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US Democrats face 'existential threat' from AIPAC's growing influence

Protesters gather in support of Palestine outside of the White House during the annual American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) conference in Washington, USA on March 26, 2017. ( Samuel Corum - Anadolu Agency )
Protesters gather in support of Palestine outside the White House during the annual American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) conference in Washington, US on March 26, 2017. [Samuel Corum - Anadolu Agency]

One of the largest pro-Israel lobby groups in the US has claimed another victory in the Democratic congressional primaries. The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) embarked on an unprecedented surge in political spending while defeating a veteran former lawmaker critical of Israel.

AIPAC spent $6 million on Tuesday's contest in Maryland, more than any other political action committee (PAC), to oppose Donna Edwards, who served eight years as the first Black woman elected to Congress from Maryland. Edwards was endorsed by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi among other leading Democrats.

Her defeat is the latest in a series of setbacks for progressive candidates targeted by the pro-Israel lobby. Critics say that a "super PAC" used to raise millions of dollars in political donations and set up by AIPAC, is an "existential threat" to the Democratic Party.

US: 'morally bankrupt' AIPAC pouring millions into securing pro-Israel politicians

AIPAC has dumped millions of dollars through this super PAC, the United Democracy Project, to defeat progressive candidates critical of Israel, while undermining Democrats by endorsing 100 Republicans who embraced election falsehoods about former US President Donald Trump. Underscoring the fact that Democrat primaries face a takeover by groups opposed to the party, election funds used to defeat candidates critical of Israel often come from Republican donors.

"Until leaders in the Democratic Party stand up and say this is unacceptable to take this money or any money like this, or until election laws are changed, the opportunity is there for a group like AIPAC to do this," said Logan Bayroff, vice president of communications at J Street, the pro-Israel non-profit group that advocates for diplomacy-based solutions in the Middle East. "We don't know where it ends. I wouldn't be surprised to find other Republican-aligned groups deciding to play in Democratic primaries going forward."

AIPAC has endorsed numerous Republican, among them Elise Stefanik, Barry Loudermilk and Scott Perry, who famously compared Democrats to Nazis. Writing in American Prospect, one critic angry about the Democrat leadership's silence on the matter said that, "It's ultimately toxic for the party leadership to tacitly welcome a group currently endorsing a Republican who compared Democrats to Nazis."

Read: The pro-Israel lobby is colonising British academia with one smear campaign after another

In an article describing "The Israel Lobby's New Campaign Playbook" US commentator Peter Beinart warned of a new campaign architecture devised by the likes of AIPAC to challenge the threat from progressive lawmakers. Worried that Democrats may be approaching "a turning point on Israel," the pro-Israel lobby has reacted by pumping millions of dollars over the past two years to defeat candidates critical of the apartheid state.

"It will create a new generation of congressional Democrats unwilling not only to hold the Israeli government accountable for its misdeeds, but unwilling to hold America's energy, health care, and financial industries accountable either," said Beinart as he warned about a lobby group shaping the outcome of elections whose only goal is to defend Israel's interests. "Critics of Israel often complain about the phenomenon known as 'progressive except Palestine'. What this year's campaigns make clear, however, is that if the Democratic Party isn't progressive on Palestine, it's unlikely to be genuinely progressive on almost anything else."

Many progressive donors are said to be reluctant to match AIPAC's spending in races that pit Democrats against each other, because they want to save their money for general election campaigns against Republicans. AIPAC, however, feels no such reluctance. It doesn't care if Republicans win elections. It simply wants to ensure that Democrats who support Palestinian rights lose.

Beinart cited one long-time J Street donor as worrying about a future in which "only people who are running basically unopposed will speak out on this issue."

Tweeting about the victories that it has notched up, AIPAC said that it "proudly helped these pro-Israel Democrats defeat their anti-Israel opponents in 2022!" It listed nine candidates who received funds from the lobby group.

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