Hawkish pro-Israel lobby groups have been accused of using Republican mega-donors to hijack Democratic primaries after the “alarming” defeat of a prominent Jewish congressman for criticizing Israel’s treatment of Palestinians.
The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (Aipac) has spent more than $4 million to defeat Andy Levin in Tuesday’s Democratic primary for a congressional seat in northwest Detroit.
Levin, who comes from a prominent political dynasty, including his father and an uncle who long served as Democrats in Congress, said he was “the target of a largely Republican-funded campaign” because he disagreed with Aipac’s support for harsh Israeli policies.
Aipac poured money in support of Levin’s opponent, Haley Stevens, who won with about 60% of the vote. The lobby group announced its victory as proof that “being pro-Israel is both good policy and good politics”. But critics noted that much of Aipac’s spending went on negative campaigns against Levin, with no mention of Israel.
Levin was supported by the more liberal pro-Israel group, J Street. It contrasted with Aipac’s endorsement of more than 100 Republican members of Congress who voted against confirming Joe Biden’s presidential election victory with the “attack of right-wing spending from the outside and baseless defamation” to prosecute a progressive election. candidate with a history of support for unions and civil rights.
Aipac, through its political action committee, the United Democracy Project, has raised millions of dollars from Republican billionaires such as Trump campaign financiers Paul Singer and Bernie Marcus to defeat candidates not considered pro-Israel enough.
Other pro-Israel groups, such as the Democratic Majority for Israel and Pro-Israel America, have also spent a lot of money to oppose candidates deemed anti-Israel in Democratic primaries from Texas to Ohio and California.
“This aggressive intervention in Democratic primaries — by a group funded in part by Republican mega-donors — to promote an unpopular agenda is damaging to US foreign policy, to the Democratic party and ultimately to the State of Israel,” said J. Street, who is more critical of Israeli policies that maintain Palestinian domination.
In an interview with The Guardian during the campaign, Levin warned that Aipac’s involvement raised the specter that the entire primary process would be hijacked by well-funded lobbies such as the major oil and arms industry.
“I don’t think the Democratic party can really stand for it and maintain the integrity of our own elections,” he said.
Following his defeat, Levin said he will “continue to speak out against the corrosive influence of black money on our democracy”.
J Street has called on Democratic candidates to reject Aipac’s support, saying it’s meant to warn politicians about criticizing Israel’s actions or risking a well-funded campaign against them.
“With their overwhelming spending, Aipac hopes to send an intimidating message to others: cross our red lines, and you could be next. While the political space for open and healthy debate on US foreign policy has increased significantly in recent years, they seem determined to shut it down,” it said.
Aipac has invested more than $24 million in beating Democratic primaries that are critical of Israel. Last month, it celebrated defeating former Congresswoman Donna Edwards, who was a favorite to win a seat in Maryland, until the UDP spent $7 million to unleash an advertising blitz against her.
But Aipac suffered an unusual setback on Tuesday in another Detroit seat, where it spent a lot of money to defeat Shri Thanedar, a member of the Michigan state legislature, who has strongly criticized Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territories.
Thanedar, an Indian immigrant and wealthy entrepreneur, defeated state senator Adam Hollier, who is black and strongly pro-Israel, in a field split between several candidates in the predominantly African American district.
Some supporters of Aipac have suggested that the focus on Aipac’s funding of campaigns against candidates critical of Israeli government policies is anti-Semitic because the group does no more than other lobbying organizations.
In answerLara Friedman, chair of the Foundation for Peace in the Middle East, tweeted: “So AIPAC can do it… and AIPAC can boast of doing it… But talk about what AIPAC did (at least in a critical way ) is anti-Semitic, see how that works?