CHICAGO: Former Congressman Marie Newman, one of the most pro-Arab and pro-Palestinian members of Congress, lost re-election last year in part because of her criticism of Israel’s government but also because she fought to protect health care needs and opposed the growing influence of corporate PAC on elections.
Newman was elected to Congress in November 2020, but served only one term representing the 3rd Illinois Congressional District, which a New York Times analysis listed as having one of the largest concentrations of Palestinian and Arab voters.
In an interview with Arab News, Newman said that “some leaders” of the Democratic Party establishment targeted her in redistricting, forcing her to face-off with a more senior congressional incumbent, Sean Casten, in the newly drawn 6th District, which diluted Palestinian, Arab and Muslim voter support.
“The district changed dramatically. Over 60 percent of the district was taken away from me, meaning that we were left with 40 percent . . . there was the typical Illinois politics shenanigans that always go on but you can’t cry in your beer about it. You have to live with that. And I think it was that I was outspoken on a few topics, and these are topics the party establishment does not like in general, in the nation,” Newman said, noting that 20 to 25 percent of the former 3rd District was Arab, Muslim and South Asian.
“I was very, very outspoken on no corporate PAC money, and no corporate money and no corporate influence, and that made the party establishment very angry. I was also very outspoken on Medicare for all. The reason we don’t have Medicare for all is that our politicians accept money from health care and pharma, and all things attached to those topics. Another area I was very outspoken on was humanitarian rights, among those in my district. There was a preponderance of folks who felt very strongly. And I might add it wasn’t just Palestinian, Arab and Muslim Americans and South Asian Americans who felt strongly on that topic.”
During her single two-year term in office, Newman introduced many bills supporting the Palestinian and Arab American community and co-sponsored several that were critical of Israel’s government.
Newman co-led the fight with Wisconsin Congressman Mark Pocan to put a spotlight on Israel’s home demolitions and evictions of Palestinians from the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah in May 2021, which was signed by nearly 30 members of Congress.
Newman also supported blocking additional US funding for the “Iron Dome,” criticized Israel’s targeting of Palestinian children during raids and military operations, and endorsed the recognition of the word “Nakba,” which commemorates the UN decision to separate Palestine into a two-state checkerboard rather than as one democratic state for Christians, Muslims and Jews.
As a consequence, Newman was often attacked by pro-Israel activists, rightwing members of Congress and even members of the Democratic Party as being “antisemitic” because she challenged Israel’s government policies.
“It was never that I was antisemitic or that I was putting down Jewish folks or Israeli citizens. I was critical of the Israeli government and I was very clear on that,” Newman told Arab News.
“But the problem is that there were folks that didn’t like me because I was not fond of corporatized politicians and corporatized elections. I was very strong on Medicare for all and other matters of economic equity. There are many issues in that basket, student debt relief and the like.”
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Newman said that she is proud of her stand on Palestinian, Arab and Muslim rights, and her criticism of Israel’s government. “And then on humanitarian rights, I was very strong in speaking out. Let’s be clear about what is really happening on the ground, what the Israeli government is doing. The problem they had with me, they being the established and the corporatized Democrats, I have a Jewish husband. I have Jewish kids. They couldn’t call me antisemitic. That was a problem for them.”
Newman said that when she was accused, falsely, of being antisemitic, “They would walk away with their tails between their legs. I just wasn’t having that and it was not going to happen. That has stopped many people and they don’t do that as much as they did.”
She said that her position in support of Palestinian, Arab and Muslim rights was critical in the opposition she faced that caused her to lose re-election in the June 28, 2022 Democratic Primary to two-term Democrat incumbent Sean Casten.
“I do think a strong piece of it was that I was speaking out for Arabs, Muslims and South Asian Americans in a very strong way,” Newman said.
“They (her critics) did not enjoy a lot of my positions on that front and I do think that made them angry and there were a lot of issues they did not like.”
Newman added, “The first time I started to speak out on corporate money and the conditions in Palestine and Israel, I remember I got several phone calls not just from donors, from other electeds . . . It was warnings, threats.”
Palestinian-American Shadin Maali, who served as Newman’s former chief of district affairs for the 3rd Congressional District, said that Newman was an “active voice” in speaking out on humanitarian rights for all people, including Palestinians, Arabs and Muslims, in America.
“Congresswoman Newman reached out in a way to our community that no other elected leader had in the past to understand our issues and to fairly represent the district on all issues, especially human rights within our borders and abroad while she was in Congress,” said Shadin, who is now senior director for growth and operations for EmgageUSA, a coalition of organizations representing Muslim issues.
“The 3rd Congressional District has the largest Palestinian constituency in the country before it was divided. She was the first to reach out in a very positive way to the community and attend all of the events.”
Being a woman made her vulnerable in American politics, she said, adding, “I am just going to say it very clearly, that white men over 50 with a lot of money always win. They always do.”
But Newman emphasized that she could not stand by and watch the “meanness and hatefulness coming out of the Israeli government,” adding, “I don’t believe the Israeli people are that way at all. I don’t believe the Jewish people are that way at all. For me, I think we would all be wise to understand that our reputation is at risk when we don’t pay attention to humanitarian rights.”
Under redistricting, the former 3rd Congressional District was divided among five congressional districts, diluting the political cohesiveness of the Palestinian, Arab and Muslim community.
Parts of the former 3rd Congressional District are now represented by Congressman Bill Foster, Casten, Congressman Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, Congresswoman Lauren Underwood and Congressman Danny Davis.
In April, 2023 Newman was appointed chief executive officer of Little City Foundation, a social services organization serving people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Little City serves more than 900 people through its residential facilities, day programs and at-home assistance in northern Illinois.