columnU.S. News

Bowman lost because of his unhinged radicalism, not AIPAC

The left’s hypocritical narrative about a landslide loss in New York is to resurrect an antisemitic trope about Jewish money. The “Squad,” however, is far from finished.

The crowd at U.S. Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-N.Y.) speaks during his Election Night party at the Grand Roosevelt Ballroom in New York City on June 25, 2024. Photo by Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images.
The crowd at U.S. Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-N.Y.) speaks during his Election Night party at the Grand Roosevelt Ballroom in New York City on June 25, 2024. Photo by Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images.
Jonathan S. Tobin. Photo by Tzipora Lifchitz.
Jonathan S. Tobin
Jonathan S. Tobin is editor-in-chief of JNS (Jewish News Syndicate). Follow him @jonathans_tobin.

The narrative about Rep. Jamaal Bowman’s (D-N.Y.) impending landslide primary loss from “progressive” Democrats was already being set up the weekend before the votes in New York’s 16th Congressional District were counted. While some might have considered the presence of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) as the featured speaker, a video from the Bronx rally for the congressman in which Bowman and one of his leading allies and fellow “Squad” member, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (N.Y.), danced around like teenagers at a rock concert before he launched into a profanity-laden tirade that went viral. While the main point of their presentations was expressed in varied ways, Bowman summed it up in two words: f*&%k AIPAC.”

The same profound sentiment was widely shared on the left after the results came in on Tuesday evening when Bowman was routed in his bid for re-election by a longtime moderate Democrat. Westchester County Executive George Latimer trounced Bowman by 58.6% to 41.4%.

Other members of the “Squad” and some leftist pundits like Peter Beinart put down Bowman’s fate as just another example of wicked pro-Israel Jews taking down a proud black man. Axios published a story packed with anonymous quotes from Democratic congressmen saying that $14.5 million spent on advertising by an AIPAC-affiliated PAC was unseemly, if not overkill. In The Guardian, Ben Davis conceded that AIPAC had won, but he termed it a “pyrrhic victory” that actually marked a turning point. According to Davis, “the result of this election masks a considerable shift in the balance of power within American politics away from unconditional support for Israel as an unquestioned political consensus.”

AIPAC knocks off a sure loser

Their point was that Bowman was too weak to resist the power of the mighty “Israel Lobby,” but the fact that this all-powerful force in American politics had to go to so much trouble and expense to take down one member of Congress was actually a sign of weakness.

By contrast, many supporters of Israel, while decrying the conspiratorial nature of these accusations, were still quick to point to the outcome as a sign of things to come for other “Squad” members like Rep. Cori Bush (D-Mo.), who also faces a stiff primary challenge next month from a more moderate Democrat. Their hope was that Bowman’s loss would be a turning point in which centrists would begin to roll back the victories of the progressive wing of the party in recent years that has so much such leverage over the Biden administration on a host of issues, only one of them being anti-Israel sentiments.

Both of these far-reaching conclusions are wrong.

Bowman didn’t lose his race because of AIPAC. The pro-Israel lobby didn’t spend a penny on the race until after a poll was published in March that showed Bowman trailing Latimer among likely primary voters by the same 17% margin—52% to 35%—that he wound up losing in the actual count.

The congressman’s problems stemmed from a basic conundrum: He was out of sync with the sentiments of his own constituents. When first elected in 2020, his district was drawn in a manner far friendlier to left-wing views. But the district that emerged from the post-census reapportionment of New York’s representatives was decidedly less amenable to progressives, even if it still remained overwhelmingly Democratic. Although partly based in the New York City borough of the Bronx, which has a high minority population, it is now mostly situated in neighboring Westchester County, an area with a considerable Jewish population. It was too suburban to be a good fit for the former middle-school principal’s AOC-style radicalism, and where he reportedly largely ignored the locals in his bid for national celebrity and attention. That was reflected in the results, which showed Bowman winning the sliver of the district that was in the Bronx by a whopping 84%-16% margin but losing in the far larger Westchester segment by 64%-36%.

Nor was Bowman just another “Squad” member. He earned notoriety last year for pulling a fire alarm in the U.S. House of Representatives when the Democrats were trying to delay a vote, leading to panic at the Capitol and then his colleagues censuring him. He also had to pay a fine and do community service.

All of this leads to the conclusion that Bowman would have been in deep trouble against any non-left-wing Democrat, let alone one as well-established and as good a campaigner as Latimer.

Democracy in action

It’s true that part of his problem was the fact that the 16th has a significant Jewish population, which made his increasingly anti-Israel stand an obstacle to re-election. Bowman flirted with anti-Zionism throughout his three and a half years in Congress but went overboard after the terrorist attacks in Israel on Oct. 7, when he denied the truth about Hamas using rape as a weapon of war and then falsely accused Israel of committing genocide in Gaza once Israel’s ground war started. It got even worse when he accused Jews of living in “separated” communities, a classical antisemitic trope.

George Latimer
Westchester County Executive George Latimer speaks to supporters after winning his race against Democratic incumbent Rep. Jamaal Bowman in the 16th Congressional District of New York’s Democratic primary, June 25, 2024. Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images.

So, while anti-Israel propagandists look to AIPAC’s intervention as proof of the unhealthy influence of the “Israel lobby,” the fact that Jewish voters were desperate not to have him represent them in Congress was not merely understandable. It was democracy in action.

It’s possible that he won’t be the only “Squad” member to lose his seat this year. The equally radical and fervently anti-Israel Cori Bush is also facing a spirited challenge to her St. Louis-based seat with her opponent being the recipient of generous help from AIPAC’s PAC and other pro-Israel donors, like the Democratic Majority for Israel. Unlike Bowman, who was doomed to defeat once moderate Democrats brought forward a plausible alternative, the polls show that race to be neck and neck, with St. Louis County prosecuting attorney Wesley Bell leading her 43%-42% in the most recent survey of voter opinion.

But even if Bush loses, it would be just as much of a mistake to read too much into that race as it is with Bowman’s defeat. Members of Congress who don’t pay attention to their district’s needs and who are more intent on gaining national attention are always vulnerable to challengers better attuned to regional sensibilities (as the saying goes, “all politics is local”). Both of these races are low-hanging fruit for AIPAC. They say nothing about national trends that show the Democratic Party continuing to trend more to the left and especially away from past positions of strong support for Israel.

Nor are the AIPAC-bashers correct.

The money dumped into Bowman’s district by pro-Israel donors may seem egregious to some Democrats, but it needs to be put into the context of spending in the hyper-expensive New York media market. The fact that Bowman raised approximately $6 million for what knowledgeable political observers knew from the start was a forlorn hope of victory shows that plenty of money is available for Israel-haters.

Jamaal Bowman
The crowd at U.S. Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-N.Y.) speaks during his Election Night party at the Grand Roosevelt Ballroom in New York City on June 25, 2024. Photo by Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images.

The myth of the ‘lobby’

The talk of excessive spending is also pure hypocrisy since Democrats think there’s nothing wrong with pro-abortion rights groups like Emily’s List pouring money into a district or when billionaire pro-gun-control donors like former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg get involved. And that’s not even mentioning the efforts of leftist billionaire philanthropist George Soros. He has targeted district attorney races around the nation for massive spending to elect prosecutors soft on crime, such as Manhattan’s Alvin Bragg, who recently added the pro-Hamas rioters and destroyers of private property at Columbia University to the long list of criminals against whom he refused to press charges.

AIPAC won in the NY-16 race and might win in Missouri. Yet as the pressure that was exerted on President Joe Biden to step back from supporting Israel from within his own party showed, Democrats are deeply divided on the Jewish state and the loss of a couple of radicals won’t change that. There are still plenty of pro-Israel Democrats like Latimer, but their numbers get fewer with each election cycle. The notion of the bipartisan pro-Israel consensus while always aspirational, is, like it or not, now more myth than reality, regardless of campaign spending totals.

Even more troubling is the ease with which much of the left-wing media segued straight from Bowman’s defeat to cycling the talk about the ominous impact of “dark” Jewish money. Pro-Israel campaign spending can have an impact on specific races, but it is a pittance when put in the context of overall national spending totals on all races. Business lobbies like those that represent the oil and pharmaceutical industries make the “Israel lobby” look like small change. But that doesn’t stop those who think there is something unwholesome about Jews who wish to defend their interests and beliefs by exercising their democratic right to take part in elections via speech, spending and voting.

At this point, no one in the pro-Israel community should have the least reticence about mobilizing efforts to defeat candidates like Bowman and Bush, or their “Squad” colleagues Reps. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) and Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.). They have long since crossed the line that separates “criticism” of Israel’s policies to the opposition of Israel’s right to exist and straight-out antisemitism. Such words and actions should be opposed by all decent Americans, regardless of political affiliation.

Neither should Jews labor under the delusion that picking off a couple of “Squad” members is enough to cope with a sea change of opinion on the left. The rise of woke ideology, intersectionality and critical race theory have made it inevitable that left-wing Democrats would start mimicking old Soviet-era propaganda about Zionism and the Jews. As long as the U.S. educational system—and much of the media and popular culture—is controlled by those who believe in these toxic lies, the anti-Israel left will continue to grow in influence inside the Democratic Party. In that sense, The Guardian’s evaluation of the Bowman race may be sadly correct. That victory, however welcome it might be, is nothing more than a successful rear-guard action—not a sign that the Democratic Party as a whole is coming to its senses about the woke left’s anti-Israel bigotry.

Jonathan S. Tobin is editor-in-chief of JNS (Jewish News Syndicate) Follow him @jonathans_tobin. 

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