Pro-Israel Groups Promised to Be Active in Democratic Primaries. They Haven’t Done Much Yet.

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Pro-Israel Groups Promised to Be Active in Democratic Primaries. They Haven’t Done Much Yet.


After Hamas’ attack on Israel on October 7, pro-Israel political groups put the Jewish state’s harshest critics in the Democratic Party on notice: an avalanche of spending was coming to either depose them or force them to change their stance towards the Middle East.

But the first expected The target of that avalanche, Rep. Summer Lee of Pittsburgh, will face only nominal opposition in Tuesday’s Pennsylvania primary. And while groups like Democratic Majority for Israel and United Democracy Project, an affiliate of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, have raised tens of millions of dollars to make good on their threats, they have largely refused to spend them.

People involved in this pro-Israel effort say Democrats shouldn’t do this Misunderstand the lack of action against Ms. Lee, a fierce critic of Israel whose western Pennsylvania district includes the Jewish neighborhood of Squirrel Hill, five years after the largest massacre of Jews in American history at the Tree of Life Synagogue is always traumatized.

Pro-Israel groups failed to recruit an experienced, well-known primary opponent for Ms. Lee. This will not be the case in upcoming primaries, particularly those of Rep. Jamaal Bowman in New York in June and Rep. Cori Bush in Missouri in August.

But there is another factor: Since the war in Gaza began, the politics surrounding Israel have changed significantly, particularly in the Democratic primaries. According to the Gaza Ministry of Health, six months of harsh retaliatory measures in Gaza have left more than 31,000 Palestinians dead. Democratic leaders since President Biden are far more likely to encounter pro-Palestinian protesters than pro-Israel protesters.

On Saturday, 37 Democrats in the House of Representatives voted against providing military aid to Israel.

Money from pro-Israel groups is not a pure blessing for Democratic primary challengers. There is a serious downside: young, progressive voters want nothing to do with AIPAC and its allies. A New York Times/Siena College poll this month found that 42 percent of registered voters sympathized with Israel in the Gaza war, compared with 24 percent who said they sympathized with the Palestinians. But among voters ages 18 to 29, 15 percent sympathized with Israel, compared with 45 percent who sympathized with the Palestinians.

Mark Mellman, a longtime Democratic pollster and founder of the Democratic Majority for Israel, blamed the tone of the coverage for this shift in public opinion.

“There’s no question there’s been a shift in reporting,” he said. “No question.”

Faiz Shakir, a longtime adviser to Sen. Bernie Sanders, the independent senator from Vermont who has been a vocal critic of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Israeli government, said there is a larger political issue at stake.

“The progressive view is that Israel is safest when its neighbors are safest and doing well,” he said. “The conservative view is about keeping these neighbors down. The question of how best to secure and maintain peace in Israel is one that Netanyahu is losing in Israel, and now AIPAC is losing in the United States.”

If anything, the threats from pro-Israel groups have only strengthened the resolve of Israel’s critics and not changed their views. The AIPAC-affiliated United Democracy Project was funded in part by conservatives: Jan Koum, a co-founder of WhatsApp, donated at least $5 million; Bernard Marcus, co-founder of Home Depot and outspoken supporter of former President Donald J. Trump, has donated at least $2 million; and financier Paul Singer, another top Republican donor, gave $1 million.

This has allowed the Democratic left to rail against “Republican money” threatening the Democratic primary. It has helped their cause that so many targets are House members of color, like Mr. Bowman, Ms. Bush and Rep. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota.

“We know that if what AIPAC was lobbying for really resonated in our districts, they wouldn’t have to spend millions of dollars to denigrate progressives, all of whom are people of color,” Ms. Omar said Friday. (Her main opponent, Don Samuels, is Black.)

At the same time, organizations like Justice Democrats and Mr. Sanders’ Our Revolution are raising money with Sanders’ slogan: “Not another nickel to support Netanyahu’s wars and atrocities.”

Pro-Israel groups say it is far too early in the primary season to assess their impact.

“The voice of the pro-Israel movement will be heard clearly by the end of this election year,” said Marshall Wittmann, a spokesman for AIPAC. “Our activists are deeply committed to electing pro-Israel candidates and defeating critics.”

Waleed Shahid, co-founder of Justice Democrats, said coordinated AIPAC funding has slowed Democrats’ transition to a more critical stance toward U.S. aid to Israel.

The United Democracy Project had raised more than $47 million as of February, and the smaller Democratic Majority for Israel, which does not seek Republican donors, had raised $4 million as of March. But spending didn’t match fundraising.

As of the end of February, the United Democracy Project had only used about $10 million of its war chest. About half had been an unsuccessful effort to keep state Sen. Dave Min from finishing in the top two for an open house seat in Orange County, California, and the other half had gone to a super PAC that supported the state’s campaign Representative Adam Schiff for the Senate supported California. Israel was not a major issue in either race.

This month, the group poured $1.4 million into the campaign of Maryland state Sen. Sarah Elfreth, who is running against a wide range of Democrats, including Harry Dunn, a former Capitol Police officer who is running through his Experience in the fight against Trump raised even more money in the election campaign from supporters during the attack on the Capitol on January 6, 2021. Here, too, the connection to Israel is not clear. Mr. Dunn has vowed to be a supporter of the Jewish state.

And it resisted a Kina Collins, progressive primary challenger to Rep. Danny Davis in Illinois, who received just 19 percent of the vote last month. AIPAC has claimed bragging rights over the defeat of lower-level candidates like Ms. Collins.

“It is good politics and good politics to stand with the Jewish state at this critical moment, which is reflected in the polls and in the strength of the AIPAC-backed candidates,” Wittmann said.

But none of this has done any damage to the core group of Democrats known as the “Squad.” They have simply increased their calls for a permanent ceasefire in Gaza, their push for strict conditions on aid to Israel, and their castigation of what they see as Israeli human rights abuses or, more pointedly, “genocide.”

In fact, criticism of Israel has spread beyond the party’s most liberal members. During debate on the Israel aid bill now before the Senate, eight Democrats, including mainstream liberal voices like Reps. Dan Kildee and Debbie Dingell of Michigan, Jamie Raskin of Maryland and Melanie Stansbury of New Mexico, filed an amendment which would withhold offensive military weapons until the United States ensures they are not used to “indiscriminately kill civilians in Gaza.”

Rep. Mike Levin, an AIPAC-backed Democrat in a California swing district, told reporters that a change in Israeli leadership was needed to bring peace, contradicting AIPAC’s tradition of keeping the Israeli government independent of to support their politics.

Usamah Andrabi, a spokesman for the Justice Democrats, said he still expected tens of millions of dollars to be spent against Mr. Bowman and Ms. Bush, two of the most prominent progressive voices. Around $1.2 million in pooled donations have already flowed to their challengers through AIPAC.

According to Mr Andrabi, the “threat” from pro-Israel groups – “we will eliminate the force and show that the force is not the voice of democratic voters” – had failed. “In fact,” he said, “we have seen that the force is the voice of Democratic voters.”



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2024-04-21 12:38:18

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