Mondoweiss / August 12, 2023
AIPAC’s Super PAC has already raised nearly $9 million to spend on the upcoming 2024 Democratic primaries.
The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) is gearing up to spend heavily on the 2024 elections and target lawmakers who are critical of Israel in the Democratic primaries.
Recently Home Depot co-founder Bernie Marcus’ donated another $1 million to AIPAC’s super PAC, the United Democracy Project (UDP). Marcus is a GOP mega-donor (he donated $7 million to Trump’s 2016 campaign), but UDP is the political action committee AIPAC has used to intervene in Democratic primaries. Marcus’s donation brings UDP’s war chest to nearly $9 million with a little over a year until the 2024 elections.
UDP typically runs ads targeting incumbents or progressive challengers who have criticized Israel or supported policies designed to hold the country accountable. They never mention Israel in the ads they bankroll, as support for the country has declined among Democratic voters in recent years.
Targeting squad members
AIPAC is reportedly eyeing a number of progressive incumbents to target in 2024. The Jewish Insider‘s Matthew Kassel reports that the lobbying group is in talks with Minneapolis council member LaTrisha Vetaw to potentially run against Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) in Minnesota’s 5th district. Since she was elected to the House in 2018, pro-Israel groups have been trying to oust Omar over her advocacy for Palestinian rights. AIPAC secretly spent $350,000 on Omar’s primary in 2022, backing centrist Don Samuels. Samuels came close to delivering a shocking upset, with Omar prevailing by just 2,500 votes. After the election, Samuels criticized pro-Israel groups for not investing more money in his campaign.
“[AIPAC] acknowledged they missed an opportunity last cycle but have said that, based on their internal assessment, Don has reached his capacity,” a Democratic operative privy to the discussions told Kassel.
AIPAC is also courting Westchester County executive George Latimer to run against Rep. Jamaal Bowman in New York’s 16th district. “If George Latimer runs he will be a formidable candidate — even more so if he’s well-funded,” Democratic strategist Chris Coffey told Kassel. “If he doesn’t run, it’s harder. Not impossible but harder. In the last cycle, Bowman was able to convince enough pro-Israel voters that he wasn’t extreme. That’s not the feeling now.”
“We just got word: AIPAC is at it again. They’re trying to recruit an establishment executive to run against my brother in The Bronx, Jamaal Bowman,” wrote Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in a recent fundraising email. “We know what comes next. AIPAC won’t wait much longer to start funneling dark money against Jamaal and ramping up attacks against our movement.”
Bowman joined Omar as one of the only lawmakers to vote against a recent House resolution declaring that Israel is “not a racist or apartheid state.” They also both boycotted Israeli President Isaac Herzog’s recent address to congress.
AIPAC’s gargantuan budgets put progressive groups that work on elections in a challenging position. In July, the organization Justice Democrats (who have backed prominent progressive congress members like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Rashida Tlaib, Ilhan Omar, and Ayanna Pressley) laid off nine of its 20 staff members.
Justice Democrats has supported some of the only congress members willing to call for Israel to be accountable for its action. The group’s super PAC spent over $1 million helping to elect Summer Lee in Pennsylvania’s 12th district last election. AIPAC spent more than $4 million backing her opponent, former GOP staffer Steve Irwin. Irwin lost by less than a point.
AIPAC called Lee “anti-Israel” because she condemned the country’s brutal attack on Gaza in May 2021. Since being elected, she signed onto Rep. Betty McCollum’s historic bill defending the rights of Palestinian children and called for the Biden administration to ensure that U.S. taxpayer money isn’t used to expand illegal settlements. She also voted against the apartheid resolution and skipped Herzog’s speech.
Kassel’s report notes that Edgewood council member Bhavini Patel has been raising money to run against Lee, but whether AIPAC will support her remains unclear.
The organization’s executive director Alexandra Rojas told HuffPost that the group has had to adapt to primaries becoming more expensive and criticized Democratic leadership over its failure to act on the issue.
“It is unfortunate that after years of grumbling to the press on the paramount importance of protecting incumbents, Democratic leadership has seemingly turned its back on ours — allowing outside groups like AIPAC to target them with multimillion-dollar primary challenges,” she told the website.
Many haven’t just turned their back on their issue. Despite AIPAC supporting dozens of Republicans who refused to certify President Joe Biden’s election victory, many Democratic lawmakers continue to accept the group’s money and embrace their anti-Palestinian agenda.
Last week House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) and Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-MD) led a delegation of 24 House Democrats to Israel on a trip organized by AIPAC. “With this trip, House Democrats reaffirm our commitment to the special relationship between the United States and Israel, one anchored in our shared democratic values and mutual geopolitical interests,” said Jeffries in a statement. On the subject of settler violence against Palestinians, Jeffries claimed that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, “doesn’t condone violence, no matter where it originates. And I take him at his word.”
“This, of course comes against a backdrop of Israeli soldiers protecting settlers as they attack Palestinian villages, towns, and farmlands, and an enormous escalation, even by Israel’s standards, in the level of direct state violence against Palestinians,” notes Mitchell Plitnick.
The progressive Jewish group IfNotNow recently launched a campaign calling on Democratic candidates to reject endorsements and financial contributions from AIPAC.
“Our Jewish and American values demand that we speak up and take action in defense of freedom, human rights, and communal well-being,” reads an open letter to congressional candidates from the group. “We envision a thriving future for all here in the United States and in Israel-Palestine where everyone enjoys equality, justice, and freedom. AIPAC has demonstrated time and again that it is actively opposed to these basic values. We ask you to uphold these values by committing to reject AIPAC’s endorsement and contributions.”
JVP Action, who backed Omar and other Israel critics during the 2022 primaries, told Mondoweiss that AIPAC is spending big money because they know support for Israel is declining among voters. “As we head into the 2024 cycle, the Democratic voter base is significantly more sympathetic to Palestinians and more critical of the Israeli government — and at an unprecedented rate. AIPAC understands that the rapidly growing progressive movement is a direct threat to its racist and warmongering agenda, so it is already making plans to flood Democratic primaries with money in an attempt to oust the progressive incumbents who stand up for Palestinian human rights,” said the group in a statement. “Palestinian rights and accountability for the Israeli government will be a central issue in the Democratic primaries this cycle, and JVP Action will be mobilizing our massive base of Jews and allies to get Democrats to dump AIPAC. We’ll be protecting — and growing — the number of members of Congress who understand that all people, no exceptions, deserve freedom.”
Michael Arria is the U.S. correspondent for Mondoweiss