Middle East Monitor / May 20, 2022
After several high-profile defeats, America’s most powerful pro-Israel lobby group, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), is said to be pouring millions of dollars into influencing Democratic congressional primary races to counter growing support for the Palestinian cause. AIPAC is pouring money, energy and resources to block women candidates who, if elected, are likely to align with a group of progressive politicians known as “the Squad”, which includes the likes of Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib.
The pro-Israeli group spent $2.3 million in a single day during Tuesday’s Democratic primary race for an open congressional seat in Pennsylvania, one of a handful of political contests targeted. The leading candidate, Summer Lee, is sympathetic to the Palestinians. Pro-corporate forces have tried to smear Lee’s campaign in response to many of her positions, but none have caused such an uproar from establishment political groups as her stance on Palestine.
In what seems to be an attempt to conceal the role of AIPAC and avoid allegations that it is interfering in US election processes, the pro-Israel group funneled its money through the United Democracy Project (UDP). The UDP has also spent $2m in support of the North Carolina state Senator Valeria Foushee in an attempt to block Nida Allam, the political director of Senator Bernie Sanders’ 2016 presidential campaign and the first Muslim American woman to hold elected office in North Carolina.
A further $1.2m has been spent to protect Texas Democratic Congressman Henry Cuellar. The 66-year old faces a run-off later next week against Jessica Cisneros, a 28-year-old immigration lawyer who has spoken in support of the Palestinians and is endorsed by members of the Squad.
AIPAC-backed candidates have secured two wins in North Carolina. Fostered largely through more than $5 million in donations, the victory is said to be an indication that the pro-Israel group is attempting to alter Democratic primary races dramatically through previously unimaginable levels of spending.
In March, AIPAC was accused of putting support for Israel before American democracy after it declared its backing for the election campaigns of three dozen Republican members of Congress who tried to block President Biden’s presidential victory. Defending itself, AIPAC said that its support for the apartheid state overrides other issues and that it is “no moment for the pro-Israel movement to become selective about its friends.”
A pro-Israel liberal advocacy group slammed AIPAC. “Its support for these candidates endangers American democracy and undermines the true interests and values of millions of American Jews and pro-Israel Americans who they often claim to represent,” said J Street.
Richard Haass, the president of the Council on Foreign Relations, described the endorsement of politicians who “undermine democracy” as “morally bankrupt and short-sighted.”
Pro-Israel groups failed miserably to oust members of the Squad during previous elections. In 2020, Cori Bush, a Black Lives Matter activist and supporter of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement caused a historic upset by ousting ten-term political veteran and keen supporter of the Zionist state William Lacy Clay. In the same year, pro-Israel Democratic Congressman Eliot Engel was defeated by Jamaal Bowman.
Palestinian American Tlaib also saw off stiff opposition from candidates backed by pro-Israel groups. The Representative from Michigan’s 13th congressional district was most at risk of losing her seat having defeated her opposition in 2018 in a closely fought election. It was the same story with Ilhan Omar. Despite AIPAC coming out in force to unseat her, though, she secured a handsome victory.