Photograph: J Scott Applewhite/AP
Pro-Israel lobbyists have poured millions of dollars into a Democratic primary for a Maryland congressional seat on Tuesday, in the latest attempt to block an establishment candidate who expressed support for the Palestinians.
A surge in political spending by organizations funded by Israel hardliners, led by the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee (Aipac), has reshaped Democratic primaries in recent months, though debate over the country is rare. time figured as an important issue in the elections.
Critics accuse Aipac and its allies of distorting Democratic politics in part because much of the money used to influence the primaries comes from billionaire Republicans.
Aipac spent $6 million in Tuesday’s race in Maryland, more than any other organization, to oppose Donna Edwards, who served eight years as Maryland’s first black woman elected to Congress before losing a Senate bid in 2016.
Edwards has the backing of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, among other prominent Democrats.
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But he angered some pro-Israeli groups during his term as representative by not endorsing resolutions supporting Israel on its 2011 war in Gaza and other positions. He also backed the Obama administration’s nuclear deal with Iran when the Israeli government and thus AIPAC were strongly opposed.
Aipac launched a super political action committee, or super Pac, the United Democracy Project (UDP), in December as a legal mechanism to spend unlimited amounts to directly influence elections and counter growing criticism within the Democratic Party about the continued domination of the Palestinians by Israel.
The lobbying group launched the UDP with $8.5 million and donations from wealthy donors with close ties to Israel. They include two Republican billionaire businessmen and Trump campaign backers, Paul Singer and Bernie Marcus, as well as Israeli American billionaire Democrat donor Haim Saban.
UDP-funded TV commercials In criticizing Edwards, Israel is not mentioned and is instead attacked as an ineffective politician who did nothing during her tenure in Congress. Over the past two months, Edwards has lost a significant lead in opinion polls over his rival, Glenn Ivey, who is now marginally ahead.
A more liberal pro-Israel group, J Street, which calls on the US government to take a tougher line with the Israeli government to end the occupation, has backed Edwards through its Super Pac with about $700,000 in ads.
AJ Street spokesman Logan Bayroff accused Aipac of being a republican front organization in part due to his endorsement of members of Congress who voted to overturn Joe Biden’s election victory following the storming of the Capitol on January 6, 2021.
“It is alarming that a group that has backed some of the most extreme right-wing Republicans, with a super Pac funded in part by mega-donors of Republican billionaires, can go into a Democratic primary and spend and spend for the sole purpose of crushing a quite popular group. leading candidate who they have labeled as anti-Israel with no evidence, no real justification at all, for such a claim,” Bayroff said.
“This is about trying to get the party back in a more right-wing direction on Israel and foreign policy. It is really alarming and fundamentally undemocratic when a group can influence this process in such a way because most voters would not know where this money is coming from. I think that’s dangerous.
Bayroff said that AIPAC and UDP were trying to intimidate the candidates so that they “feel that they cannot criticize Israeli policy in good faith, that they cannot openly support the rights of Palestinians.”
“They recognize that the political space on these issues in the Democratic Party has opened up and they want to try to stop and reverse that trend, and push us back to a place where there really is very little public debate or discussion about correct American policy. role in the region,” he said.
The most visible sign of that change comes from members of the “Squad” of congressional progressives, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib, expressing their unusual support for the Palestinian cause. opinion polls they also show that younger Democrats, including Jewish Americans, are more outspokenly critical of Israel.
A UDP spokesman, Patrick Dorton, dismissed J Street’s accusations, including the charge of being a Republican front group, by pointing to Saban’s financial support.
“We are exercising our first amendment democratic rights by participating in this election. If you want to see the politicians who have intimidated people and cooled down the discussion about the US-Israeli relationship, watch The Squad,” he said.
“In part, the UDP was formed because there were an increasing number of candidates with radical anti-Israeli views running for Congress. Our view is that it is dangerous to American democracy and could negatively affect bipartisan support for the US-Israeli relationship.”
The UDP and other pro-Israel groups, such as the Democratic Majority for Israel and Pro-Israel America, have spent heavily to oppose candidates deemed anti-Israel in Democratic primaries from Texas to Ohio to California.
The UDP helped defeat six of the seven contenders it opposed, including the co-chair of Bernie Sanders’ most recent presidential campaign, Nina Turner, in a strong Democratic seat in Ohio. Turner, who has argued that substantial US aid to Israel should not be used to perpetuate the occupation of Palestinian land, at one point held a 30 percentage point lead but lost.