Mondoweiss / July 21, 2022
The Israel lobby has now won several races against what it calls the “radical” “anti-Israel” left in the Democratic Party by pouring on millions– notably the defeats of Donna Edwards and Nina Turner.
If you had any question why Joe Biden went to Saudi Arabia and destroyed his own credibility by making friends with the murderous Crown Prince, AIPAC and the Democratic Majority for Israel gave you the answer Tuesday night. In a House district in Maryland just over the D.C. line, they spent more than $6 million to get a mainstream candidate, Glenn Ivey, the Democratic nomination over progressive former Congresswoman Donna Edwards. Because Donna Edwards has at times been critical of Israel.
Edwards raised a fraction of Ivey’s funding– including over $700,000 from a liberal Zionist lobby group, J Street– and her initial advantage in the polls vanished under all the negative ads Ivey was able to run. Ivey went from 21 points down to winning by 16 as a “pro-Israel” candidate over an “anti-Israel” candidate, AIPAC bragged yesterday.
While Democratic Majority for Israel issued a statement boasting of the “candidates of color” it had boosted, demonstrating that “wise policy” is also “good politics”.
The negative ads didn’t mention Edwards’s position on Israel. No, this is dark money. It doesn’t announce its agenda. And much of it is from rightwing Zionists who support Republicans.
Biden needs that money to keep flowing to the Democratic Party, so he is doing his utmost to crush the Squad and any other Israel dissidents in the party’s progressive wing. As soon as he got off the plane in Israel a week ago Biden declared that he’s a “Zionist” and that U.S. support for Israel is “bone-deep,” and the next day he promised the Israeli prime minister that he’s going to fight BDS, and he still was prepared to make war on Iran. The Israel lobby was over the moon.
The lobby has now won several races against what it calls the “radical” left in the Democratic Party– among them the defeat of Nina Turner in Ohio in May– by pouring on millions. “But remember, IT IS ANTISEMITIC to suggest that pro-Israel money has ANY IMPACT AT ALL on views on Israel in the US Congress (per AIPAC, ADL, AJC, etc)… if that suggestion is any way critical of Congressional unconditional support for Israel & Israeli impunity,” Lara Friedman responded to AIPAC yesterday. Friedman is surely referencing the tidal wave of criticism of Rep. Ilhan Omar in 2019 for saying that Israel support in Congress is “all about the Benjamins.”
The Benjamins don’t just sway the Congress, they impact the White House too. This was the main purpose of Biden’s humiliating trip: to try to extend the “normalization” deals between Israel and Arab neighbors to include Saudi Arabia. Biden’s policy is all but indistinguishable from Donald Trump’s, and the Israel lobby is very happy.
The takeaway is that Money matters in politics, and Democratic campaign money is pro-Israel, because a large portion of that money comes from the older Jewish community, which still loves Israel. This is how the New York Times described the “elephant in the room” a few years ago:
“Despite pointed critiques of American support for Israel by representatives like Betty McCollum of Minnesota, [Rashida] Tlaib and Omar, there is little willingness among Democrats to argue publicly for substantially changing longstanding policy toward Israel. In part, some Hill staff members and former White House officials say, this is because of the influence of mega-donors: Of the dozens of personal checks greater than $500,000 made out to the largest PAC for Democrats in 2018, the Senate Majority PAC, around three-fourths were written by Jewish donors. This provides fodder for anti-Semitic conspiracy theories, and for some, it is the elephant in the room. Though the number of Jewish donors known to prioritize pro-Israel policies above all other issues is small, there are few if any pushing in the opposite direction.”
And when Obama made the huge mistake back in 2012 of saying peace should be based on the ’67 lines, and Netanyahu lectured him in the White House, Obama’s aide had to call “Jewish donors” — “A number of congressional Democrats distanced themselves from the speech. I was given a list of leading Jewish donors to call to reassure them of Obama’s pro-Israel bona fides,” Ben Rhodes wrote in his book, “The World As It Is.”
The world as it is in D.C. means that if you support conditioning aid to Israel over its human rights abuses, the lobby will come down on you hammer and tongs. Peter Beinart says the money is an “existential” threat to progressives. “Groups dedicated to unconditional US support for Israel–no matter how many homes it demolishes + children it jails–spent over $6 million [against Edwards]. For progressives, this constitutes an existential threat.”
Now let me say why I think that the rightwing Zionists will lose in the end.
The main reason is that Israel is an apartheid state and doesn’t even pretend not to be one, and it will therefore continue to alienate the progressive base of the Democratic Party, including many young Jews. This is the tide that AIPAC and Democratic Majority for Israel are trying to deny. They can use money to try to defeat that tide, and they surely are able to knock off candidates like Donna Edwards in marquee races, but the party is shifting under their feet.
Consider the fact that the lobby defeated Donna Edwards in 2016 when she was running for Senate against Chris Van Hollen. Van Hollen was supported by Haim Saban, a pro-Israel megadonor. Well now Chris Van Hollen is leading a Senate letter calling for an independent U.S. investigation of the Israeli killing of Palestinian-American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh in May — something Israel absolutely opposes. Stalwart pro-Israel Senators Bob Menendez and Cory Booker have also demanded answers from Biden over the whitewash of Abu Akleh’s killing. Because they are getting an earful from their own constituents, who are leaning pro-Palestinian.
Glenn Ivey will soon face similar demands from his constituents. Rep. Shontel Brown, who defeated Nina Turner in Ohio with boatloads of DMFI money, is under the same pressure. Bill de Blasio used to cultivate AIPAC. When he ran for Congress in New York this spring he swore off AIPAC contributions.
The good news about the Maryland race is that AIPAC’s massive spending finally generated headlines in The New York Times, CNN, and other publications.
The Jewish community consensus — which I believe is key to establishment support for Israel — is slowly cracking apart over the issue. Yes my dentist, who is my age (66), is as pro-Israel as ever, and I dare not open my mouth with him; but the young Jewish group IfNotNow is campaigning against AIPAC in Michigan on behalf of Rep. Andy Levin, and is shoulder to shoulder with J Street (which supported Donna Edwards). Levin’s opponent, Rep. Haley Stevens, has raised twice as much money as he has from the rightwing Israel lobby, including the AIPAC superpac. But that August 2 election is predicted to be very close. (And of course none of the ads on either side mention Israel, though that’s what is driving the money.)
J Street successfully supported progressive Summer Lee in Pittsburgh in May in a fiercely-heated House primary against a keen supporter of Israel. She was outspent and watched her polling advantage disappear under an onslaught of ads, but held on for the win.
To be clear, J Street is part of the Israel lobby. It is a Jewish Zionist organization that sells apartheid as democracy and wants Israel to get $4 billion a year from the U.S. despite its countless human rights abuses. And to be clear, Summer Lee and Andy Levin are not members of the Squad. In fact, Andy Levin smeared Ilhan Omar as an antisemite three years ago for saying that AIPAC buys the Congress. Andy Levin says it’s progressive to support the two-state solution.
But J Street is helping to break up the establishment Jewish consensus, which sets the redlines on the discourse in Washington. IfNotNow is not a Zionist organization, it calls out Israeli “apartheid.” And Summer Lee likened BDS to the Black Lives Matter movement and questioned Israel’s right to defend itself.
The right wing controls the big money, but the grassroots left is driving the discussion of the Israel question for progressive Democrats. Some day that discussion will break through.
Philip Weiss is senior editor of Mondoweiss.net and founded the site in 2005-2006