At the North Carolina Democratic Party’s 2022 summer convention, Nazim Uddin, a progressive activist and Muslim-American from Mecklenburg County, pushed party insiders to adopt resolutions calling Israel an apartheid state and accusing it of violating Palestinians’ rights.
Two of three passed, sparking a backlash from some Jewish organizations, which called the resolutions “antisemitic” and said their “blatant anti-Israel language … implies that Israel should not exist as a Jewish state.”
In response, Uddin called the North Carolina Jewish Clergy Association a “racist anti-Palestinian hate group.”
When Uddin, a 46-year-old former Bernie Sanders delegate, ran for the NCDP’s leadership team earlier this year, several Jewish Democrats set out to stop him. In phone calls, text messages, and on social media, they told party members that Uddin had been “plaguing the party” with his resolutions and accused him of “supporting movements that are aligned with internationally recognized terrorist organizations,” according to a complaint Uddin filed with party officials in March. One allegedly called him a “Nazi” who wanted to “undermine American democracy.”
Uddin lost his bid to be the party’s second vice chair, 365-86.
But party officials didn’t address his complaint, which called the attacks “outright slanderous and libelous,” for eight months. The complaint, which is still outstanding, asked the NCDP’s dispute-resolution council to hold a hearing and ban three of his critics from holding party positions for a decade.
Meanwhile, Uddin and his allies say the party has bent internal rules to recognize a new organization formed by the people Uddin accused of slander.
The Jewish Caucus launched last year as an implicit rebuke of the controversial resolutions. “There are a lot of antisemitic words and acts all over North Carolina and over the country, and many of our caucus members have experienced them personally,” the group’s leader, Matt Sadinsky, told Jewish Insider in February, announcing that the caucus would seek party affiliation. “It seems like hate speech, which was verboten, is now being mainstreamed. We think we’ve got to do something.”
The simmering internal fight has boiled over in the two weeks since Hamas’ October 7 attack on Israel that killed more than 1,300 people and ignited a war that has reportedly killed more than 3,500 in Gaza since then. The party’s hopes of quietly resolving the situation have all but vanished amid competing allegations of racism, antisemitism, and favoritism.
The party officials who were elected in February, including 25-year-old chair Anderson Clayton, declined to comment for this story. But in internal emails obtained by The Assembly, party leaders denied burying Uddin’s complaint while acknowledging that they were navigating “sensitive matters that might well cause consternation.”
Some Democrats worry that the discord will unravel fragile coalitions and cost them in 2024.
“We’re gonna lose,” said Gracie Galloway, who founded the NCDP’s Asian American Pacific Islander Caucus, of which the Bangladesh-born Uddin is a member. “You know, the Biden campaign has declared North Carolina to be a battleground state. I would tell them, don’t waste your money.”
Galloway, like some other progressives interviewed for this article, said that what she perceives as the party’s bias toward Jewish Democrats tells people of color that Democrats “don’t care what our thoughts are. You just go ahead and give the white men everything they want.”
But NCDP leaders also do not want to be accused of antisemitism amid a fraught international conflict.
‘An Internal Party Matter’
Kim Hardy, who defeated Uddin to become the party’s second vice chair in February, was scheduled to mediate his dispute with the Jewish Caucus on October 12. But she called it off the day before, lamenting in an email to people involved in the mediation that party officials “have been contacted by the media.” (Three hours before Hardy sent the email, The Assembly asked Clayton, the party chair, for an interview.)
“It is disappointing to know that this matter, which is an internal party matter, has been discussed outside of the party,” Hardy wrote.
Three days later, Uddin emailed the party’s executive council—a group of about 55 influential officials—to say he’d “lost faith” in the process.
He attached three audio recordings that quickly circulated among party insiders.
The first purports to be from a phone call Jewish Caucus leader Matt Sadinsky made in January to Ryan Jenkins, who chairs the Progressive Caucus, lobbying Jenkins to oppose Uddin’s leadership bid: “He’s a Nazi. And I don’t want to sound racist, but it wouldn’t surprise me if he were an Iranian spy sent to undermine American democracy.”
The clip contains no context for the comment. But Jenkins told The Assembly that throughout the call, Sandisky pronounced Uddin’s first name, Nazim, as “Nazi–em.”
Sadinsky did not respond to interview requests. The others named in Uddin’s complaint—including Paula Wolf, who now manages the gubernatorial campaign of former N.C. Supreme Court Justice Mike Morgan—declined to comment.
The second recording was a voicemail that former state Supreme Court Justice Samuel Ervin IV, who manages the dispute-resolution council, left for party parliamentarian Vinod Thomas in September. In it, Ervin identifies himself by name and appears to suggest that party leaders—in particular, first vice chair Jonah Garson—did not want Uddin’s complaint to “blow up” while they were dealing with the Jewish Caucus’ application for party affiliation. (After this article was originally published, Garson said Ervin’s “blow up” comment referred to avoiding re-litigating complaints that had already been referred to Ervin’s council at the party’s summer meeting.)
The third recording features Garson telling the executive council, “No one has ever tried to delay this.”
In his email, Uddin told the executive council that Ervin’s comments contradicted Garson’s assurances. Arguing that the grievance process couldn’t be trusted, Uddin asked the council to intervene.
“We simply cannot be a party that turns a blind eye to blatant racism, bigotry, and Islamophobia,” he wrote. “We simply cannot achieve unity if this is left unaddressed.”
Hardy responded with a lengthy statement to the parties involved in Uddin’s complaint on Monday. Marked “confidential,” her memo explained that mediation attempts, scheduling demands, communications delays, and technical clarifications “have resulted in a process that has certainly taken longer than any of us would have hoped.” But Hardy insisted they were not trying to suppress the complaint.
Hardy also chastised Uddin for emailing the executive council, calling it an “unfortunate and unnecessary action given that everyone in NCDP leadership has been acting in good faith.”
But Uddin and his allies think the delays might render his complaint moot. The NCDP’s caucuses—there are currently 18—are guaranteed spots on key committees that shape the party’s platform and operations, including the executive council. Caucuses choose their own leaders, and the NCDP can’t remove them.
In her email on Monday, Hardy postponed the mediation until October 28—putting it after the Jewish Caucus’ organizing convention on October 15, one of the final steps before official party recognition.
‘We Hope We Can Move Faster’
Delivering the convocation at the Jewish Caucus’ convention on Sunday, Rabbi Fred Guttman of the Temple Emanuel of Greensboro voiced frustration with the group’s opponents.
“There are people that are not happy that we’re doing this today within our party,” Guttman said. “And they are using against us demonization, double standards, indeed, delegitimization in some way or another,” Guttman said. “This, my friends, is antisemitism.”
The convention, held over Zoom, did not go smoothly. Caucus leaders struggled to accommodate the crush of Democrats who wanted to attend, and many would-be attendees appear to have been left in a virtual waiting room while those allowed in overwhelmingly approved bylaws, according to participants and a recording of the event shared with The Assembly.
Because NCDP rules allow all registered Democrats who show up to vote on caucus’ bylaws, critics say the outcome should be voided. If the party agrees, it will be the second time the caucus held an organizing convention that was later deemed illegitimate. An internal committee rejected its first one, in February, because the caucus invited only a few dozen supporters.
The committee also said the caucus improperly used support for Israel as an ideological “litmus test” for membership, which drew “numerous communications from Jewish Democrats raising concerns on this issue.”
Another point of contention: The NCDP already has a Jewish organization, the Jewish Democrats of the North Carolina Democratic Party. But like other religious groups, the Jewish Democrats don’t have their own caucus but are instead a subcommittee of the Interfaith Caucus—which was created in 2021 after the NCDP rejected repeated attempts to form a Muslim Caucus.
“Why should the North Carolina Democratic Party have a second Jewish group when one already exists that genuinely welcomes all Jewish voters, regardless of their views on Palestine-Israel and Zionism?” Leslie Carey, president of the Jewish Democrats, asked party members in an October 9 email.
Ahead of the NCDP’s summer meeting, the vetting committee recommended rejecting the Jewish Caucus’ application. But Garson proposed a compromise: grant “conditional approval” and give the caucus until September 24 to rewrite their bylaws and hold a new convention. The State Executive Committee, which has about 500 members, agreed.
The caucus rewrote its bylaws, but in an August 14 letter to the vetting committee, they “respectfully declined” to hold another convention.
“At a time of rising threats to our democracy and our shared Democratic values in NC and across the US, we want to be an integral part of a united NCDP,” Sadinsky wrote. “We hope we can move faster as there are elections this year, and there’s much work to do.”
Five days later, the committee unanimously recommended rejecting the caucus’ application. “We strongly advocate for a course of action in which Chair Anderson Clayton refrains from considering any motions regarding this organization until a proper convention has been convened,” the committee told Clayton in a letter.
By then, however, the caucus had asked Clayton to extend the deadline for its convention to October 15. She eventually agreed, though she lacked the authority to do so on her own.
To rectify her error, Clayton convened an emergency executive council meeting on September 14, at which some council members argued that the Jewish Caucus should not be rewarded for defying the terms of its conditional approval. Ultimately, only 18 of the 40 members present backed the extension, while 17 abstained or didn’t vote—but it was enough to move the deadline.
‘A Very Loud Division’
There are two ways to think about this controversy. The first is that, as state Sen. Graig Meyer, a Democrat from Chapel Hill, put it, “It is a very loud division between a very small number of people.”
While some party members care a lot about resolutions, caucuses, and parliamentary processes, they don’t affect how Democrats campaign or vote, and many Democrats view them as a distraction.
But Uddin and his allies think these party machinations serve as stand-ins for a larger, necessary debate about values.
Change begins from the ground up, Uddin says, and that by pushing for Palestinian rights, North Carolina Democrats can show that party leaders—all the way up to President Joe Biden—are out of sync with their base. If that makes some Democrats uncomfortable, so be it.
“It’s grassroots activism that energizes folks,” Uddin said. “I grew up with a very internationalist perspective. This is what’s important to me. And it’s really a place of privilege for someone to say, ‘We shouldn’t discuss international affairs,’ because ‘let’s not talk about it’ means they’re comfortable with the way it is.”
Jewish Americans comprise a core Democratic constituency, and the party has struggled to balance support for Israel with increasing calls to improve conditions for Palestinians.
Recent polling shows that Democrats, including Jewish Democrats, are more skeptical of the Israeli government than they were in the past—particularly young people. In March, a Gallup poll found for the first time that Democrats were more sympathetic to Palestinians than Israelis—though the recent violence appears to have reversed that trend, and mainstream Democrats swiftly condemned left-wing and campus groups that have expressed support for Hamas.
Republicans have sought to capitalize on those divisions. North Carolina Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson, a Republican candidate for governor with a history of antisemitic statements, declared it “Solidarity with Israel Week.” (Robinson could face Democratic Attorney General Josh Stein, who is Jewish, in next year’s election.)
State Republicans condemned the 12 House Democrats who declined to back a resolution urging “full and unequivocal support of Israel financially and otherwise” last week. On social media, a GOP-aligned dark-money group labeled them the “Slaughter Caucus.”
State Rep. Erin Pare, a Wake County Republican who is running for Congress, accused Democrats of being “so extreme that they walked out and refused to vote on a resolution condemning the slaughtering of children and raping of women.” (The resolution in question did not include a condemnation or mention rape.)
“I know that people have very strong feelings about Israel, Palestine, and what’s happened over the last week,” said Meyer, one of four Democrats who did not sign the resolution in the Senate. “I also believe that most Americans understand that this is an incredibly complex issue where there is plenty of room for nuance—and where state legislators have virtually zero impact.”
NCDP rules indicate that the Jewish Caucus’ application will now go back to the vetting committee, after which the executive council and possibly the State Executive Committee will get the final say.
Heated debates are all but certain. The caucus’ opponents believe its convention shouldn’t count, both because not everyone who wanted to was able to vote and because the party’s parliamentarian has said the executive council shouldn’t have extended the deadline.
Despite that, even some critics believe approval might be a fait accompli. The risks for the party are too great, they say.
Uddin’s complaint is scheduled for mediation in Raleigh next week. Asked what he wants from it, he said an apology.
“That’s the minimum expectation,” he said. “I also expect a public acknowledgment that advocating for Palestinians to be free from occupation and apartheid rule, to be treated as equals, is not a form of anti-Jewish hate.”
It’s unclear whether he’ll get that outcome—or whether, after more than a year of acrimony, NCDP leaders will put this dispute behind them.
“It is imperative that we remember to be Democrats first and avoid language that is inflammatory, discriminatory, hateful, or hurtful,” Hardy wrote in her memo on Monday.
As much as party officials want to cool things down, there are few signs that the bad blood will abate.
On Thursday, a member of the NCDP’s Progressive Caucus demanded that the caucus vote on boycotting the 2024 election over the party’s handling of the situation, rallying other members of the caucus in a Facebook group.
Jenkins, the caucus chair, said he didn’t think progressives would sit out the election. “But the fact that it is being talked about is extremely disturbing to me,” he said. “A lot of progressives don’t trust the party all that much, and this is very much hitting a nerve.”
Jeffrey Billman reports on politics and the law for The Assembly. He is the former editor-in-chief of INDY Week in Durham. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.