The conflict has become so complicated that the Democratic National Committee is considering disaffiliating completely from the national collegiate organization and partnering with state groups under the national umbrella, according to a Democrat familiar with the discussions. The DNC declined to comment.
The clashes over religious bigotry and race within the Democratic College of America (CDA) reflect, to some extent, broader debates unfolding across politics. But the next generation seems poised to step it up further. Some CDA members argue that internal friction is a turbulent but morally necessary calculation with systemic racism. Other Democratic officials see it as a bunch of highly-awake, college-educated kids trying to play politics in a way that turns off many voters.
“They get caught up in their own drama and play ‘Boys State’ government,” the same Democrat said. “They think they are the hottest s — on Earth.”
The controversy began in September when Tasneem Ahmad Al-Michael, a Muslim and former vice-chairman of the CDA abruptly ended his presidential campaign after a 2014 tweet in which he used a racial slur resurfaced, ADC members involved in the election said. He said subsequent attacks on him and his campaign team prompted him to withdraw from the race. “What I said 15 years before I became involved in politics was ignorant, inappropriate and downright false,” Al-Michael said in a text message to POLITICO. “It does not define me, my character, and it does not invalidate the work that I continue to do.”
New presidential and vice-presidential candidates emerged subsequently, including Mesbah, who served as CDA’s Director of Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Access (IDEA). .
The day before the election, the CDA’s Jewish caucus began sharing a screenshot of a 2016 tweet Mesbah wrote as he watched a debate between Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump.
At 13 at the time, Mesbah wrote, “I blame this debate on the yahood,” an Arabic word that is sometimes used as an insult against the Jewish people. She also tagged another user with a history of anti-Semitic tweets.
Mesbah still narrowly won the College Democrats’ run for vice-presidency, but quickly consulted the DNC on a statement. The initial long draft was without excuse, according to a Democrat who saw it, but after many changes he said: “I apologize for my comments in 2016. The 13-year-old, relatively new immigrant from Africa North, with a different regional dialectical linguistic understanding.
She added that “although I take responsibility for my actions, I am hurt by the Islamophobia and xenophobia which continue to develop”.
The CDA board also passed a resolution, 19-3, censoring Mesbah and asking him to “take training on anti-Semitism and cultural sensitivity from the Anti-Defamation League, the American Jewish Committee or the US Holocaust Memorial Museum ”. To date, she has not participated in such training, according to a person familiar with the matter.
Even so, the controversy seemed to subside until last week.
On November 12, Mesbah’s successor as IDEA director Jeremy Ward released a report calling for Mesbah’s resignation from his post as vice president “due to damage to two different communities”.
Ward initially had announced the independent investigation into Mesbah’s conduct in September. Circulated internally on November 10, it concluded that Mesbah’s past tweet was anti-Semitic and that his allegations of Islamophobia were unfounded.
It also included a new charge that Mesbah presented “a pattern of discrimination against members of the black community, especially black women.” Ward wrote that the report did not reveal any specific instances of “anti-black” behavior to ensure those who complained would not face retaliation or harassment. Ward did not respond to comments.
After the report was released, several university Democrats joined in calling for Mesbah’s resignation and, if necessary, his impeachment. But others have accused Ward of successful political work disguised as an objective investigation.
“There are elements within our organization that are bitter about an election they lost,” said Justin Hartley, Democrats president at Tulane College. “There are elements within our organization that do not want a young Muslim woman to represent Democrats nationally. “
Matt Nowling, the former acting chairman of the College Democrats who helped create the post of director of IDEA last year as part of a series of inclusion reforms, argued Ward. “I believe that the work of this director is really important and that the investigation he conducted has merit. And I encourage the board to listen to the recommendations of this department. “
In an interview with POLITICO, Mesbah said she was “held to double standards only because of my appearance, the faith that I practice”. As proof of this, she also said that a member of the Democratic college called her a “supporter of terrorism” last spring because of her strong pro-Palestinian views. She declined to name the person.
“Everything I say is torn to shreds,” she said. “I can’t just make a pop culture tweet without it being torn up for underlying messages and hidden meanings.”
Even before the report was made public, however, word of its findings was spreading and causing a nationwide sensation. As it was about to be published, the Council on American-Islamic Relations, the country’s largest Muslim civil liberties organization, wrote a letter calling on the CDA to investigate accusations of “widespread anti-Muslim fanaticism” within the organization and supported Mesbah.
“We have received allegations that the current national director of IDEA has dismissed credible allegations of Islamophobia while using his position to unfairly and baselessly target and target Vice President Mesbah,” wrote the deputy director of the IDEA. group.
Palestine Legal, a legal group dedicated to supporting the rights of people in the United States who defend Palestinian freedom, offered resources to Mesbah during the controversy.
And 12 groups defending Muslim and pro-Palestinian rights, including CAIR, published a letter denouncing the CDA for approving sensitization trainings run by the ADL and the AJC, which they described as “organizations with a history of anti-Muslim and anti-Palestinian actions”.
An ADL spokesperson told POLITICO that the group “strongly and unequivocally condemns all anti-Muslim attacks and Islamophobia, including those directed against Nourhan Mesbah … Mesbah’s apologies for his anti-Semitic tweets The past is a welcome first step, and we would be more than willing to work with her to understand why the statements she made in her tweets were so offensive. AJC did not respond to a request for comment.
Controversy has been covered in the conservative press, who cited the fallout as an example of anti-Semitic bigotry among some young Democrats. Meanwhile, for CDA, it’s been another internal headache as students grapple with the politics of race, identity, and social justice. Last summer, amid the Black Lives Matter protests sparked by the police murder of George Floyd, Nowling abruptly resigned his post as CDA communications director, freeing an open letter urging the organization to create “a welcoming environment for BIPOC students and low income students”. which triggered a series of events which ended with the then CDA president resign and Nowling taking his place.
“I think it is important that organizations institute reforms and changes and work towards a future where organizations potentially create space for marginalized communities and empower them and ensure that everyone has space,” said Nowling said.
As he emphatically pointed out: “The Democratic College is a pipeline to the Democratic Party and the progressive movement at large. “