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Israeli-born scientist wins Wyoming Democratic Senate primary

(JTA) – Merav Ben-David, an environmental scientist at the University of Wyoming who was born and raised in Israel, is the Democratic candidate for the U.S. Senate in Wyoming. Ben-David, who had the backing of leading Democratic Party figures in the state, won 44% of the vote Tuesday, August 18 in a three-way primary.

Now, the 61-year-old professor who speaks with a thick Israeli accent faces an uphill battle in a state that is the most Republican in the nation. She will face off against Cynthia Lummis in November’s general election.

In an interview earlier this month with JTA, Ben-David said she thought the coronavirus pandemic created an opportunity for her message about the need to transition to an economy that is less reliant on fossil fuels to resonate. About half of Wyoming’s revenue comes from oil and gas and industries associated with them.

Ben-David roots in Israel predate the state; her family arrived from Belarus in the 1860s, making her siblings’ grandchildren seventh-generation Israelis. She grew up on a family farm outside of the Israeli city of Rishon Lezion, served in the Israeli army and studied at Tel Aviv University. After working and studying in Kenya and Alaska, she moved to Wyoming 20 years ago.

Wyoming, America’s least populous state, is home to an estimated 1,150 Jews. In Laramie, where Ben-David lives, a small Jewish community is composed mostly of people who, like her, are associated with the university there. “We have a vibrant community here in Laramie, and we celebrate all the holidays,” Ben-David told JTA. “In effect, more often than not, I’m in charge of making the matzo balls.”

Her campaign website includes details about the Israel policy she would pursue in the Senate.

“People ask a lot about what is my position about Israel and are interested in my response especially relative to the Palestinians,” she said. “So far, most of people’s responses are positive, not negative. I mean, I do not support what the Israeli government is doing. I think it’s atrocious. And I voiced my opinion. And so people appreciate that.”

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