Since the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) launched its super PAC, the United Democracy Project (UDP), in December 2021 as a way to legally contribute unlimited amounts of money to directly influence elections and counter mounting opposition to Israeli apartheid within the Democratic Party, the powerful anti-Palestinian lobbying group has not been shy about what journalist David Dayen calls its "perversion of the primary process."
Last year, for instance, AIPAC boasted that its Republican billionaire-funded attack ads helped topple nearly 10 left-leaning Democrats in primary races, including Jewish Rep. Andy Levin (D-Mich.), former Rep. Donna Edwards (D-Md.), and progressive champions Nida Allam in North Carolina, Nina Turner in Ohio, and Jessica Cisneros in Texas.
"The AIPAC network is spending millions of dollars precisely because it is losing the generational and partisan battle to progressive Democrats."
Despite AIPAC's best efforts to beat Lee—UDP dropped more than $2.3 million to support her corporate-friendly opponent in last May's Democratic primary and then invested substantial sums to help her Republican adversary Mike Doyle in November's midterm—the pro-working-class advocate from Pittsburgh won both contests.
"The importance of Lee's victory cannot be overstated," Rojas and Shahid wrote Monday. "It is a recent and concrete example of how a strong candidate with a well-run, community-driven campaign and large progressive coalition can overcome AIPAC’s multimillion-dollar machine."
But "as we head into another cycle of competitive Democratic primaries," the pair warned that "some Democratic operatives are suggesting that prospective candidates just get 'AIPAC's target off their back' by conceding to the anti-Palestinian spending network (made up of not just AIPAC but also Democratic Majority for Israel, Pro-Israel America, NORPAC, and others) through vague or overly conciliatory positions regarding the billions in largely unrestricted military aid that American taxpayers provide the Israeli military."
According to Rojas and Shahid:
This view was summarized in one conference call last year in which a consultant suggested to a progressive candidate: "Why don't you just tweet something about how you support Israel if you want to avoid $5 million in attack ads?” Missing from these short-term, tactical discussions about appeasing AIPAC are ideological, moral, and strategic questions regarding the Democratic Party's position on a military occupation that leading Israeli and international human rights organizations like B'tselem, Amnesty International, and Human Rights Watch all call apartheid.
"Instead of capitulating," the pair continued, "progressives should continue building off Lee’s victory by coordinating our own network of anti-occupation donors, operatives, and local community members on the ground—precisely mirroring the ideologically driven electoral infrastructure that the AIPAC network has already built."
Rojas and Shahid argued that "the AIPAC network is spending millions of dollars precisely because it is losing the generational and partisan battle to progressive Democrats."
"The AIPAC network's multimillion-dollar spending operation to punish Democrats who stray even one step away from unconditional support for the Israeli occupation makes sense considering how politically untenable such stances would be otherwise," Rojas and Shahid wrote. They pointed to a recent Gallup poll showing that for the first time, a majority of Democratic voters now sympathize with Palestinians more than with Israelis.
In addition, "as of 2019, 56% of Americans and 71% of Democrats said the United States should not 'give unconditional financial and military assistance to Israel if the Israeli government continues to violate American policy on settlement expansion or West Bank annexation,'" the pair continued.
In February, far-right Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's administration retroactively authorized nine illegal settlements built without government approval in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem and announced its plans to erect even more. This elicited a rare rebuke from the United Nations Security Council, which said that "continuing Israeli settlement activities are dangerously imperiling the viability of the two-state solution based on the 1967 lines."
Roughly 700,000 Israelis live in illegal settlements that have been built in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem since Israel violently seized those Palestinian territories, along with Gaza, in 1967. Because international law prohibits occupying forces from transferring their civilian population into occupied territories, a top U.N.-appointed expert has characterized Israeli settlements as a "war crime."
"However, because of the massive political and financial power of the anti-Palestinian lobby, only 14% of Democrats in the House of Representatives have signed legislation to condition aid to Israel on ending the expansion of settlements," Rojas and Shahid lamented. "If the AIPAC network can spend unlimited money to ensure that U.S. politicians don't represent the generational shift in the Democratic Party and the evolving views of the American people, it will have nothing to worry about."
Since Netanyahu returned to power at the end of last year, his increasingly exterminationist government has killed more than 80 Palestinians and is currently trying to overhaul the judiciary to give itself even more power. Nevertheless, the Biden administration has shown no interest in making Washington's provision of $3.8 billion in annual military aid to Israel contingent on ending the unlawful annexation of Palestinian land as well as assaults on Palestinian residents.
"We must organize to align the preferences of Democratic legislators with the voters who elected them."
According to Rojas and Shahid, "AIPAC's aggressive entry into Democratic primaries signals the increasingly partisan track that the anti-Palestinian lobby is taking, mirroring Israel's rightward shift and the Democratic disavowal of groups like the NRA and more recently, Big Oil."
The pair continued:
In the last cycle, AIPAC backed over 100 insurrectionist-aligned Republicans, opposed Democrats in general elections and primaries, spent zero dollars against Republican candidates—and were largely funded by pro-Trump Republican donors Robert Kraft, Bernard Marcus, and Paul Singer. Given the generational shift taking place in the Democratic Party—led by Justice Democrats like Rashida Tlaib, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Cori Bush, Jamaal Bowman, Summer Lee, and many others—it is clear that the extreme anti-Palestinian sentiment championed by AIPAC will increasingly fall along party lines, which is exactly what AIPAC's multimillion-dollar spending seeks to avoid.
Just as with Medicare for All, the Green New Deal, or criminal justice reform, we must organize to align the preferences of Democratic legislators with the voters who elected them. It is through Congress, after all, that we have the power to ensure that American taxpayers are not funding the violation of human rights and subsidizing the endless occupation of the Palestinian people. AIPAC and its largely Republican donors know that Democrats who speak out about the occupation also make the party more progressive on a range of other issues.
As political observers pointed out at the time, UDP's intervention against Lee in the general election marked the first time the super PAC spent money to boost a Republican candidate over a Democratic one, giving the lie to AIPAC's ostensible concerns about Lee and other progressives' presumed lack of loyalty to the Democratic Party. Notably, AIPAC's single-minded focus on suppressing criticism of Israeli colonialism led the group to endorse dozens of GOP extremists running for Congress last year, including election deniers, proponents of the racist "great replacement theory," and QAnon adherents.
Rojas and Shahid's argument echoed points made previously by Jewish democratic socialist Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who has been a vocal critic of AIPAC.
Last year, Sanders accused the group of bankrolling super PACs such as UDP "to buy elections and control this democracy."
"Why would an organization go around criticizing someone like Summer Lee for not being a strong enough Democrat when they themselves have endorsed extreme right-wing Republicans?" Sanders asked. "They are doing everything they can to destroy the progressive movement in this country."
In the words of Rojas and Shahid: "A progressive movement, and a Democratic Party that sells out Palestinians for an easy reelection, is not a movement that can be counted on to fight back for any community when they need us most. Our end goal is not winning for the sake of winning. It's winning to bring about fundamental change."