Click here to read the full article from The Intercept

by Akela Lacy

Rep. Jamaal Bowman's Tuesday upset defeat by Westchester County Executive George Latimer generated many perspectives on what exactly precipitated his downfall.

The New York Times published the headline “Bowman Falls in House Primary, Overtaken by Flood of Pro-Israel Money” — before swapping it out for “Bowman Falls to Latimer in a Loss for Progressive Democrats.” Other coverage emphasized that the American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s spending wasn’t the only factor in the race and that Bowman’s flaws made him particularly vulnerable, as did changed district lines that made his reelection even tougher. 

Progressive strategists, however, had a much more clear takeaway from the results. 

“You don’t drop $15 million on an election if your positions are popular,” said Eva Borgwardt⁩, national spokesperson for the Jewish advocacy group IfNotNow, which endorsed Bowman. “This was an act of desperation from a pro-war lobby that is at odds with the majority of Americans, including American Jews.”

Borgwardt⁩ was referring to nearly $15 million spent on the race by AIPAC, the Israel lobby’s flagship in the U.S. Millions more poured in from AIPAC-aligned groups and donors, bringing the outside spending total to around $25 million.

Bowman’s supporters emphasized that AIPAC attacked him not only because of his criticism of human rights abuses in Israel, but also because he has supported progressive policies that are popular among the party’s base.

“Congressman Bowman’s progressive platform — which includes defending Palestinian rights and halting weapons to the Israeli military — is popular among Democratic voters,” said Beth Miller, political director for Jewish Voice for Peace Action, which endorsed Bowman. “AIPAC had to spend a truly unprecedented amount of money in order to buy NY-16.” 

“It is noteworthy that many of AIPAC’s ads did not even mention Israel,” she said. “AIPAC understands that they are losing on the issues, because voters and constituents do not want to fund a genocide.”  

The amount of spending on the race should be alarming to everyone who cares about democracy, said Sophie Ellman-Golan, director of strategic communications at Jews for Racial and Economic Justice.

“Now we know how much it costs to buy an election,” she said. “That price tag was nearly $25 million.”

AIPAC invested historic amounts of money in the race because it saw that unconditional support for Israel was unpopular among Democratic voters, Ellman-Golan said. “They would not have spent this much money if they were not scared,” she said. “You don’t spend $25 million — an unheard of amount in a primary — if you’re feeling confident in your candidate.”

Progressive groups were outspent 8 to 1 in their support for Bowman, which totaled $1.75 million. Justice Democrats, which backed Bowman’s first campaign in 2020, spent $1.3 million on Tuesday’s race and helped raise more than $200,000 for Bowman’s campaign, with an average contribution of $35. The Working Families Party spent more than $500,000 on ads in the race and sent more than 300,000 text messages on Bowman’s behalf. 

“Republican billionaires just bought a safe Democratic seat through a Democratic primary,” said WFP National Director Maurice Mitchell. “That’s something that should alarm everyone in the coalition, not just progressives.”

Justice Democrats’ communications director, Usamah Andrabi, said the takeaway from Tuesday’s race is that Democrats are allowing big money — and Republican donors — to shape elections.  

Bowman’s loss is not a death knell for progressives, he added, but proof that the left represents a threat to the status quo that’s worth tens of millions of dollars for its opponents. 

“AIPAC knows that its policies and positions are deeply out of step with the majority of Democratic voters, who support a permanent ceasefire, who support conditioning military funding to Israel, and who believe that Israel is committing a genocide,” Andrabi said, pointing to another AIPAC target, Rep. Cori Bush, D-Mo., who is fighting for her seat against a primary opponent. “Jamaal Bowman, Cori Bush, and the Squad have always represented the mainstream positions of the Democratic Party, and that is why they’re such a threat to AIPAC and corporate interests.”

With AIPAC’s entry into electoral politics — the group launched two PACs in 2021 after decades of lobbying on Capitol Hill — some liberals and progressives have struggled to talk about the group’s spending because of antisemitic tropes about Jewish people using wealth to exert secret control. Ellman-Golan, of Jews for Racial and Economic Justice, however, thinks circumstances now dictate an open discussion. 

“It’s extremely concerning to not only see people defending the political conditions in which antisemitism is most likely to be fueled, but then decrying those of us who dare to speak out against this undemocratic purchasing of votes,” she said. “It is just such a cynical, false attack, and it’s so dangerous. If we’re going to dismantle antisemitism, that project lives squarely on the left. We’re the ones who can do it, and we’re trying. And they’re not helping.”

Click here to read the full article from The Intercept