Republicans Try to Tie Virginia Democrat to Charlottesville March Over Her Views on Israel

Fliers distributed in the Charlottesville area attack Democratic candidate Leslie Cockburn over a book critical of Israel that she published in 1991. Local Jewish leaders have come to her defense

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Riot police protect members of the Ku Klux Klan as they arrive to rally in opposition of removal of Confederate monuments in Charlottesville, Virginia, U.S., July 8, 2017.
Riot police protect members of the Ku Klux Klan as they arrive to rally in opposition of removal of Confederate monuments in Charlottesville, Virginia, U.S., July 8, 2017.Credit: Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

WASHINGTON - Republicans in the state of Virginia used images from the far-right demonstration in Charlottesville last summer, to attack a Democratic candidate for Congress in Charlottesville’s district. Flyers that were distributed in the area of Virginia’s 5th Congressional district in recent days adorned images from the “Unite the Right” rally of last year – next to an image of Leslie Cockburn, a Democratic politician and former journalist who is trying to win the Republican held district in this year’s midterm election.

The “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville last year was a series of demonstrations led by far-right activists, neo-Nazis and white supremacists, who gathered to protest the removal of a statue commemorating a Confederate officer. One of the far-right activists murdered a local counter-protester, Heather Heyer, and injured others. In addition, two police officers died when their helicopter crashed as they were assisting the police to monitor the violent situation in the city.

The flyers against Leslie Cockburn, which include imagery from the demonstrations last year, are a continuation of a line of attack that the local Republican party has been using against her since the spring. It is focused on a book she published in 1991 titled “Dangerous Liasion: The Inside Story of the U.S.-Israel Covert Relatinship”. The book deals with intelligence and military ties between Israel and the United States, and is very critical of Israel. - A New York Times review described it as “Israel bashing”. Cockburn’s Republican opponents have tried to use it in order to portray her as anti-Semitic, an accusation she has strongly denied.

Last May, the New York Times reported about a meeting she held with members of the Charlottesville Jewish community, in which she explained her views on Israel. The organizer of the meeting told the Times that “none of us think she’s anti-Semitic, that’s not even an issue,” but said some participants had concerns over Cockburn’s views on Israel.

Cockburn has been endorsed by J Street. Israeli historian Irad Malkin, a recipient of the Israel Prize for history, has also come out in her defense, stating that any accusations of anti-Semitism against her are false. This week, in response to the flyers, a number of local faith leaders – including a Rabbi from Charlottesville’s only synagogue, Congregation Beth Israel – denounced the attacks on Cockburn and said that imagery from the “Unite the Right” rally should not be used as part of the local political campaign.

One local Christian leader who signed the letter, also stated that ““I find it appalling that members of the Republican Party expect me to not be offended by invoking the Charlottesville tragedy to play politics.” The Republican candidate running against Cockburn in the 5th district is Denver Riggleman, who had previously tried to run for Governor of Virginia. The incumbent Republican representative in the district resigned earlier this year over drinking problems.

In response to the flyers and to the news coverage they generated, Cockburn and other Democrats in Virginia attacked the Republican party over the views of the Republican candidate for Senate in Virginia, Corey Stewart, who refused to condemn the “Unite the Right” rally last year and has said that he is “proud to be next to the Confederate flag.” As recently as December, Stewart has stated his belief that President Barack Obama was not born in the Untied States and that his birth certificate was forged.