Commentary Magazine


Topic: anti-war

The Reinvention of an Anti-War Activist

You wouldn’t normally expect Washington Democrats to spend much time fretting over a congressional primary in Arizona. But the three-way Democratic race between Kyrsten Sinema, Andrei Cherny, and David Schapira is getting a surprising amount of attention from national Democrats, the pro-Israel community and the political media.

Ten years ago, Sinema was one of those radical left-wing activists who donned pink tutus at anti-war rallies and organized with anti-Israel groups. Today, the 36-year-old is running for Congress as an AIPAC-supporting moderate who would have voted in favor of the Afghanistan intervention.

The problem? Some Democrats say her evolution doesn’t add up. For one, Sinema’s been involved with anti-Israel and anti-war groups much more recently than her campaign has acknowledged. And while she recently released a strongly-worded pro-Israel position paper, her latest comments on foreign policy issues have been dodgy and confusing.

“Is she for or against killing bin Laden?” asked former AIPAC spokesman Josh Block. “Based on her record, you don’t know. You would think when you’re considering a member of Congress, you would know their positions on these issues.”

One Democratic Arizona state representative who has worked with Sinema said her views are impossible to decipher.

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You wouldn’t normally expect Washington Democrats to spend much time fretting over a congressional primary in Arizona. But the three-way Democratic race between Kyrsten Sinema, Andrei Cherny, and David Schapira is getting a surprising amount of attention from national Democrats, the pro-Israel community and the political media.

Ten years ago, Sinema was one of those radical left-wing activists who donned pink tutus at anti-war rallies and organized with anti-Israel groups. Today, the 36-year-old is running for Congress as an AIPAC-supporting moderate who would have voted in favor of the Afghanistan intervention.

The problem? Some Democrats say her evolution doesn’t add up. For one, Sinema’s been involved with anti-Israel and anti-war groups much more recently than her campaign has acknowledged. And while she recently released a strongly-worded pro-Israel position paper, her latest comments on foreign policy issues have been dodgy and confusing.

“Is she for or against killing bin Laden?” asked former AIPAC spokesman Josh Block. “Based on her record, you don’t know. You would think when you’re considering a member of Congress, you would know their positions on these issues.”

One Democratic Arizona state representative who has worked with Sinema said her views are impossible to decipher.

“When she wanted to be an activist, she was anti-war, all these kinds of things that now she says she never was,” he said. “I don’t think she actually has a foreign policy core, I think she has a political core.”

According to the Washington Free Beacon’s Adam Kredo, Sinema didn’t just dabble in radical circles; she helped organize and lead extreme anti-war groups that took anti-Israel positions on issues like the right of return and Israel’s self defense. Townhall’s Guy Benson reported that she was involved in anarchist riots that encouraged property destruction.

Sinema’s campaign disputed the claim that she was involved with anti-Israel activism, calling it a smear tactic by opponents.

“These weren’t anti-Israel groups. These were ‘Let’s not go to war with Iraq and Afghanistan groups,’” Sinema’s spokesman Rodd McLeod told me. He acknowledged that there may have been anti-Israel elements at some of the rallies she attended, but that this never represented her own view. “Frankly it’s sexist. She has to agree with the people she marches with, when she’s a 25-year-old grad student?”

That phrasing is slightly misleading, since Sinema’s involvement with radical and anti-Israel causes continued well beyond her mid-20s. Two years ago, Sinema was a featured speaker at an anti-war rally sponsored by Code Pink, the End the War Coalition, and Women in Black. She also sat on the board of the Progressive Democrats of America in 2006 and 2007, when she was entering her second term as an Arizona state representative. During that time, PDA issued a statement condemning the pro-Israel lobby and equating it with Palestinian terrorism.

“PDA opposes the powerful and dangerous lobbies that distort US foreign policy in the Middle East, much as we condemn those Palestinians guilty of waging and supporting terrorist war against Israeli civilians,” read the statement.

The organization also blamed Israeli policy for Palestinian terror attacks.

“[W]hile we condemn such terrorism, it remains our belief that the root cause of violence in Israel and Palestine is the Israeli occupation and intransigence, despite Israel’s trumpeted withdrawal from Gaza.”

When I raised this with McLeod, he said he wasn’t aware Sinema was ever a PDA board member and that the statement didn’t reflect her views. “She does not believe Israeli intransigence is the root cause of the conflict,” he said. “To conflate terrorism…with political activity is just absurd. She would never support that.”

Some of Sinema’s positions on national security are also unclear. In a May questionnaire requesting an endorsement from the PDA, Sinema wrote that she “led efforts opposing these wars [in Iraq and Afghanistan] before they even started.”

That same month, she told The Hill newspaper that she would have voted to authorize the 2001 Afghanistan intervention if she had been in Congress at the time — and added that she also supports military intervention in Sudan and Somalia.

The campaign doesn’t believe this is a contradiction. “She makes a distinction between an invasion and occupation, and the use of military force,” McLeod explained.

Sinema also seems unfamiliar with some of the content in her staunchly pro-Israel position paper. The Jewish Journal’s Shmuel Rosner obtained private email conversations in which Sinema contradicted portions of the paper and seemed perplexed by what a “demilitarized” Palestinian state meant.

When I asked McLeod how much involvement Sinema had with the paper, he said she had done much of the work herself. “I did one edit on it, but she worked with members of the community on it.”

But in one of the emails cited by the Jewish Journal, Sinema claimed that her staff had written the paper, not her.

“You are right, staff writes position papers,” she wrote. “I will ask staff to edit and get an updated and accurate position uploaded to the website this week.”

Sinema refused to answer questions about her history when I called her on the phone. Instead, she said I would have to request an interview through her office.

“I assume you got this [cell phone] number from my opponents, and I’m sure they’re trying to spread some horrible stories about me,” she said,

When I got in touch with her spokesperson, McLeod, he said Sinema was busy and wouldn’t have time to talk to me directly.

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