Pro-Israel group spent $350,000 to foil Congresswoman Ilhan Omar’s re-election

Congresswoman Ilhan Omar (AFP)

MEE Staff

Middle East Eye  /  September 21, 2022

United Democracy Project, a super PAC affiliated with the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, wanted to prevent Omar winning her primary. But its efforts failed.

A pro-Israeli group contributed $350,000 to a separate organization created to boost a top Democratic primary challenger to Congresswoman Ilhan Omar.

Just days before the Minnesota primary, the United Democracy Project (UDP), a super PAC affiliated with the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), sent money to a new super PAC called Make a Difference MN-05 in an effort to cost Omar re-election, Jewish Insider reported. But its efforts to do so failed.

Omar, representative for Minnesota’s fifth congressional district since 2019, has been an outspoken critic of Israel and the military aid it receives from the US.

Last year, in response to the violence in Sheikh Jarrah, occupied East Jerusalem, she said: “We provide $3.8bn in military aid to the Israeli government a year, without any accountability. As we speak, the Israeli military plans to force over 500 Palestinians from their homes. We must make sure that no US tax dollars are used to fund this violence.”

Since the UDP contributed money to a separate account, it was not required to disclose its spending until after the primaries. The money went to Don Samuels, a former city councilman, who lost by 2,500 votes. 

Jewish Insider reported that after the election, Samuels expressed his frustration that pro-Israel groups had not supported his campaign. 

“I know that there were people I called and that were called on my behalf to say, ‘We need your help, we need your endorsement, we need your dollars, we need your support’,” Samuels told Jewish Insider last month.

“They said it very clear: ‘We’re not going to invest in this’.”

BDS movement

The UDP also contributed $350,000 to another super PAC opposing Yuh-Line Niou, a member of the NY State Assembly, who had been vocal about supporting the Palestinian-led Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement. 

In an email exchange with Jewish Insider, she wrote: “I believe in the right to protest as a fundamental tenet of western democracy, so I do support BDS.”

“People think that the BDS movement is in some way antisemitic, but I don’t think that it is,” she added. “I think that it’s making sure that people can have the right to be able to have free speech.”

This money from the UDP was contributed to New York Progressives, a group that was launched in the final weeks of the race and spent more than $400,000 casting Niou as “reckless”, Jewish Insider reported. She lost to Dan Goldman. 

The UDP was launched by AIPAC in January and since then has spent millions of dollars in races across the US.

In August, American billionaire Robert Kraft’s holding company donated $1m to AIPAC’s super PAC, according to records from the Federal Election Commission.

The super PAC has also received a $2m donation from WhatsApp co-founder Jan Koum, as well as other smaller but sizable amounts from Republican donors Paul Singer and Bernie Marcus, investment manager Jonathon Jacobson and Democratic mega-donor Haim Saban.