Penn alum Conor Lamb won a stunning victory in Pennsylvania’s 18th Congressional District on March 13, succeeding in a heavily Republican district by embracing a moderate, Democratic strategy. Less than a week ago, on April 12, he was sworn into office.
However, in recent months, an online comment allegedly written by Lamb when he was studying at Penn resurfaced, in which he described Israeli actions as “terrorism.”
The statement caught the eye of national Jewish groups and sparked controversy, although Jewish student leaders at Penn say the comment does not bother them.
In an online comment in a 2002 Daily Pennsylvanian article, Lamb criticized The Daily Pennsylvanian for running an advertisement showing support for Israel. Lamb decried Israeli forces intentionally targeting medical facilities in the Gaza Strip, writing that “if this latest attack is not terrorism, I don't know what is.” The comment was signed ”Conor Lamb, student College, 06 firstname.lastname@example.org.”
On the campaign trail, Lamb told The Pittsburgh Jewish Chronicle he did not remember posting the comment, and said he will "always support Israel."
College sophomore and member of Students Supporting Israel Natan Yakov said that although the comment was initially surprising at first, Lamb’s current viewpoints on Israel are more important.
“He was a college student back then, and college students say a lot of things that they may regret, so I don’t hold him to what he said,” Yakov said. “Now that he’s running for public office, the words he states about the state of Israel have much more gravity.”
Yakov cited Lamb’s response to the comment, where the Democrat described himself as an “advocate for Israel,” as evidence of his evolution on the topic and his current stance.
In addition, Yakov said Israeli events are a dynamic topic, and an individual’s views on Israel can easily change.
College junior and Penn Israel Public Affairs Committee President Samara Wyant echoed the sentiments of Yakov.
“Since he has been campaigning, he has since expressed his support for Israel and his views [on] Israel as an ally for the U.S.,” Wyant said. “I think that people’s views can change over time, I’m glad to see that it appears his [view on Israel] has.”
Wyant also expressed her happiness at seeing a supporter of Israel being elected to Congress.
According to The Times of Israel, Lamb was endorsed by J Street PAC, the political action committee associated with the progressive Jewish organization. Lamb also received $60,000 from J Street PAC, as well as numerous other endorsements from local Jewish groups in Pittsburgh.
College sophomore and member of J Street UPenn Dan Matthews declined to be interviewed. In an email, Matthews said it would be unproductive to discuss a “stray remark dug up by hawkish Israeli media like the Times of Israel.”
Penn College Republicans member and College and Wharton sophomore Michael Moroz said that although he was suspicious of Lamb's initial denial of his comments, Lamb's statements as a candidate reassured him.
"Though he's a member of an increasingly anti-Israel party, Lamb has at least publicly supported Israel during the campaign," Moroz said. "His initial denial of the comments seems dubious, and any comment that equates Israel to those seeking to destroy it is wrongheaded."
Moroz also added that it was fair to ask Lamb for an explanation on how his views on Israel have changed since 2002.
"He ought to be transparent about it," Moroz said.
Penn Democrats President and Wharton sophomore Dylan Milligan shared the view that Lamb's most recent viewpoints carry more weight with regards to his actions as a policymaker in Washington.
"In general, we’re very excited that a candidate like Conor Lamb can win in a district like the old PA-18," Milligan said. "And like Lamb said, he doesn’t remember making this comment, and I believe his stances on foreign affairs on the campaign trail are more indicative of how he will approach these issues in office."
The Penn chapter of Students for Justice for Palestine declined to comment.
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