Pro-Israel PAC looks to spend $1m to unseat Rashida Tlaib

Rashida Tlaib held a sizable lead ahead of other primary candidates, according to a January poll (AFP)

MEE Staff

Middle East Eye  /  May 30, 2022

Urban Empowerment Action PAC says it wants a congresswoman that ‘doesn’t have varying distractions’.

A newly created political action committee (PAC) is aiming to spend upwards of $1m to unseat Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib, a Palestinian-American lawmaker and strong critic of Israel, in her upcoming Michigan primary.

The Urban Empowerment Action PAC announced on Friday that it was looking to spend the amount in support of Tlaib’s primary opponent, Janice Winfrey, ahead of the 2 August Democratic primary, claiming that it wants to support a candidate “that doesn’t have varying distractions”.

“UEA PAC’s premier race will be in Michigan’s 12th Congressional District, where the group plans to spend upwards of $1 million on TV, digital, mail, radio, and print advertising to support Detroit City Clerk Janice Winfrey in her campaign to restore infrastructure, improve educational opportunities in the district, and support the Biden-Harris agenda in D.C.,” the new group said in a statement given to Politico.

Bakari Sellers, a TV pundit with progressive leanings but who also supports AIPAC, has endorsed and is fundraising for the PAC.

Sellers said that Tlaib’s criticism towards Israel is “definitely high up on the list” of reasons he is working to support Winfrey, but said it wasn’t his primary focus.

The PAC, which said its supporters “include a broad coalition of Black and Jewish business, political and civic leaders”, said that it is supporting Winfrey, citing “dedication to the educational empowerment and economic uplift of Black communities”.

The money would be a significant funding boost for Winfrey, who as of February only raised a little more than $236,000 and had just over $220,000 cash on hand, according to the latest federal election commission records.

Tlaib, on the other hand, has raised more than $2.3m and still has $1.6m cash on hand, which also dwarfs the extra million dollars being funneled into Winfrey’s campaign.

In a January poll, Tlaib held a sizable lead ahead of other primary candidates, with 62 percent favourable, while Winfrey was only polling at four percent.

Denzel McCampbell, spokesperson for Tlaib’s reelection campaign, told Middle East Eye that the congresswoman was calling on Winfrey to disavow the PAC, saying she should condemn a “big money attack on our democracy that only seeks to mislead voters and distort reality”.

“This is yet another sad example of out-of-state billionaire interference in local races, spending millions to peddle lies and distortions, and pushing a pro-corporate agenda on a district that has consistently stood against the corporate greed hurting our families,” McCampbell told MEE.

“Voters in Michigan’s new 12th district can see right through these desperate schemes, and we’re laser-focused on returning Congresswoman Tlaib to Congress to continue building on her impressive record of delivering life-changing services and legislation for her residents.”

Pro-Israel influences

The UEA PAC’s announcement also reveals connections to groups aiming to back pro-Israel candidates across the US in the midterms.

Federal Election Commission records show that the group has received more than $75,000 from New York-based hedge fund, Third Point LLC, founded by billionaire investor Daniel Loeb.

Loeb has also backed the New York Solidarity Group, which is encouraging donors to support pro-Israel candidates in state legislative and local elections.

He reportedly donated $125,000 to the Democratic Majority for Israel and has also given grants to pro-Israel groups including the Birthright Israel Foundation, Passages America Israel, and Friends of the Israeli Defense Forces.

Tlaib has made headlines for her strong support of Palestinian rights, and also recently introduced a bill in Congress to commemorate the Nakba – which refers to the ethnic cleansing of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians at the hands of Zionist paramilitaries in 1948.

Her criticism of Israel has repeatedly drawn the ire of pro-Israel groups, and Winfrey said it was one of her reasons for running against the incumbent Democrat.

“When you don’t support the one ally that we have in the Middle East, then I feel you have another agenda, and that agenda is not conducive to the citizens of the 12th Congressional District,” Winfrey told Jewish Insider in April.

The left-wing group, Justice Democrats, a progressive political action committee founded by former leaders of Senator Bernie Sanders’ 2016 presidential campaign, attacked Sellers for supporting Winfrey.

“With Islamophobia on the rise, it is disgraceful to single out the “only” Palestinian member of Congress, who is a civil rights lawyer and represents one of the most Arab-American districts,” said spokesperson Waleed Shahid.

Mike Casca, communications director for Sanders, also criticized the move.

“In the middle of a ton of important fights that desperately need funding, some Democrats making clear they only care about defeating the progressive agenda. This is just the latest,” he tweeted.

Infrastructure bill

Tlaib easily defeated her 2018 and 2020 primary opponent, Detroit City Council President Brenda Jones. However, the August primary race will take place in Michigan’s newly redrawn 12th Congressional District.

The area includes parts of Detroit, suburbs with larger populations of white voters, and areas including Dearborn, which boasts significant Arab and Muslim populations.

Winfrey highlighted Tlaib’s vote against the bipartisan infrastructure bill last year as the “last straw” in her decision to challenge her.

The progressive two-term congresswoman has said she voted against the infrastructure bill because Democrats were walking back a promise to pass the measure alongside the expansive climate and social spending bill known as Build Back Better.

Tlaib’s campaign is calling on Winfrey to disavow the PAC’s spending, saying “it seeks to mislead voters and distort reality”.