North America Pro-Israel Super PACs and the Democratic Primaries

Pro-Israel Super PACs and the Democratic Primaries



Pennsylvania’s popular lieutenant governor John Fetterman won the state’s Democratic Senate primary, easily defeating drab centrist Conor Lamb. His policy agenda includes backing the PRO Act, boosting U.S. manufacturing jobs, codifying Roe v. Wade, and legalizing weed. In the New York Times Michael Sokolove wonders if Fetterman represents the future of the party. “Nearly every story about Mr. Fetterman points out his 6-foot-8 frame, shaved head, tattoos and preferred attire — work clothes from Carhartt, a brand long favored by construction workers and miners and more recently by hip-hop artists,” Sokolove writes. “He sometimes attends public events in baggy gym shorts.”

“It is all part of a style that has won him passionate followers among progressive Democrats,” he continues. “Mr. Fetterman has been a frequent presence on MSNBC and is a skilled social media practitioner, with over 400,000 Twitter followers. (His dogs, Levi and Artie, have their own Twitter account and more than 25,000 followers.) It can sometimes seem that he skirts the line between being a traditional candidate and an internet influencer.”

Sokolove goes onto note that Fetterman has a lot of work to do with black voters and that his devotion to progressive causes has “one glaring departure”: he doesn’t support a ban on fracking. Maybe it’s not worth mentioning because it’s just implied at this point, but there’s at least one other glaring departure in his agenda. It’s Palestine of course.

In April Jewish Insider’s Matthew Kassel spoke with Fetterman on the subject of Israel/Palestine and it turns out his positions are far from ideal. He wants to “lean in” on the Israel/U.S. relationship as Senator, explicitly stated that he wasn’t progressive on the issue, doesn’t want military aid conditioned in any way, and voiced displeasure at the fact a small number of House members had voted against additional Iron Dome funding. “Israel has the supreme right to defend itself,” he explained.

He’s also identifies himself as a fierce opponent of the BDS movement. “It’s just wrong,” he told Kassel. “Israel is our closest ally and friend in the region, and I do not believe that is anything productive that enhances not only Israel’s security but the region’s security through that process.” As lieutenant governor Fetterman backed legislation that prohibits the state from pursuing contracts with companies that boycott Israel.

There’s an interesting tidbit in the Jewish Insider piece. Mark Mellman, Democratic Majority for Israel’s (DMFI) president and a strategic advisor to Yair Lapid, tells the website that he reached out to Fetterman and asked for an Israel position paper. Fetterman told the organization that he was still fleshing out his views on the issue. As soon as Fetterman prevailed in the primary DMFI said they were endorsing him in the general election. So now the potential future of the party is backed by a group with a board member who has called for Gaza to be burned. I guess he got that position paper in.

Summer Lee and AIPAC

Staying in Pennsylvania, let’s turn to the Democratic primary in the state’s 12th district. The results aren’t official there yet, but Summer Lee has declared victory and it looks like she will probably eke out an incredibly slim victory. Lee is a organizer and local lawmaker backed by some of the most popular Democrats in the country. Her opponent was Steve Irwin, an attorney and former Republican Senate staffer with a low profile. There hasn’t been a lot of polling on this race, but a couple months ago GQR conducted a survey and it had Lee up by 25 points. When they gave voters more information about the candidates, that number doubled. So, how did this race end up being so close?

There are worst places to look than the impact of pro-Israel lobbying groups. American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) and DMFI Super PACs collectively spent over $3 million on the race, with the bulk of that money coming from The United Democracy Project (UDP), the Super PAC that AIPAC launched last December. What UDP races is legal by the laughable standards of U.S. campaign finance laws, but the group’s strategy boils down to a massive hoodwink.

Lots of voters in the district saw a television ad where Summer Lee is denounced as a danger to the Democratic party because she’s critical of its current politics and has not always agreed with Biden. She’s “more interested in fighting Democrats than getting results,” it declares. On the screen viewers see that the spot was bankrolled by The United Democracy Project, a name that sounds at least vaguely liberal. The inclusion of the word “democracy” is probably the most hilarious aspect of the brand. Not just because AIPAC is devoted to preserving the United States government’s relationship with an apartheid state, but because the lobbying group has backed over 100 Republicans who refuse to acknowledge that Donald Trump lost the election. If Summer Lee is primarily “interested in fighting Democrats,” then how would one describe the people who stormed the Capitol?

AIPAC has another PAC simply called the AIPAC PAC, but of course they can’t attack Summer Lee and then put those words on the screen. Their brand has eroded among the Democratic base and even among many Democratic candidates. It wasn’t that long ago that someone like Barack Obama felt he had to attend the group’s annual conference and recite a bunch of pro-Israel talking points to ultimately be elected. The last time around they couldn’t even get Mayor Pete to swing by. When it was recently revealed that new White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre had once written an op-ed denouncing AIPAC, the story seemingly died in a matter of hours. Every recent poll tracking Israel’s reputation with Democrats points to it declining. Organizations like AIPAC and DMFI can’t cajole voters with details of the Zionism. They’ll never admit it, but they know it’s a loser.

So while it’s understandable that people want to celebrate AIPAC’s defeat here, it’s also important to be clear about exactly what happened. AIPAC showed up in a district where a progressive woman of color was out in front big and made it a close race. We had already seen the blueprint in Ohio last year, after Nina Turner built a sizable lead on Shontel Brown. DMFI’s PAC funneled almost $2 million into the race and Brown was able to win in a close race. When the two women faced off again in this year, things had changed. Groups like Justice Democrats sat the second round out. Here’s what they told The Intercept in a statement: “Nina is a giant in the progressive movement and we’re proud to have gone all in for her campaign last year,” Justice Democrats said in a statement. “The reality is our organization has to be strategic about our priorities as we are getting massively outgunned by Republican donors funneling millions to SuperPACs like AIPAC and DMFI against our existing candidates.” In this year’s context, Brown crushed Turner at the ballot box.

Summer Lee is certainly not Rashida Tlaib. She’s not a BDS supporter, she hasn’t referred to Israel as an apartheid state publicly, and she says she would have voted for the extra Iron Dome funding last year. However, she has criticized the bombing of Gaza, questioned the standard “Israel is defending itself” framing, and wants military aid to be conditioned over issues like settlement expansion and further annexation. This kind of stuff is a big no-no if your entire project promotes an unwavering commitment to a foreign country. If people start adopting these kinds of ideas they might start asking deeper questions, and then knows what becomes of the “special relationship”? AIPAC also racked up some victories this Tuesday, including North Carolina’s 4th district, where they were able to help prevent political activist and Israel critic Nida Allam from securing a victory. UDP spent over $2 million on that race.

AIPAC’s tactics are seem to be receiving increasing attention within the mainstream. This week MSNBC’s Chris Hayes ran a segment where he explained the whole ruse. “Nobody should take any lectures from them about who is and who is not a real Democrat,” he told his viewers. “We should all be clear about what this is really about.”

How do you defend any of this? Jewish Insider gives the floor to UDP chief executive Rob Bassin and he predictably fails because it can’t be done. “The fact that (Lee) may barely eke out a victory suggests that her brand of anti-Israel, far-left, out-of-the-mainstream doesn’t resonate with the majority of Democrats,” he reasons. As previously mentioned, Lee can hardly be called “anti-Israel”, but the implication here is that voters support the country. People like Bassin and Mellman are incapable of asking the most obvious question: if Israel is such a winning a issue among Democrats, then why do they refuse to mention it in any of their ads?

“The fact that Steve Irwin went from being a relatively almost completely unknown figure to contesting this race is rather extraordinary,” Bassin also told the website.

Hard to argue with that.

Odds & Ends

🇵🇸 This week Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) introduced a historic resolution recognizing the Palestinian Nakba. The move was timed to commemorate the 74th anniversary of the tragedy.

“As the assassination of Shireen Abu Akleh last week made all too clear, the violence and war crimes are an ongoing and ever-present assault on the existence and humanity of the Palestinian people,” said the congresswoman in a statement. “The Israeli apartheid government’s ongoing ethnic cleansing seeks to degrade Palestinian humanity and break the will of the people to be free. Fortunately, as Palestinians and their allies prove time and time again, we will persist no matter the circumstances until peace, freedom, equity and respect for all people are secured and protected.”

The legislation calls on the U.S. government to officially recognize the event, discourage denial of it, and encourage education of its facts. It also asks for the rights of Palestinian refugees to be honored and specifically cites United Nations General Assembly Resolution 194, which enshrined the right of return for Palestinians.

Right now it has six cosponsors: Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), Jamaal Bowman (D-NY), Cori Bush (D-MO), Ilhan Omar (D-MN),  Marie Newman (D-IL), and Betty McCollum (D-MN).

🎥 Justice Democrats released a video targeting DMFI. It stars comedian Charlie Bardey.

🇵🇸 Dozens of American Muslim organizations put out a joint statement condemning ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt’s recent attacks on Palestine activists. “Groups like the ADL must not marginalize and slander members of our community working for human rights. As Muslim Americans, we stand united with each other in upholding justice,” it reads. “We also stand with the Jewish Americans, Christian Americans, Arab Americans, Palestinian Americans, African Americans, and many others who have been
unfairly attacked for supporting justice for all.”

🚫 Since the racially motivated killings in Buffalo the ADL has been tweeting about Great Replacement Theory. “We reiterate — amplifying theories about people of color ‘replacing’ white people through immigrations, birth rate, and other economic, social, & political means serves to normalize the ideas that animate white supremacist extremists,” wrote the organization.

This is obviously true but it’s rich coming from the ADL, an organization that espouses the same kind of theory in the Middle East. On Twitter Al Jazeera journalist Ali Harb quotes an ADL guide for activists: “With historically high birth rates among the Palestinians, and a possible influx of Palestinian refugees and their descendants now living around the world, Jews would quickly be a minority within a bi-national state.”

🇸🇴 Biden has signed an order to redeploy hundreds of U.S. troops back to Somalia. From the New York Times: “Together, the decisions by Mr. Biden, described by the officials on the condition of anonymity, will revive an open-ended American counterterrorism operation that has amounted to a slow-burn war through three administrations. The move stands in contrast to his decision last year to pull American forces from Afghanistan, saying that “it is time to end the forever war.”

🎆🎉  The Student Senate at LSU unanimously passed a bill that calls on the school to cut ties with companies responsible for human rights abuses or environmental destruction, including Israel.

🇺🇸 George W. Bush is still not in The Hague, but he is apparently giving speeches at his presidential center in Dallas. This week, while meaning to reference the invasion of Ukraine, he accidentally referred to the “wholly unjustified and brutal invasion of Iraq.” Realizing his mistake he murmured “Iraq too” under his breath while laughing, then made a joke to the crowd about his age. It’s estimated that over a million Iraqis were killed in that war.

Stay safe out there,


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