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The Guardian - US
The Guardian - US
Alice Herman and Will Craft

Pro-Israel group pours millions into unseating New York progressive Jamaal Bowman

Black man wearing glasses, blue suit and red patterned tie
Jamaal Bowman at an event at Suny Westchester community college in Valhalla, New York, on 10 May 2023. Photograph: John Minchillo/AP

A Super Pac affiliated with the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (Aipac) has revved up its campaign spending, pouring $2m into a New York congressional primary to oppose the progressive incumbent Jamaal Bowman.

Campaign finance disclosures released this weekend showed the Super Pac, called United Democracy Project (UDP), spending about $1m in support of Bowman’s opponent, the moderate Democrat George Latimer and $1m in negative advertisements opposing Bowman. If the group succeeds in defeating Bowman, it will deliver a significant blow to the progressive wing of the House.

“They don’t want Israel to be criticized, they don’t want Israel to be held accountable – they don’t want anyone to mention Palestine or speak up for Palestinian rights and lives,” said Bowman during an interview with MSNBC on Saturday.

In comparison, progressive groups including Justice Democrats and Working Families Party have spent less than $300,000 in support of Bowman and opposing Latimer. Latimer’s campaign has similarly outpaced Bowman’s in fundraising, with Latimer garnering more than $3.6m and Bowman raising about $2.6m so far.

In an email to the Guardian, an Aipac spokesperson previously described Latimer as “a strong advocate for the US-Israel relationship in clear contrast to his opponent who is aligned with the anti-Israel extremist fringe”. Bowman has sharply criticized Israel’s military campaign in Gaza and was among the first of his colleagues to call for a ceasefire.

Notably, ads countering Bowman do not mention Israel at all. One ad from UDP accuses Bowman of having “his own agenda”, highlighting policy differences between the congressman and Joe Biden.

The heavily Democratic contested district, with large numbers of Black, Jewish and Latino constituents, elected the progressive “Squad” member Bowman in 2020 in an upset primary election in 2020.

Aipac’s forays into campaigns represent a new avenue of political activism for the pro-Israel lobbying group, which until the 2022 election cycle did not spend on campaigns. By forming a Super Pac, which can legally contribute unlimited amounts of money on advertisements and communications in races, Aipac has been able to ramp up its influence.

Aipac planned to spend $100m on campaigns this year and has so far targeted a wide and at times unexpected range of races – with mixed results.

In an Indiana congressional primary, UDP spent $1.6m in a successful bid to stop the former Republican congressman John Hostettler, an isolationist-leaning Republican who in the past made antisemitic remarks, from regaining a seat in the House. In a Maryland race, the Super Pac threw its support behind the Democratic candidate Sarah Elfreth, who beat the former US Capitol police officer Harry Dunn. Neither Dunn, whose book about the January 6 attack propelled him to national prominence, or Elfreth, a Maryland state senator, made comments about Israel-Gaza during the race.

But candidates backed by pro-Israel groups have not succeeded in every race so far this year – UDP also dropped $4.6m in a failed bid to stop the Democratic congressional candidate Dave Min from advancing in his primary race against Democratic candidate Joanna Weiss.

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