Fri 21 Jun 2024 10:29 pm - Jerusalem Time

AIPAC spends $14.5 million to defeat a pro-Palestinian representative

Pro-Israel political groups have transformed the Democratic primary in the New York City suburbs, sweeping the race with record-breaking outside spending to unseat one of Israel's most outspoken critics, Black Democratic Rep. Jamaal Bowman.

The attack by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), the most powerful Israeli lobby influencing members of the US Congress, and allied groups was a warning to lawmakers like Bowman after the Hamas attack on October 7: “Lighten your critical views of Israel.” Or face a flood of political attacks,” according to the New York Times on Thursday.

The newspaper reports that in just one month, AIPAC's super PAC spent $14.5 million — as much as $17,000 per hour — on the race, filling television screens, filling mailboxes, and clogging phone lines with vitriolic attacks. As days passed, expenditures had already exceeded what any lobby group spent on a single House race.

Pro-Israel groups are using the same extortionist approach elsewhere, most notably in the Missouri primary next August in St. Louis, where AIPAC, a super PAC, has already spent $1.5 million there to defeat Democratic Rep. Cori Bush. A supporter of the Palestinian cause, she is a black member of the leftist “squad” in the House of Representatives, like Bowman, and both of them accused Israel of committing genocidal massacres in Gaza.

The expensive paid messages never mention Israel — instead they smear Bowman to the party's base as a pariah who "continues to attack President Biden" and sows "controversy, chaos and conspiracy."

"Jamal Bowman has his own agenda, and he's hurting New York," warns one TV ad. Tracking company AdImpact estimates it has been viewed 180 million times, according to the New York Times.

This approach has angered Bowman, an ally of President Biden, who says he is being punished because he stood with moral conviction against the war between Israel and Hamas, while his more moderate opponent, George Latimer, is wavering on Biden's main priorities.

The extraordinary intervention also galvanized a coalition of left-leaning organizations to run their own influence campaign aimed at discrediting AIPAC, by asserting that the group receives significant funding from major Republican donors and favors positions to the right of its base.

“I am an outspoken black person,” Bowman said in his debate with his opponent this week. “I am fighting genocide in Gaza, and I am fighting for justice here.”

But only days have passed, and AIPAC's influence is becoming clear. Polls suggest that Latimer, who is white, has taken the lead and his pro-Israel supporters are urging other Democrats to take notice. Congressman Bowman's allies - and even some Democrats who oppose him - worry that defeat will set an even more troubling precedent.

They fear that if AIPAC succeeds in defeating those calling for an end to the war, it will mean that the massive spending by the major Israel lobby will not only have a negative impact on Democrats willing to speak out against the war, but will also present a replicable strategy for wealthy interests in both parties. .

“This is the message of this campaign: If you stand up to powerful interests, they will try to take you down,” said Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, who participated in a campaign event for Representative Bowman on Friday.

“Today, they are in the Democratic primary,” he added. Tomorrow, they will be in the Republican primaries. They don't care. All they want is to support Netanyahu until the end."

Super PACs are not new in American politics. And they have become bigger players than ever since the Supreme Court began allowing outside groups to spend unlimited money, as long as they do not directly coordinate with candidates.

AIPAC has been lobbying American politicians from both parties for decades and has close relationships with presidents and legislative leaders. She only formed her own political action committee in the 2022 midterms. It spent $26 million that cycle, targeting mostly progressive Democrats who in recent years have begun to push their party toward a more critical vision of Israel.

Two years later, the war and Israel's fragile position on the world stage have accelerated both trends. Republicans such as Paul Singer and Bernard Marcus have stepped up their multi-million-dollar donations to AIPAC's political action committee, as have some Democrats.

Despite previous threats, the group chose not to launch a large-scale attack on Israel's democratic critics. After struggling to identify viable challengers, they have so far chosen not to meaningfully challenge other Israel critics, including Reps. Summer Lee, Rashida Tlaib, Ilhan Omar and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

Bowman, who represents a large Jewish population, presented himself as the ideal target.

Although he condemned the October 7 Hamas attack, he was among the first lawmakers to call for a ceasefire in Gaza, accuse Israel of committing genocide there, and push for cuts in US military aid to Israel — positions that AIPAC opposes. " directly.

Instead of backing down in the face of AIPAC's threats, he has become more vocal and bolder in recent weeks. In a recent speech, Bowman said he was "under attack by the Israeli regime we call AIPAC."

"This race presents an unambiguous choice," AIPAC spokesman Marshall Whitman said in response. “George Latimer is a progressive, pro-Israel candidate while Jamaal Bowman has refused to support the Jewish state as it wages a moral and just war against Iranian proxies.”

After helping recruit Latimer, the Westchester County executive, AIPAC became his largest funder, directing more than $2.4 million directly into his campaign accounts, some of it from Republican donors. Then, in mid-May, her political action committee began spending, saturating local television despite New York's high ad rates.

By comparison, Bowman and his allies, the Justice Democrats and the Working Families Party, raised about $4 million for ads, less than a third of what AIPAC spent.

“This is an astronomical amount of spending in any House race, let alone a Democratic primary in New York,” said Meredith Kelly, who managed communications for the House Democrats' campaign arm.


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AIPAC spends $14.5 million to defeat a pro-Palestinian representative