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Bowman, Latimer clash on Israel in primary debate

“My opponent is in the pocket and bought and paid for by AIPAC,” Rep. Jamaal Bowman said of his challenger, the Westchester County executive.

Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-N.Y.) and Westchester County executive George Latimer (right) during the Democratic primary debate for New York's 16th Congressional District on May 13, 2024. Source: YouTube/Channel 12.
Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-N.Y.) and Westchester County executive George Latimer (right) during the Democratic primary debate for New York's 16th Congressional District on May 13, 2024. Source: YouTube/Channel 12.

Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-N.Y.) and Westchester County executive George Latimer revealed deep divisions over Israel within the Democratic party on Monday night, as they clashed repeatedly during the primary debate for New York’s 16th Congressional District.

“My opponent is in the pocket and bought and paid for by AIPAC,” Bowman said. “AIPAC is funded by the same Republicans who supported insurrectionists.”

Latimer denied that charge and pointed out that AIPAC supports members of the Congressional Black Caucus and the Democratic leadership, including House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.). He said Bowman uses his seat to promote himself by needlessly weighing in on Israeli policies.

“When you work in a legislative body, you need to form coalitions with people,” Latimer said. “You need to have their respect. You need to talk to them as normal people. You can’t preach and scream at them on the steps of the Capitol.”

“He’s ineffective as a congressman,” Latimer said of Bowman, a member of the so-called “Squad” of left-wing progressives.

Bowman is thought to be one of the most vulnerable Israel critics in Congress in this year’s race, along with fellow “Squad” member Rep. Cori Bush (D-Mo.).

Latimer has been endorsed by the Jewish Democratic Council of America and the Democratic Majority for Israel PAC.

New York’s 16th District, which covers parts of Westchester County and the Bronx, is a heavily blue district, making the winner of the Democratic primary on June 25 the presumptive winner in November.

Nearly half of Monday’s hour-long debate focused on questions about Israel, antisemitism and related issues, which prompted some of the sharpest exchanges between the two candidates. Those included accusations of lying and racial animus.

“Angry black man! Angry black man!” Bowman, who is black, said about Latimer’s claim that he preaches and screams at colleagues. “It’s the Southern strategy in the north.”

Since his defeat of Eliot Engel in the 2020 Democratic primary, Bowman has become one of the House’s staunchest critics of Israel, drawing controversy for other comments and actions.

In 2023, Bowman pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor for falsely pulling a fire alarm at a Capitol office building in the lead-up to a spending vote. Bowman said on Monday that he pulled the fire alarm by mistake. Latimer said it was clear from video footage of the incident that he did so deliberately.

“If you lie about that, what else would he lie about?” Latimer asked.

Since Oct. 7, Bowman has described Israel’s actions against Hamas in Gaza as a “genocide,” in which the U.S. government is complicit. He has joined calls for an immediate ceasefire.

In November, he described claims that Hamas had committed rape as “propaganda.” In comments to Politico in March, Bowman condemned Hamas for committing rape on Oct. 7 but did not apologize for his previous statement.

In January, Bowman claimed at an event that he was a “bit starstruck” by Norman Finkelstein, an anti-Israel, Jewish activist, who has accused Jews of exploiting the Holocaust. 

Bowman later apologized and said he was unaware of Finkelstein’s views, though at the event, he had said he watched Finkelstein’s videos “all the time on YouTube.”

Following that controversy, the left-wing, Israel-focused advocacy group J Street withdrew its endorsement of Bowman over his “framing and approach” to the conflict, even as it continued to back some of his fellow Israel critics in the Squad. 

In Monday’s debate, Bowman stood by his record of support for anti-Israel protesters and opposition to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

“The protests on college campuses are specifically related to U.S. tax dollars and weapons going to Israel, as they bomb the civilians in Gaza, so we called for a permanent ceasefire very early on,” Bowman said. “My opponent is standing with Benjamin Netanyahu in continuing the onslaught of innocent civilians in Gaza.”

“I don’t stand with Benjamin Netanyahu,” Latimer resplied. “I stand with the hostage families.”

The moderator asked both candidates if they believed that the phrase “from the river to the sea” is hate speech or a call for the eradication of the State of Israel.

“I know some do. Others don’t,” Bowman said. “I do not.”

Latimer said that it is hate speech. “I think it’s clear that ‘from the river to the sea’ has meant specifically the eradication of the Jewish population from the land of Israel,” he said.

Latimer said that Palestinian leadership and not Netanyahu is an obstacle to a two-state solution, and he called U.S. President Joe Biden “an honest broker” in the latter.

“I think the Israeli people need to see that they have a partner for peace, and they don’t see a partner for peace right now,” he said.

“I think the intelligent position for a future legislator to take is to work through your legislative bodies and try to influence the president in that fashion, not to have 435 secretaries of state all commenting on every little nuance of this,” he added.

Per the most recent Federal Election Commission data, released on March 31, Latimer has raised more than $3.6 million, compared to more than $2.7 million for Bowman.

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