There may be only one thing worse for AIPAC than the abuse it is currently taking from progressives for working to defeat candidates who are not friends of Israel. That would have been to avoid direct involvement in the 2022 election cycle in which it has played a role in defeating a number of foes of the Jewish state.
AIPAC is being blamed by angry leftists for the landslide defeat of Rep. Andy Levin (D-Mich.) at the hands of Rep. Haley Stevens, a fellow Michigan Democrat who found herself competing against him because of redistricting. It was an easy decision for the PAC formed by the mainstream lobby group and other such organizations to intervene in that race since Levin, despite claiming to be a Zionist and flaunting his Jewish credentials, is a deeply problematic congressman. His endorsement of anti-Israel legislation and crucial role as an ally for anti-Zionists and anti-Semites like Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) provided cover to the Jewish state’s worst enemies.
Haley, a moderate Democrat who adheres to mainstream positions like support for a two-state solution, certainly benefited from the assistance of pro-Israel groups. But she probably would have won anyway, given that the district they were competing in was more receptive to her centrist positions on issues like trade than to Levin’s doctrinaire leftism.
Yet that isn’t stopping left-wing Twitter post- Levin’s defeat dunking on AIPAC by resurrecting anti-Semitic canards about the Jews “buying” congressional seats. Indeed, even people like former Clinton administration Secretary of Labor Robert Reich are floating lies about the lobby now becoming the single largest political contributor in Democratic electoral politics. Others are echoing that line while also saying that this is merely the work of a few rich Zionists distorting the U.S. electoral system.
This is nonsense. The money that pro-Israel groups have put into various primaries this year is a fraction of the tens, if not hundreds of millions that billionaire investor/leftist philanthropist George Soros has put into countless races. It’s also true that the two main teachers’ unions, the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers, have also outspent pro-Israel groups on political campaigns as they have become an extraordinarily influential Democrat donor group.
But this is more than a case of sour grapes on the left. The willingness of mainstream liberal media outlets to treat AIPAC’s efforts as somehow illegitimate, while thinking nothing of the way other groups and causes spent far more on supporting their friends or opposing their foes, remains troubling. So are the stories even in Jewish publications, which are predicting that AIPAC will suffer future consequences for having the temerity to oppose opponents of Israel. That’s in line with the anti-Zionist talking point that there is something wrong about friends of Israel using the democratic system and exercising their right to political speech to hold members of Congress accountable.
Levin’s allies and those of other far-left candidates are sore because they understand that the pro-Israel community has begun to recognize the cost of ignoring what happens in Democratic congressional primaries.
One of the main reasons why the far-left congressional “Squad” exists is because extremist candidates, many allied with the Democratic Socialist Party, were able to steal a march on more centrist and establishment politicians who failed to take their challenges seriously. People like Rap. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and other “Squad” members took advantage of the low turnout in deep blue districts where a critical mass of hard left-wing activists could swing a primary and defeat mainstream candidates.
If there is a downside to the success of groups like AIPAC’s PAC and the Democratic Majority for Israel in helping pro-Israel Democrats, it’s the recognition that there are clear limits to their ability to influence the party. Not for nothing did the anti-Israel left chide AIPAC for intervening against Levin while doing little or nothing to oppose Tlaib’s renomination, although she is an open supporter of the anti-Semitic BDS movement and wants to see Israel wiped off the map.
The truth about the electoral map is that the exponential growth in the ranks of the Democrats’ Progressive Caucus and “Squad,” whose numbers grew in 2020 and will probably increase even more in 2022, is a function of a shifting Democratic electorate. There are an increasing number of districts, including those of Tlaib and many others, where candidates are allied with the intersectional left cannot be defeated. Moreover, if, as every serious analysis of the midterms seems to indicate, the ranks of the Democratic House caucus are about to undergo a drastic reduction, the influence of these leftists is going to be proportionately greater since it is the moderates in swing districts who will lose if a red wave brings the GOP victory in November.
That’s why it is so important that in competitive districts, voters are reminded which candidates are in sync with the pro-Israel views of the majority of Americans and which with the extreme left and others who are mainstreaming anti-Semitism.
We should expect that in the future, the left will ramp up its own efforts not just to match pro-Israel donations but to use their influential media platforms to demonize and delegitimize the entire concept of pro-Israel political activism.
It should be remembered that when “Squad” member Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) tweeted about support for Israel in Congress being purely a matter of being about the “the Benjamins,” it was widely understood to be a brazen use of an anti-Semitic trope about Jews using money to manipulate non-Jews. The Democratic caucus was ultimately intimidated by its left-wing into watering down a condemnation of Omar to one which even she could support. But the controversy itself was an indication that the national firewall against Jew-hatred still existed even if it was under assault.
But the growing debate in recent months about the propriety of groups like AIPAC doing the same thing every other interest group does—participating in the democratic process by backing people they liked and opposing those that they didn’t—is an indication that the firewall has undergone a serious breach.
It was worrisome that rather than being isolated or deplored by mainstream figures, anti-Semites like Omar and Tlaib were largely embraced by the Democratic establishment up to and including President Joe Biden, as allies. They were also feted as rock stars by some of the party’s leading enablers, like the late-night comedy shows. But nowadays, the common use of these tropes in the wake of Levin’s defeat and other races is treated as unremarkable.
As the battle for the soul of the Democratic Party escalates, it’s painfully obvious that the effort to trash the pro-Israel community for exercising its democratic rights will also get nastier and more anti-Semitic. We saw that this year with Levin and his allies engaging in hateful tropes about Jews trying to dominate the political system. The next time around in 2024, it would be foolish not to be prepared for more of that with the demonization of Zionism growing even more vituperative.
That’s a daunting prospect but the response cannot be, as AIPAC’s critics urge, for the pro-Israel community to stand down. To the contrary, it must continue to do whatever it can to salvage the thinning ranks of pro-Israel Democrats. And, despite the rage of many Democratic partisans, it must continue to support Republicans at a time when they are becoming even more of a lockstep pro-Israel party. Indeed, with Democrats more divided than ever on Israel, the notion of a bipartisan consensus on the issue is becoming a relic of the past. Friends of the Jewish state must continue to back pro-Israel candidates, regardless of whether they have a “D” or an “R” after their names. The alternative is to simply stand by silently as leftist opponents of Israel and Zionism grow in numbers and influence.
Jonathan S. Tobin is editor-in-chief of JNS (Jewish News Syndicate). Follow him on Twitter at: @jonathans_tobin.
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