington. “Instead of following what her values are, and what the values and needs of her constituents are, she chooses her career and her reputation.”

Randall’s campaign declined to comment. 

Behind the Scenes

During her campaign, Randall has kept quiet on Israel as the country’s military racks up accusations of war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide after killing at least 37,000 Palestinians, injuring 86,000, and displacing 1.7 million. Randall did not respond to The Stranger’s question about her silence on the issue.

But Randall did open up to Jewish Insider after the publication confronted her with screenshots of her campaign manager “liking” pro-Palestine content on Instagram. Upon “confirming social media activity consistent with what [Jewish Insider] described,” Randall fired the staffer. 

Distancing herself from her staffer’s sympathy toward Palestinians, Randall went on to express her firm support for Israel’s actions in Gaza. 

“Israel has exercised its lawful right to defend itself against terrorist attacks, and has the unalienable right to do so against any future attacks from internal or external malign actors, such as Hamas or Iran,” she told Jewish Insider. “In Congress, I will support Israel’s obligation of self-defense and our country’s support for that right.”

In her response to the outlet, she accused Hamas of using “human shields,” a claim pro-Israel advocates often employ to deflect responsibility when Israel kills civilians. She also blamed the continuous bloodshed on Hamas for not accepting ceasefire deals, even though Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he will reject President Joe Biden’s three-phase plan, which requires Israel to withdraw from Gaza after Hamas releases the remaining hostages. 

The news of Randall firing her campaign staffer spread around progressive, Muslim, and other political groups. Some expressed outrage that Randall would perpetuate what some have called a “new McCarthyism” related to pro-Palestine views and protest.  

The Washington chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-WA) told The Stranger this firing was “not an isolated phenomenon” but rather “part of a disturbing trend” that “contributes to a climate of elevated fear and bias, as well as promoting suppression of speech.”

“It is past time to stop portraying pro-Palestine supporters as antisemitic simply for criticizing the Israeli government's genocide and war crimes against Palestinians,” said CAIR-WA spokesperson Katie Walker. 

Sources allege that Franz’s campaign gave Jewish Insider the screenshots to attract AIPAC’s support to her campaign, which would widen Franz’s fundraising lead. Franz’s campaign did not respond to my request for comment. 

It is unclear if AIPAC will spend money in this race, but the PAC is expected to spend $100 million this cycle to sink progressive campaigns that will not sufficiently bend to Israel in Congress. Most recently, AIPAC killed “squad” member Rep. Jamaal Bowman’s re-election by spending an unprecedented amount on his Israel-friendly opponent. An AIPAC-affiliated PAC also dropped $1.3 million against Multnomah County Commissioner Susheela Jayapal’s bid for Congress in Oregon. AIPAC did not respond to my request for comment. 

Out of Left Field… Well, Maybe Right-of-Center Field

Randall's strong pro-Israel stance came as a shock to her colleague, state Sen. Yasmin Trudeau, the only Muslim in the Washington State Senate. In a phone interview with The Stranger, Trudeau said Randall’s comments to Jewish Insider do not reflect conversations they have had in the past. Randall declined to comment on Trudeau’s accusation. 

As a supporter of Palestine, Trudeau rescinded her endorsement after reading the Jewish Insider article, which appeared to criticize Randall for once featuring Trudeau on her campaign website despite the “inflammatory rhetoric about Israel” she shared online. 

“As Democrats, our voters have spoken up clearly on this,” Trudeau said in a statement. “...I am so deeply disappointed at the comments in this letter and frankly the position that both Democrats in this race are taking. People want their voices heard, and whether you are running for Congress or seeking to stay in Congress, our constituents expect that we will center their voices and their struggles to ultimately do what is right and just. I will never apologize for taking any position that centers humanity and represents the will of the people. I hope that my Congressional colleagues will step up and start listening. Lives are literally on the line.”

Tacoma City Council Member Jamika Scott also rescinded her endorsement of Randall. Scott said that the article felt “biased in its editorializing,” but, still, Randall's statements concerned her and did not align with Scott’s values—”not as a Black woman who comes from a displaced diaspora, not as a member of the LGBTQIA+ community who understands we are not safe in every space or country, and not as a policy-maker who believes in finding durable peace through means other than wanton violence.” 

Mubarak Elamin, an organizer with the American Muslim Advancement Council (AMAC), said Randall’s campaign and her progressive values previously piqued the organization’s interest, but now they have “lost interest.”

The 27th LD Democrats will discuss potentially revoking their endorsement at their next meeting, Chair Whitney Stevens said in an email. 

“The 27th LD strongly condemns how this article portrayed our State Senator Yasmin Trudeau,” Stevens said “Senator Trudeau has been a champion of human rights. We are honored to have her represent us.”

Other endorsers are reportedly debating whether or not to pull their support from Randall. After all, even mainstream Democrats are becoming more sympathetic to the Palestinians. Over the weekend, the Washington State Democratic Party passed three resolutions calling for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza, the restoration of funding to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA), and the reduction of harm to civilians in Palestine in general. 

Randall declined to comment about losing support.

Pink-washing Genocide

Randall may also specifically lose queer support. Individual members of the Washington Stonewall Democrats seem interested in revisiting their endorsement, but in a message to The Stranger, Chair Andrew Ashiofu said the organization is still “looking for more information at this time.” 

In the article, Randall said, “Israel is the only country in the region where I could live openly with my wife, Alison.” Yousef said that comment amounts to “pink-washing genocide.”

Pink-washing, sometimes known as “rainbow-washing,” refers to a strategy in which a brand expresses superficial support of queer people for some kind of gain. In this case, queer critics of Israel believe that the country’s supporters have “mythologized Israeli culture to appeal to (mostly white) queers and liberals” to “distract from, and even defend, the ongoing oppression of Palestinians,” Seattle resident Jimmy Pasch wrote in an essay for Jewish Voice for Peace. 

Arguing that queer people are only safe in Israel perpetuates “racist, anti-Palestinian and Islamophobic tropes, that insist Palestinian culture is somehow backwards and intolerant,” Yousef said. The sentiment helps to justify Israel in conquering Palestine as though “if given their denied right to self determination, Palestinians would somehow be unable to create a just society,” Yousef said. 

Of course, homophobia exists in Palestine. As Dave MacBale, a queer Palestinian Washingtonian, said, “There’s homophobia in Palestine because Palestine is on planet earth. If you ask any woman or queer person or trans person if they feel like they have full rights or full liberation anywhere in the world, they will all tell you no.” That includes the United States, MacBale added. 

American queer people face a tidal wave of anti-LGBTQ legislation and a spike in hate crimes. Same goes for Israel, where gay marriage is illegal, where “proud” homophobes hold positions of power, and where anti-queer violence is also on the rise. Despite this, queer people find ways to live open, joyful, fulfilled lives under oppression all across the world—in the United States, in Israel, and in Palestine, queer Palestinians insisted. 

Right now, facing homophobia in Palestine would be low on MacBale’s list of worries. 

“If I went to Gaza and I wasn't murdered by a bomb or incinerated to death, I'd probably be starving, my home would be destroyed, everything I own would be destroyed. I’d be dehydrated. I’d be off my medication for months. Maybe I've been kidnapped or tortured, maybe more than once. I might be missing a limb. I'd have no time to mourn my dead friends and family. And all of this would be done by Israel, with the full backing of the United States, and people like [Randall] cheer for it because she doesn't care what happens to Palestinians as long as Tel Aviv has a Pride parade,” MacBale said. “Gaza doesn’t have a street left for a Pride parade.”

Randall declined to comment on the queer Palestinians’ criticism. 

AIPAC Wins No Matter Who You Pick

But as progressives pull their support from Randall, they do not have a new champion in her competitor, Franz. Franz came out even stronger for Israel, saying she does not want to put any more conditions on arms for Israel and she stands against President Joe Biden for saying he would withhold some weapons if Israel invades Gaza’s southern city of Rafah to a somewhat vague degree

This leaves voters with Gaza at the top of their minds in a bind. Randall declined to make her case for why she is still the “progressive choice” in this race.

"There is a painful reality right now for voters,” Trudeau said in an email to The Stranger. “For those running for office, the pressure to conform and cave to the threat of special interests who spend millions on your opposition is undeniable, and, simply put, most of our Congressional delegation is not representing the values of the people on this issue.”

Trudeau said she doesn't feel that either candidate represents her or her community when it comes to relations with Israel or the ongoing assault on Gaza. Some voters like Yousef say they’re sick of choosing between the “lesser of two evil” candidates, especially when both will give Israel weapons to kill his people with. 

In other congressional districts, voters can pick strong supporters of Palestinian liberation. Melissa Chaudhry in WA-09 and Imraan Siddiqi in WA-08 are challenging powerful incumbents specifically as champions of a permanent ceasefire. Both reject AIPAC and the weapons lobby because “when special interest money gains undue influence in our elections candidates feel like they have to look over their shoulder to not upset deep-pocket donors,” Chaudhry told The Stranger in a message.  

But, ultimately, Chaudhry said, “Standing up for human rights for all people shouldn’t be a political football—it’s a matter of principle.”