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AIPAC Set to Spend $100 Million to Unseat Lawmakers Critical of Israeli Crimes

Incumbent Squad members are among the American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s top targets.

Representatives Ayanna Pressley, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Rashida Tlaib listen during a news conference calling for a ceasefire in Gaza outside the U.S. Capitol building on November 13, 2023, in Washington, D.C.

The powerful lobby group American Israel Public Affairs Committee is expected to spend nine figures in a bid to unseat over half a dozen progressive U.S. lawmakers who have been critical of Israeli human rights crimes in Palestine, Slate reported Wednesday.

Slate politics writer Alex Sammon wrote that “close watchers now expect AIPAC to spend at least $100 million in 2024 Democratic primaries, largely trained on eliminating incumbent Squad members from their seats.”

Sammon said that Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.), Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.), Cori Bush (D-Mo.), Jamaal Bowman (D-N.Y.), and Summer Lee (D-Pa.) — “the most outspoken and unapologetically leftist contingent of the Democratic Party in national office” — are among AIPAC’s top targets.

“The price of defending apartheid keeps going up,” quipped Palestinian American writer and political analyst Yousef Munayyer in response to the report.

Ohio political activist Nina Turner wrote on social media: “This is anti-Blackness. Period.”

Tlaib — the only Palestinian American member of Congress — has accused Israel of genocide for killing and maiming tens of thousands of civilians in Gaza and forcibly displacing nearly three-quarters of the besieged strip’s people. Many experts concur with her characterization.

Tlaib, Omar, Bush, and a handful of other Democratic lawmakers have also called Israel an apartheid state, an assessment shared by a growing number of rights groups, international figures, and even former Israeli government officials.

However, the furthest most progressive Democrats have gone in criticizing Israeli policies and practices is endorsing a resolution introduced last month by Bush urging U.S. President Joe Biden to press Israel’s far-right government to agree to a cease-fire in Gaza.

On Wednesday, two dozen House members led by Reps. Ocasio-Cortez, Mark Pocan (D-Wis.), and Betty McCollum (D-Minn.) sent a letter to Biden calling for a cease-fire.

As Sammon noted, a recent Data for Progress poll found that two-thirds of U.S. voters, including 80% of Democrats, also back a cease-fire.

Connor Farrell, president of the progressive fundraising group Left Rising, told Sammon that AIPAC wants “to make the statement this cycle that no one is safe from their wrath, that if you speak out, you can be targeted no matter how popular or how many cycles of incumbent you are.”

“It’s extremely audacious,” Farrell added.

Progressive Democrats are no strangers to AIPAC spending big in bids to defame, defeat, or unseat them. As Sammon noted:

In the 2022 midterms, the Israel lobby became the largest single-issue outside spender in Democratic primaries, pouring in nearly $30 million via the super PAC the United Democracy Project, and millions more via the Democratic Majority for Israel PAC. It was an astronomical amount of money, mostly directed at knocking progressives out of the primaries, largely in open and redrawn seats.

AIPAC’s heavy spending was blamed for helping Rep. Haley Stevens (D-Mich.) defeat incumbent Andy Levin — a self-described Zionist Jew — last year in Michigan’s 11th Congressional District Democratic primary.

Conversely, some of the staunchest supporters of Israel in Congress have benefited from AIPAC’s largesse. The group was the number one donor to both House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) and House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) during the last election cycle.

AIPAC has also been a top contributor to lawmakers like Reps. Ritchie Torres (D-N.Y.) and Josh Gottheimer (D-N.J.), who not only vocally support Israel, but also attack colleagues like Tlaib and Omar for their pro-Palestinian views. AIPAC was by far Gottheimer’s largest contributor in the 2022 electoral cycle, donating more than $216,000 to his campaign. The same goes for Torres, who received over $141,000 from the group during the same period.

Some observers also believe it is no coincidence that Rep. Jack Bergman (R-Mich.) — whose third-biggest campaign contributor during the last election cycle was AIPAC — introduced a censure motion against Tlaib last month, baselessly calling her a terrorist sympathizer.

Progressive lawmakers haven’t taken AIPAC’s attacks laying down. Omar — who, like Tlaib has received death threats after being targeted by the group — has accused the organization of endangering her life. Pocan earlier this month called AIPAC “a cancerous presence on our democracy and politics in general.”

“I don’t give a fuck about AIPAC,” he said after the group falsely accused him and other representatives of “trying to keep Hamas in power.”

AIPAC has also come under fire from Democrats of all stripes for endorsing more than 100 Republican U.S. lawmakers who voted to subvert the 2020 presidential election in service of former President Donald Trump’s “Big Lie” that Democrats rigged the contest.

Alluding to right-wing support for the group, Bush wrote on social media Wednesday that “AIPAC is attempting to buy blue seats with GOP donor money.”

Sammon wrote that AIPAC’s effort to oust popular Democrats is fraught with risks for the group:

Toppling an incumbent is not easy. Tlaib, Omar, Bush, Bowman, Pressley, and Ocasio-Cortez are all well-liked, especially in their districts. Some, like Tlaib, are masters of constituent services. Others have shown incredible fundraising chops, and boast massive grassroots networks. There have been previous attempts to take out Tlaib and Ocasio-Cortez that failed spectacularly, and expensively. Omar, who looked vulnerable in her previous race, didn’t really campaign that time around. AIPAC may find itself burning money to fight on inhospitable terrain. And if it fails, the group’s fearsome reputation in D.C. will be greatly diminished.

“That AIPAC feels the need to spend this much money at all could well be taken as a sign of weakness, not strength,” Sammon added. “Already, unlimited Israeli militarism is deeply unpopular; a full year of bombings of Palestinian hospitals and mass casualties of children in Gaza could make the AIPAC line even more unpopular still.”

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