Home » Pro-Israel US groups plan $100m effort to unseat progressives over Gaza | US elections 2024

Pro-Israel US groups plan $100m effort to unseat progressives over Gaza | US elections 2024

by John Jefferson
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Pro-Israel groups are pumping millions into this year’s heated congressional races, singling out progressives who have voiced criticism of the Israeli government and its relentless campaign in Gaza.

The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (Aipac) is betting that $100m will be enough to fight back a wave of progressive dissent over Israel’s war in Gaza this election cycle. After investing heavily in the 2022 midterms, Aipac is now doubling down on its electoral efforts.

Aipac and other pro-Israel groups, such as Democratic Majority for Israel, have already identified some high-profile targets in this year’s congressional elections – including the New York congressman Jamaal Bowman and the Missouri congresswoman Cori Bush.

Progressive leaders have made clear that they will not go down without a fierce fight, and outrage over the war in Gaza, which has killed more than 33,000 Palestinians, has rallied supporters to push back against pro-Israel lobbying groups. The unexpected strength of the “uncommitted” primary campaign in states like Michigan and Minnesota has underscored that Gaza is weighing heavily on the minds of progressive voters this election cycle, and their mobilization could complicate campaign efforts by groups like Aipac.

But combating $100m is no easy task, and progressives will need to use every possible resource to protect some of their most vulnerable candidates.


Although Aipac’s roots trace back to the 1950s, the group spent decades focusing most of its attention on lobbying members of Congress – only getting directly involved in races in the past few years. In late 2021, Aipac announced the formation of a political action committee, known as Aipac Pac, and a Super Pac, the United Democracy Project, to get more directly involved in congressional campaigns.

The groups hit the ground running in the 2022 midterms, spending nearly $50m across the election cycle. Aipac Pac boasts that it supported 365 pro-Israel candidates from both parties in 2022, while critics condemned the group’s endorsement of dozens of Republicans who voted against certifying the results of the 2020 presidential election.

Although Aipac endorses prominent members of both parties, its extensive work specifically targeting progressive Democrats in primary campaigns has become a source of intense ire on the left.

In 2022, UDP, the super Pac affiliated with Aipac, spent $4.2m against former Democratic congresswoman Donna Edwards of Maryland and another $1.7m in support of her more centrist opponent, Glenn Ivey. The group invested another $3.9m in support of Democratic congresswoman Haley Stevens’ primary campaign against fellow Democratic incumbent Andy Levin, who faced an additional $342,000 in negative advertising from UDP. Edwards and Levin lost their primaries.

Even in 2022, the groups’ electoral success was mixed. UDP spent $3.3m opposing progressive state representative Summer Lee, while the group and DMFI collectively poured another $1.1m into propping up her opponent, lawyer and activist Steve Irwin. UDP also spent $2.7m supporting Michigan state senator Adam Hollier’s House bid while hitting his opponent, state representative Shri Thanedar, who had co-sponsored legislation calling for an end to aid to Israel, with $1.4m in negative advertising. Lee and Thanedar emerged victorious in their primaries and went on to win House seats. (Thanedar has since courted pro-Israel interests, traveling to Israel with an Aipac-affiliated group and repeatedly affirming his support for Israel’s campaign in Gaza following Hamas’s 7 October attack).

This year, pro-Israel groups have already gotten involved in other primaries against members of the progressive “Squad” in Congress. Aipac Pac has endorsed George Latimer, who is running against New York congressman Jamaal Bowman, and Wesley Bell, who is attempting to unseat Missouri congresswoman Cori Bush.

Jamaal Bowman, the New York congressman. Photograph: John Minchillo/AP

But as the war in Gaza has stretched on and the Palestinian death toll has mounted, progressive voters’ outrage over pro-Israel groups’ activities has escalated as well. And their support of progressive candidates could disrupt Aipac’s plans for this cycle.

UDP has already suffered one high-profile loss this election cycle. The group poured $4.6m into negative advertising against California state senator Dave Min, who was viewed as a surprising target for Aipac given his relatively few mentions of the war in Gaza in his campaign appearances. Last month, Min defeated Aipac’s preferred candidate, lawyer and activist Joanna Weiss, by 6.6 points to advance to the general election.

“I think they kind of tried to meddle [in Min’s primary] to show their strength, and they got beat there,” said Nicholas Gavio, mid-Atlantic communications director for the progressive Working Families Party. “I think it shows that it’s a tough battle, and if [pro-Israel groups] mess around with these races, they’re going to lose a lot.”


The early loss in the Min race does not appear to have dissuaded Aipac or its donors.

Meanwhile, an effort has taken hold to counter Aipac’s bid – backed by a coalition of progressive groups including the Sunrise Movement, the political arm of Jewish Voice for Peace and Justice Democrats, a Pac supporting progressive congressional campaigns. The group, called Reject Aipac, announced last month plans to organize members of Congress to disavow the pro-Israel group and to fundraise on behalf of progressive members facing Aipac-backed primary opponents.

Reject Aipac made its case in a splashy “explainer” video, released on 11 April and narrated by the actor Wallace Shawn, who telegraphs the group’s message that “Aipac’s only reing tactic is to silence Democratic incumbents with multimillion-dollar primaries funded by Republican dark money”.

“Public opinion is not in their favor,” said Usamah Andrabi, communications director for Justice Democrats.

“They are far right, and they have no place in the Democratic party. And that’s why the only way that they can put themselves in the Democratic party is by spending millions and millions of dollars threatening anyone who speaks out against the Israeli government or military.”


In November, the House took the extraordinary step of censuring congresswoman Rashida Tlaib, a Democrat of Michigan and the only Palestinian American member of Congress, over her comments on the war in Gaza. Twenty-two Democrats joined 212 Republicans in supporting the measure.

Such a rebuke could have hurt Tlaib’s re-election prospects, but the censure appears to have instead outraged and invigorated her progressive supporters. In the last quarter of 2023, Tlaib raised nearly $3.7m, according to Federal Election Commission Filings. She built on that impressive haul in the first quarter of this year, raising nearly $2m more, bringing her total to over six and a half million, the latest filings show.

Progressive organizers point to Tlaib’s fundraising prowess as further proof that Squad members’ criticism of the Netanyahu government is not a liability but an asset this election cycle.

“[Pro-Israel groups] are deeply out of step with Democratic voters, and I think we’re going to see that throughout this cycle,” Andrabi said. “We are a movement that is not just progressives. This is the core of the Democratic base that is speaking up and saying, ‘We support candidates who support a ceasefire.’”

Polls show that calls for a ceasefire attract widespread support from across the political spectrum. According to a Economist/YouGov survey conducted this month, 65% of US adults support an immediate ceasefire in Gaza. That figure includes 80% of Democrats, 59% of independents and 55% of Republicans.

Voters opposed to the war have mobilized around a campaign to abandon Biden during the Democratic primary, registering their anger by choosing the “uncommitted” ballot option in Michigan’s March primary and organizing similar campaigns in the following primaries. More than 100,000 Michigan voters ultimately voted “uncommitted”, giving the campaign two delegate votes at the Democratic National Convention this summer. The campaign’s strong performance in subsequent states has brought their delegate haul up to 27.

During the Michigan primary, Tlaib, who cast a ballot in her district in the Detroit suburbs, endorsed the protest vote and encouraged others to do the same.

“These representatives that have taken these bold stances a couple of months ago are now in the stream of the Democratic party,” Gavio said. “You have the president of the United States, a pretty moderate Democrat, calling for a ceasefire, and I think Democratic voters see that.”

That shift in public opinion has made Aipac’s support somewhat of a Trojan horse for Democratic candidates. In February, congresswoman Lizzie Fletcher, a Democrat of Texas, accused her primary opponent of sending fake texts from her campaign touting Aipac’s endorsement of her reelection effort. Her opponent, progressive candidate Pervez Agwan, denied the allegations, but the incident underscored how Aipac’s endorsement could be used as a weapon in Democratic primaries.

Aipac Pac appears to be well aware of this dynamic, which is why their negative campaign advertising against progressives generally does not highlight the candidates’ views on Israel. Instead, the group’s ads mostly focus on other aspects of the candidates’ biographies and platforms. In Min’s primary, the attack ads against him focused on his arrest for drunk driving last year.

When UDP got involved in Lee’s 2022 primary, the group’s ads did not mention her views on Israel but rather accused her of undermining Biden’s agenda and the broader mission of the Democratic party. This time around, UDP has stayed out of Lee’s primary, even though she faces a challenge from local councilmember Bhavini Patel.

Instead, another group, the Moderate Pac, has gotten involved in Lee’s primary, which will be held on Tuesday. The group, which is largely funded by billionaire businessman and Republican megadonor Jeffrey Yass, has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on ads accusing Lee of “opposing Joe Biden’’ and attempting to “dismantle the Democratic party”.

A constellation of progressive groups, including Working Families Party and Justice Democrats, have come to Lee’s aid to counteract the Moderate Pac.

Although UDP and DMFI are not getting directly involved in Lee’s race, progressives still view her primary as a key test heading into the rest of the election season.

“What we’re seeing is Republican billionaires using Super Pacs as vehicles to spend in Democratic primaries against mostly Black and brown progressives,” Andrabi said.

“No one has ever tried to spend $100m in Democratic primaries for Congress ever. These are likely going to be some of the most expensive Democratic congressional primaries we have ever seen. And it is only that way because these candidates – be it George Latimer or Wesley Bell or Bhavini Patel – cannot stand on their own.”



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