Chicago, IL

Growing tensions Over Hamas, Israel War Disrupt Chicago, Divide Democrats Before Nominate President

Natalie Frank, Ph.D.

Synagogues and mosques in the area have ramped up security

Chicago, long touted as a bastion of diversity and progressive ideals, faces unprecedented challenges as it gears up to host the 2024 Democratic presidential nominating convention. The city, a union stronghold and emblematic of Democratic values, is now grappling with internal divisions exacerbated by the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas.

Across the nation, echoes of this turmoil resonate, from Washington, D.C., where demonstrators target the Democratic National Convention headquarters, to Sacramento, where protests force a halt to a state Democratic convention.

Since the October 7 Hamas attack, Chicago has witnessed a surge in vigils and large protests. Notably, demonstrators disrupted a fundraiser attended by President Joe Biden, chanting "genocide Joe." Protests even reached the suburban offices and home of Rep. Jan Schakowsky, a progressive Jewish American Congresswoman.

Last week, 106 demonstrators, primarily Jewish Americans, were arrested near the Israeli Consulate in Chicago. A gunshot incident during a clash last month heightened tensions, prompting officials to address the local impact of events occurring halfway around the world.

Governor JB Pritzker acknowledged the global influence but emphasized the local ramifications during a news conference, stating, "We live here."

The Chicago area, home to over 320,000 Jewish Americans, now grapples with heightened emotions and tensions. The largest Palestinian community in the U.S., numbering between 70,000 to 100,000, adds to the complexity of the situation.

Progressives on the Chicago City Council have urged Mayor Brandon Johnson to call for a cease-fire, reflecting the internal pressures felt by left-leaning leaders at various government levels.

Brian Stryker, a national political consultant based in Chicago, noted the personal nature of the issue in the city, setting it apart from the broader national context.

Former Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot, now teaching at Harvard University, emphasized the raw emotions and high tensions in Chicago, attributing them to the events since October 7.

Elected officials, including Mayor Johnson, have attempted to navigate a careful line, participating in vigils and funerals to address the diverse sentiments within the community.

Nadine Naber, a University of Illinois at Chicago professor, highlighted the long history of community involvement by the Palestinian community in Chicago, fueling the current activism.

Lonnie Nasatir, president and CEO of the Jewish United Fund Chicago, spoke of the visceral connection Chicago-area Jews feel to Israel, expressing sadness, anger, and despair.

The tensions have led some officials to avoid taking a clear stance, fearing alienation. A recent resolution supporting Israel faced pushback, revealing the delicate nature of the issue.

Illinois' congressional delegation reflects the divide, with all but two members supporting a resolution on Israel's right to defend itself. Rep. Delia Ramirez voted against, and Rep. Jesus “Chuy” Garcia voted present.

Rep. Jan Schakowsky's refusal to sign a resolution calling for an immediate cease-fire has made her the target of cease-fire demonstrations, highlighting the trauma and emotional strain experienced by individuals since the conflict began.

Lindsay Schubiner, an extremism expert, predicts that the Middle East conflict will impact the 2024 election, leading to a rise in bigoted rhetoric related to election cycles.

Former Democratic Rep. Marie Newman, representing a significant Palestinian community segment, emphasized the risk of alienating voters if Democrats fail to address their concerns, recognizing the broader challenge of preventing a resurgence of Donald Trump.



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