How pro-Israel groups are redrawing America’s political landscape

Politicians who express pro-Palestine sentiments are expected to face opponents backed by American Israel Public Affairs Committee and other groups

Pro-Israel lobbyists hold  great weight in US primaries and elections.  AP
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As co-head of Senator Bernie Sanders’s 2020 presidential campaign, Cleveland activist Nina Turner was expected to win both Democratic Party primary races for a seat in the US House of Representatives in 2021 and 2022.

At one point in the 2021 race, Ms Turner, a long-time critic of Israel’s treatment of Palestinians, held a 30-point lead over her opponents.

Then pro-Israel interest groups entered the scene.

She ended up losing both primary elections to a candidate who received more than $1 million in funding from a lobbying organisations affiliated with the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, or Aipac, and other groups.

Reports show that Democratic Majority for Israel, a pro-Israel super Pac, spent more than $1.5 million on attack advertisements and other efforts during Ms Turner’s campaigns.

Super Pacs are independent “expenditure-only political action committees” that can raise unlimited amounts of money to support – or attack – politicians and candidates.

“They don’t care about what happens to a child in Cleveland or in Chicago. They only care about Israel,” Ms Turner said of the groups.

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“So, you have a lobbying force that advocates in the open for Israel, not for Americans. Now [in Gaza], we are seeing, in a very visceral, bloody way what that means.”

With the US going to the polls in hundreds of key election races between now and November, the role of pro-Israel lobbyists is coming into sharp focus.

Politicians who have expressed pro-Palestine sentiments, such as Ilhan Omar, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Rashida Tlaib and other, lesser-known figures, are expected to face opponents backed by wealthy pro-Israel groups.

Last week, in a bid to counter this, more than 20 progressive groups formed the “Reject Aipac” coalition.

“Everything about Aipac and the Israel lobby’s intervention in American politics we oppose because it aligns itself with the right-wing Israeli government that has shown itself to have no meaningful commitment to the lives of Palestinians,” says Alan Minsky, executive director of Progressive Democrats of America, one of the groups in Reject Aipac.

By its own admission, Aipac supported 365 pro-Israel political candidates with more than $17 million during elections in 2022, claiming that 98 per cent of those candidates won their races.

“It’s such an overwhelming amount of money that they dropped in the 2022 [elections] and there’s even more [expected this year],” said Mr Minsky.

“It’s a massive reality in American politics and one that, of course, skews the whole democratic process tremendously.”

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Why is the US struggling to pass Israel funding during the war in Gaza?

Why is the US struggling to pass Israel funding during the war in Gaza?

In at least 14 races, Aipac has spent millions of dollars to back centrist Democratic Party candidates running against their progressive colleagues who are critical of Israel or supportive of Palestinian rights.

“Their rhetoric to the public was to claim that I was not going to be sufficiently loyal to the Democratic Party, that I was an angry black woman,” said Ms Turner of her experience with pro-Israel Pacs and super Pacs.

Pro-Israel lobby groups have a long and influential history with the Democratic Party.

The Jewish Democratic Council of America, an organisation that pushes Israel’s interests, has spent nearly $2 million on political candidates.

Its chief executive, Halie Soifer, was national security adviser to current US Vice President Kamala Harris when she was a senator in California.

Aipac has also endorsed politicians in the Republican Party who voted to overturn President Joe Biden’s 2020 presidential election victory.

In Maryland, Aipac and Democratic Majority for Israel spent more than $6 million – an unprecedented amount – on an attack advertisement campaign against Donna Edwards, a progressive Democrat, in 2022.

Nida Allam, who became the first Muslim woman elected to public office in North Carolina in 2020, was defeated by Valerie Foushee in a Democratic Party primary election for the House of Representatives in 2022.

That was after pro-Israel groups such as United Democracy Project – an initiative of Aipac – and Protect Our Future spent more than $3.5 million to support Ms Foushee.

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Actor Hill Harper, best known for starring in TV shows such as The Good Doctor and CSI: NY, turned to politics last year, running for a US Senate seat in Michigan.

He drew the attention of deep-pocket political donors including Michigan businessman Linden Nelson, who reportedly offered Mr Harper $20 million to run against Ms Tlaib, the Palestinian-American politician and critic of Israel’s war in Gaza.

“I will not be bought, or bossed, or bullied,” he said in a statement in November. “I’m not going to run against the only Palestinian-American in Congress just because some special interests don’t like her.”

Aipac says it played no part in the incident, although Mr Nelson has donated to pro-Israel groups in the past.

A representative for the group did not respond to numerous requests for comment from The National.

Ms Turner said the language often used in describing Israel’s war in Gaza is inaccurate, and that the consequences for America’s support of Israel in the long term could be grave.

“We’re calling this a war but it’s really a one-sided siege," she said.

"It is a travesty of epic proportions, and it pains me greatly that the leaders of the United States could stop this carnage and choose not to. None of us is going to get out of this unscathed.

"What the United States is doing by giving our money to bomb other people’s children … we are going to reap what we sow collectively.

“It’s going to come to our door in some kind of way. This country is adding fuel to the fire.”

Updated: March 26, 2024, 6:40 AM