Bowman Calls for Primary Voters to Reject AIPAC Money at Rally With Sanders, AOC

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) waves to supporters as Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-N.Y.) speaks during a rally on June 21, 2024 in Hastings-on-Hudson, New York.

(Photo: Joy Malone/Getty Images)

Bowman Calls for Primary Voters to Reject AIPAC Money at Rally With Sanders, AOC

Flanked by progressive heavyweights, Rep. Jamaal Bowman called for "the many" to defeat "the money" of AIPAC, which has set funding records in its effort to help defeat the pro-Palestine Congressman.

Congressman Jamaal Bowman, a prominent critic of Israel's war on Gaza, called on Saturday for voters to defeat the influence of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, which has poured millions of dollars into defeating him, as he made his final campaign push before the Democratic primary in New York's 16th Congressional District on Tuesday.

The contest has seen one of the largest influxes of money of any U.S. House of Representatives primary race in history, mainly because of AIPAC's super PAC, the United Democracy Project (UDP), which has spent more than any interest group has ever spent on a House race—more than $14 million, according to The New York Times.

"AIPAC is scared to death," Bowman (D-N.Y.) said at an animated rally in the Bronx in which Sen. Bernie Sander (I-Vt.) and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) also spoke. "They are afraid they have already lost," he said, citing public opposition to AIPAC's agenda.

"They are in this race because we called for a permanent cease-fire in Gaza," Bowman said of AIPAC. "And we’re going to keep calling for a permanent cease-fire."

Progressive standard-bearers Sanders and Ocasio-Cortez came to the rally, where placards read "for the many, not the money," to help stave off a possible Bowman defeat to challenger George Latimer, a pro-Israel Democrat who leads in the polls. An Emerson College poll from early June showed Latimer up 17 points, 48% to 31%. The race has been seen as a bellwether for the fate of other pro-Palestine progressives such as Rep. Cori Bush (D-Mo.), who faces a primary challenge in August.

Latimer has not just the backing of AIPAC but also some local support and connections. He is the Westchester County Executive and has political clout there—Politico called him "the Cher of suburban New York." The 16th district includes the southern part of the county and a slice of the northern Bronx, giving it a wide mix of demographics.

Latimer was accused by Bowman and others of using an Islamophobic dog whistle in a recent debate, when Latimer said that Bowman's constituency was Dearborn, Michigan—a majority Arab-American city.

In a blow to Bowman, who has described himself as an "outspoken Black man," Jewish voters in the county recently formed Westchester Unites, a group that has mobilized votes for Latimer, including a substantial proportion of the early and mail-in voting that's already underway.

The race has been "nationalized," or "Israelized," as The Nation's Richard Lingeman wrote, with the two candidates' positions on Gaza dictating their fundraising hauls.

The Times reported that UDP was spending up to "$17,000 an hour" and "filling television screens, stuffing mailboxes, and clogging phone lines with caustic attacks." Other pro-Israel groups have also given money.

UDP's ads and messages "almost never" mention Israel, the Times noted. This is in keeping with AIPAC's strategy in races across the country as support for Israel's war on Gaza wanes.

Yet the groups attacking Bowman plan to put forward a different message if the race goes they way they want.

"Assuming the outcome is as we expect it, the message is going to be that being pro-Israel is not just wise policy, it's smart politics," said Mark Mellman, founder of the Democratic Majority for Israel, an advocacy group that spent $1 million against Bowman, told the Times.

Marshall Wittmann, an AIPAC spokesman, told the Times that Latimer was "pro-Israel" while "Jamaal Bowman has refused to support the Jewish state as it fights a moral and just war against Iranian terrorist proxies."

The pro-Israel lobby's all-out attack on Bowman for his opposition to the war led Karen Attiah, columnist at The Washington Post, to label its strategy as "shut up or else"—a way of using money to silence public criticism of Israel.

Sanders, who campaigned with Bowman both Friday and Saturday, emphasized the same disturbing dimension to AIPAC's efforts. "This is the message of this campaign: You stand up to powerful interests, they will try to bring you down,” he told the Times.

"Are we a democracy or an oligarchy?" Sanders wrote on social media Thursday, pointing to AIPAC's spending in the Bowman race.

People in New York have also expressed opposition to AIPAC's attempt to influence a local race.

"The funding toward Latimer from AIPAC has definitely turned me off a lot," Sasha Fuller, a 23-year old who attended a Bowman rally on Friday, told the Times. "He’s kind of a more traditional corporate Democrat, so I don’t really support his politics."

Just as Bowman argued that AIPAC was scared, some of his supporters have found a silver lining in the group's blitz of attack ads. Jeremy Cohan, spokesperson for the New York chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America, said the spending was a sign of change, as public opinion moves further from the positions of groups like AIPAC.

"I do see it as, to some degree, a sign of desperation," Cohan toldAl Jazeera.

“They are doing that because they see where the tides are moving," he added. "They see where history is moving.”

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