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AIPAC's 'dark money' could be the death knell to democratic elections, warn US lawmakers

The AIPAC logo is displayed during the policy conference in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Monday, March 25, 2019. The pro-Israel lobbying group's three-day meeting in Washington kicked off Sunday and features speeches from Vice President Mike Pence, Secretary of State Michael Pompeo, and the Democratic and Republican leaders of the House and Senate, as well as Israeli officials. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images
The AIPAC logo is displayed during the policy conference in Washington, US, on 25 March 2019 [Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg/Getty Images]

The recent surge in political donations totalling millions of dollars by the influential American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) has triggered a backlash amongst Democrats. Questions are being asked about the ethics of allowing multi-billionaire Republican donors to influence the results of Democratic primaries and why a single-issue pro-Israel lobby group is campaigning against a Jewish candidate instead of a far-right Republican accused of making anti-Semitic remarks.

Over recent weeks the threat posed by AIPAC to the Democratic party was underscored when the pro-Israel lobby group pumped millions of dollars into Democratic primary elections to secure dramatic victories against candidates critical of the Apartheid State.  Last Tuesday for example, it emerged that AIPAC had spent $6 million in Maryland, to oust Donna Edwards, who served eight years as the first Black woman elected to Congress from the US state. Edwards was endorsed by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi among other leading Democrats.

AIPAC is not registered as a foreign agent even though its primary goal is to advance the interests of the occupation state. Critics have warned that the pro-Israel lobby group's single focus on Israel often clashes with American interest. Nevertheless it has been granted licence to shape and influence US politics in a manner which critics now say has become an "existential threat" to the Democratic party.

"We need to get dark money out of elections. Billionaires and corporate interests should not dominate free and fair elections," said Andy Levin, a two-term Jewish congressman from Detroit, in a tweet. Levin is competing with Haley Stevens in the Democratic primary to represent Michigan's redrawn 11th Congressional District. AIPAC's super PAC, United Democracy Project, is gunning for Levin and has reportedly spent $3.3 million, mostly on negative TV and online ads against him in recent weeks.

Read: Founder of WhatsApp doubled donation to AIPAC to defeat pro-Palestine candidates

Asked in an interview with MSNBC host Mehdi Hasan why the Israeli lobby is being allowed to use "dark money" to oust a Jewish candidate, Levin said that not only is he not just Jewish he is also the president of two synagogues. "AIPAC can't stand the idea that I am the clearest strongest Jewish voice in Congress standing for a simple proposition that there's no way to have a secure and democratic homeland for the Jewish people unless we achieve the political and human rights of the Palestinian people," argued Levin. "That's it," he said, adding that "The last [I] checked that was the policy of every Democratic and Republican administration pre-Trump."

In his tweet warning against AIPAC's nefarious influence in the Democratic primary, Levin urged the Senate to pass "the #ForThePeople Act". The Act is intended to expand voting rights, change campaign finance laws to reduce the influence of money in politics, ban partisan gerrymandering and create new ethics rules for federal officeholders.

Levin, a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, is said to have drawn the ire of AIPAC and its allies for a bill he introduced last year that would advance the two-state solution and restrict Israel from using US taxpayer dollars to expand or annex illegal settlements in the occupied West Bank. Levin has also publicly defended his colleagues, Rashida Tlaib from Michigan and Ilhan Omar from Minnesota.

Other Democratic candidates have also spoken out. American Jewish magazine the Forward reported Mark Pocan, Democrat from Wisconsin and co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, warning in a press conference on Friday that AIPAC is spending money, funded by some Republican billionaires. Pocan said that the mass spending by the pro-Israel lobby "could be the death knell to democratic elections."

Pocan also questioned why AIPAC chose to target a Jewish congressman they disagree with and not Marjorie Taylor Green, a Republican who said Jewish space lasers caused California forest fires, among other anti-Semitic comments. Greene handily won her May primary against a number of GOP challengers, but despite her alleged anti-Semitic and racist views her avowed support for the Apartheid State meant that she was not targeted by the pro-Israel lobby.

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