Democratic congressional candidates divided on support for Israel, Ukraine

The Democrats running for Illinois’ 6th Congressional District seat disagree about whether the U.S. should send military aid to Israel, Ukraine and other countries.

During a joint interview with the Daily Herald, candidate Mahnoor Ahmad complained about America “excessively spending” on military aid and objected to continuing the habit.

“I am all for humanitarian aid, but I don’t want our tax dollars (going) toward war,” said Ahmad, an Oakbrook Terrace resident making her first bid for elected office. “We need to really put the American people first.”

Incumbent U.S. Rep. Sean Casten of Downers Grove and a second challenger, Charles Hughes of Chicago, also participated in the discussion ahead of the March 19 primary election. Both insisted the U.S. must provide foreign aid to Ukraine in its war with Russia, while only Casten said the U.S. should continue assisting Israel militarily.

The candidates fielded questions on foreign policy, immigration and other issues during the hourlong interview, which was held on Zoom and can be viewed at

One question concerned the $95 billion foreign aid bill that has been approved by the Senate but is being blocked in the House by Republican Speaker Mike Johnson. It calls for $60 billion in military and nonmilitary aid to Ukraine; about $14.1 billion for military aid to Israel in its war against Hamas in Gaza; more than $8 billion to help Taiwan and other allies deter Chinese aggression; and about $9.2 billion in humanitarian aid for civilians in Gaza, Ukraine and other war zones.

Ahmad said she’d prefer “to keep our tax dollars at home.”

“We are excessively spending our tax dollars on foreign military aid. That does not help Americans,” said Ahmad, a health care advocate. “We need to focus on our schools, on our health care system. We can’t be spending more and more money on endless wars.”

When pressed to clarify her stance on continued American military aid to Ukraine, Ahmad said she’s not “100% opposed to it” but noted it “wouldn’t be my priority.”

Ahmad was more resolute when it came to Israel.

“Anyone with a moral compass can see that we need to call for an immediate and permanent cease-fire in Gaza and that we need to stop the unconditional funding of military aid to Israel,” she said.

When asked if she thought Israel had a right to defend itself after the Hamas-led terror attacks of Oct. 7, she instead noted conflicts in the region date back to May 1948, a reference to Israel’s foundation as an independent state. She went on to call Israel’s campaign against Hamas, which has caused the deaths of thousands of Palestinian civilians, “genocidal.”

Ahmad subsequently was asked via email to clarify whether she believes Israel had the right to defend itself. She said it did, “in a way that adheres to international humanitarian law.”

Ahmad also described Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack as “war crimes.”

“I have equal condemnation and abhorrence for the killing of any and all civilians,” she said.

Casten, who is seeking a fourth term in Congress, said the U.S. must provide aid to Ukraine and Israel. He agreed with President Joe Biden’s assessment that opposing aiding Ukraine essentially supports Russian President Vladimir Putin.

As for Israel, Casten said that nation “had an absolute right” to respond to the Oct. 7 attack. But Casten was critical of Israel’s response, and he expressed concern about what might happen if the war still is being waged when the Islamic holy month of Ramadan begins March 10.

Hughes, an operation tech with Nicor Gas who’s making his third bid for Congress, supports sending military aid to Ukraine and Taiwan but not Israel, citing the civilian deaths. While acknowledging Israel’s right to defend itself, Hughes said the U.S. should focus on finding a diplomatic solution to ending the war in Gaza before sending more military aid.

As for Ukraine, Hughes believes stopping military aid will lead to the war escalating and U.S. troops entering the war against Russia.

Hughes said the U.S. needs to send military aid to Taiwan to discourage a potential Chinese attack and to protect the flow of Taiwan-made products to the U.S.

The 6th District includes parts of Cook and DuPage counties.

The winner of the Democratic primary will face Republican Niki Conforti of Glen Ellyn in the Nov. 5 general election.

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