Hate and ignorance can spring from anywhere, even from civic-minded people with seemingly good intentions who run for political office.
Meet Jamie Zahlaway Belsito – who, in case you missed it, briefly served as the Massachusetts State House Representative in the 4th District this past year. That district includes Hamilton, Ipswich, Manchester-by-the-Sea, Rowley, Topsfield and Wenham.
Last year, the Topsfield resident won a special election and became the first Democrat to be elected in the district in 163 years.
On the campaign trail, she seemed to align with the traditional left-of-center North Shore voter. Her platform included everything from maternal mental health, the environment, and food insecurity to senior care and gun reform. A former trustee at Salem State, she had described herself in the past as a “middle class white woman in the North Shore suburbs of Boston,” who “almost lost my home during the last housing market crash,” and knows “what it’s like to struggle and make choices between putting food on the table or buying diapers.” On her State House legislator biography she lists her roots as “the granddaughter of a Syrian immigrant and daughter of a hard working union floor layer.”
Belsito did not run for reelection this year, and this week was her last at the State House. But last month she took to Twitter to talk about a subject that did not include health or the environment. Instead, she decided – not that anyone asked – to let her true feelings about Israel be known on social media. She accused the only Jewish country in the world of genocide, apartheid and terrorism. On Dec. 29, she wrote on Twitter: “The US must acknowledge that the @Israel administration is an apartheid run thuggery terrorist regime on a mission to kill Palestinians. Killing and land taking has nothing to do with anti-semitism. It is genocide.”
On Dec. 22, she wrote on Twitter: It is imperative that the @POTUS administration challenge this alt right incoming @IsraeliPM administration. The world cannot allow a 60+ decade genocide to continue as they continue to kill Palestinians, bulldoze their homes and take over their land. #Palestine.” And on Dec. 11, she criticized Israel after watching the film “Farha,” which Israel has described as a false narrative. “1948 European British Zionists created a hell on earth. This movie is about visceral hate, ethnic cleansing, terrorism and apartheid,” she wrote.
There was immediate pushback from the local Jewish community. “We vociferously reject and denounce her comments regarding the state of Israel, said Jewish Community Relations Council Executive Director Jeremy Burton.
“Criticism, even harsh criticism, of any duly elected government and its policies, or of the ongoing relationship of occupation between Israelis and Palestinians, is legitimate – even when it is painful to hear. Characterizing Israel – an American ally and itself the target of an enduring antisemitic campaign of elimination since its founding – as a ‘terrorist regime’ engaging in ‘genocide’ is both unacceptable and repugnant.”
While Belsito is no longer in the State House, there is an important lesson to be learned here. It is imperative that members of the Jewish community press political candidates on where they stand on the Middle East conflict and Israel. It matters little what level of office they are seeking. In this highly polarized political state where Jews come under attack daily, and radical elements of the left and right seek to demonize Israel, this is crucial information that voters need to know. Θ