AIPAC: Has the pro-Israel lobby bribed and bought the US Democratic Party?

AIPAC: Has the pro-Israel lobby bribed and bought the US Democratic Party?

Bowman’s defeat is a preview of AIPAC’s new strategy: to unseat pro-Palestine, grassroots candidates before they reach Congress, writes Richard Silverstein.

by Richard Silverstein, reposted from The New Arab, June 26, 2024

This is the season of American politics when the two major parties hold primaries to determine who will run for Senate and House seats.

In the past, primaries were a tiny blip on the political radar. Incumbents usually sailed to nomination and won the general election.

But in the past four years, the pro-Israel lobby has upended this calculus in response to the success of progressive Democratic candidates. Known as ‘The Squad’, they defeated pro-Israel incumbents and brought a more critical eye to Israel’s occupation of Palestine.

These nine House members refused to toe AIPAC’s line, which was an almost scripted pro-Israel agenda. Obedience was enforced by millions in pro-Israel campaign cash.

After these victories, the pro-Israel lobby radically changed its approach. Instead of showering funds on candidates in general elections, it moved to defeat progressive candidates in primaries, thus preventing them from sure victories in their urban safe seats in Democratic strongholds.

AIPAC: The best Congress money can buy:

AIPAC (American Israel Public Affairs Committee) devised two major Political Action Committees (PACs) with names that sounded like they supported Democratic Party candidates: United Democracy Project and Democratic Majority for Israel. In fact, these were money machines funded largely by Republican billionaires and designed to defeat any Democrats who were too independent of AIPAC.

In the past, AIPAC deliberately eschewed creating its own PAC because it sought to maintain a façade of focused on its legislative agenda, rather than partisan politics. But this strategy too went out the window.

It created yet a third pro-Israel entity, the AIPAC PAC. Altogether, the three PACs intend to spend $100 million, almost all of it in Democratic primaries. The Republican Congressional caucus is almost entirely pro-Israel except for two members, one of whom was defeated thanks to AIPAC donations. It also donated to 106 GOP House members who voted to overturn the 2020 presidential election.

“The $100 million spent by AIPAC is meant to quell the liberal rebellion, impose a pro-Israel agenda on the Democratic caucus, and warn those who think to stray”

AIPAC deliberately targets the progressive candidates it either hates the most or who are the most vulnerable. It also spends freely on open seats where it’s critical to elect a pro-Israel House member because the electoral system is designed to re-elect incumbents.

Past primary candidates they defeated were African-Americans, Muslim-Americans, LGBTQ, and women. They even targeted two Jewish candidates in Michigan and California who were deemed too critical of Israel. One of them, Michigan Rep. Andy Levin, was from a storied family which included two Democratic senators. He was defeated by a relatively unknown candidate as the airwaves were showered with $8 million worth of attack ads.

These PACs are largely opaque. The identity of their donors is unreported. Their campaign methods are deceptive. Negative ads plaster the radio and TV airwaves. None of them address Israel’s occupation of Palestine.

Instead, they attack their targets on local issues, seeking to sow doubt and mistrust among voters. The ads are almost always negative and against the progressive candidate; never promoting AIPAC’s candidate. They are not designed to persuade voters to choose the pro-Israel lobby’s candidate. Rather, they are meant to discourage voters from choosing the targeted one.

Until now, this strategy has been largely successful in defeating primary candidates who’ve never run for office. Lack of name recognition, challenges of raising large amounts of cash, and lack of legislative track record all hurt their chances. Such defeats occurred in Oregon, North Carolina, Maryland, Michigan and other states.

But until now, AIPAC had less success in defeating incumbent progressives. Their attempts to defeat incumbents like Rep. Ilhan Omar, Summer Lee, Cory Bush, and Alexandria Ocasio Cortez failed. Despite tens of millions being spent on these efforts.

In this cycle, they had Rep. Jamaal Bowman in their sights. He is an African-American who represents a district including minority urban neighbourhoods and wealthy white suburbs. When Bowman ran as a first-time outsider in 2020 against an ‘Old Guard’ veteran, he won the primary by 15 points.

But the pro-Israel Lobby was not about to let him slip through their fingers this time. They recruited a white moderate, pro-Israel candidate, George Latimer, to run against Bowman. The pro-Israel Lobby spent approximately $25 million on the race. The progressive incumbent is being outspent 10 to one.

And they succeeded. On Tuesday, June 25, Jamaal Bowman lost his race against Latimar, largely in part due to AIPAC’s role in suppressing the vote of progressives and Black and Latino voters in the district, achieved by mudslinging and attack ads against Bowman. Amazing what money can buy.

Dumping tens of millions in such a race may eliminate a political enemy, but it also has a double effect: to portray the party as one that is up for sale to the highest bidder and therefore discourage these voters from turning out for more important races.

For example, Biden and Trump are running neck-and-neck. But the former desperately needs the Democrats’ core constituency of working-class and minority voters to go to the polls. Without them, Biden will lose the presidency.

AIPAC will not be spending $100 million to get Biden elected. They don’t care who wins this critical race, because a Trump victory will bring an even more craven pro-Israel candidate to the White House.

The $100 million spent by AIPAC is meant to quell the liberal rebellion, impose a pro-Israel agenda on the Democratic caucus, and warn those who think to stray.

We are now entering a new era of massive spending not just for general elections, but primaries as well.

The pro-Israel lobby has access to unlimited funds provided by Wall Street and CEO right-wing billionaires, many of whom donate to Donald Trump’s campaign.

Money, hundreds of millions of it, guarantees a pliant, obedient Democratic Congressional caucus; along with a not-so-subtle takeover of the Democratic Party itself.

The issue at the heart of the pro-Israel lobby’s efforts barely registers as a priority for voters. Instead, they care about bread-and-butter issues like jobs, health care and crime. This is even true for American Jews: less than 10% place Israel as one of their top two priorities.

This is yet another proof of the distortion AIPAC has introduced into American politics.

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Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.

Richard Silverstein writes the Tikun Olam blog and is a freelance journalist specialising in exposing secrets of the Israeli national security state. He campaigns against opacity and the negative impact of Israeli military censorship. Follow him on Twitter: @richards1052


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