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US: Anti-occupation congress hopeful wins primaries against 16-term pro-Israel candidate

June 25, 2020 at 3:15 pm

US Congressman Jamaal Bowman of New York on 23 June 2020 in New York, US [Stephanie Keith/Getty Images]

Pro-Israel Democratic Congressman Eliot Engel was beaten out of his position as a New York congressional candidate for the 2020 US general election in the Democratic primaries by progressive Jamaal Bowman.

Incumbent Engel, 73, held the New York 16th congressional district for around 30 years, enjoying the support of the Democratic Party establishment, gaining endorsements from former presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, while Bowman had the backing of Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

Engel, a firm Israel supporter famed for his hawkishness, reportedly received $100,000 worth of campaign funding from Republican Party-backing Political Action Committee (PAC), which was funnelled through super PAC “Democratic Majority for Israel”.

It was also reported that this particular pro-Israel PAC spent over half a million dollars on a smear campaign directed at Bowman, a 44-year-old former educator, however, the actual amount spent on pro-Israel smears has been put at $3 million by Jewish anti-occupation group IfNotNow.

Leaflets condemning Bowman’s comments on Israel’s well documented human rights violations were circulated amongst the district to hurt his campaign.

IfNotNow declared Bowman’s win a “seismic victory” for local constituents, the progressive movement and the dignity of Palestinians and Israelis alike.

Emily Mayer, political director of IfNotNow, said: “Jamaal won this election despite the democratic and Jewish establishments doing everything they could to stop him. Over the last several months, we’ve seen Israeli hawks – especially the AIPAC front-group ‘Democratic Majority for Israel’ – spend nearly $3 million on shameful attacks aimed at misleading voters about Jamaal’s record.”

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“But these cynical attempts to fearmonger within Jewish communities failed because our community knows that our freedom is bound up with the freedom for all people.”

Bowman was criticised by pro-Israel hardliners for comparing the systemic, racist violence faced by black people in the US on a daily basis, to the plight of Palestinians in territories illegally occupied by Israel and the Gaza Strip.

In response to a letter from hardliner Rabbi Avi Weiss, who protested against Nelson Mandela, Bowman said: “The uprising we’re witnessing across the country against police violence also makes me empathize with the everyday experience and fear that comes with living under occupation. Just as the police force is a violent intimidating force in so many black communities, I can connect to what it feels like for Palestinians to feel the presence of the military in their daily lives in the West Bank.”

“I also can understand the crushing poverty and deprivation in the Gaza Strip. I believe Palestinians have the same rights to freedom and dignity as my Jewish brothers and sisters. I will fight for their liberation, just as hard as I will for yours.”

Bowman won the congressional district by thousands of votes. This is the second time in just over a year that establishment-backed New York Democratic congressmen have been dethroned by progressives, with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez ousting Joe Crowley in 2019.