America’s most powerful lobby, Aipac, had a problem. While it prided itself on being a bipartisan group, whose ardent support for Israel transcended Party, it really wasn’t that at all. Its major donors and most of its members were Republican. In fact, those donors overwhelmingly supported Republican Senate and House candidates. Forty of the GOP lawmakers endorsed by Aipac voted against certifying Joe Biden as president. As a result, a reasonable argument can be made that Aipac, at least tacitly, supported the Insurrection. It certainly ignored the troubling fact that these candidates voted to destroy the Republic.
Another factor that drove Aipac into the arms of the Republican Party, was Israel’s rightward trend toward apartheid and its abandonment of democracy. Israeli policy increasingly alienated Democratic voters and attracted Republicans.
It became difficult to persuade Democrats either to donate funds or support Aipac’s political initiatives. That is one of the reasons that the Squad became such a wake-up call for the Israel Lobby. These were (then) eight progressive Democrats, almost all African-American women, who owed nothing to Aipac; and who charted an independent course regarding Israel-Palestine. That set off alarms in every Aipac office throughout the country. Not only were Squad members like Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib and Alexandria Ocasio Cortez a threat to Aipac’s political hegemony, they threatened to get even more like themselves elected to Congress. Aipac saw this as a slippery slope it needed to avert at all costs.
Thus, it commenced a guerilla war, tarring them with the anti-Semitism brush and highlighting their alleged hatred of Israel. It also mounted primary challenges against Tlaib and Ocasio-Cortez which it heavily funded.
Aipac’s increasing hostility to progressive Democrats posed a major problem
Aipac realized it had a major problem. It no longer had much credibility among Democrats. So it could not fight the Squad and progressive Democrats as Aipac. The solution? Create multiple astroturf PACs which could present themselves as Democrats, and fund pliant pro-Israel candidates who would primary those who posed a threat to the Lobby’s dominance in Congress.
The first iteration of this strategy was the Democratic Majority for Israel, (Militarist Monitor profile) which poured $1.4-million to dent Bernie Sanders’ popularity during the 2020 presidential primaries. It spent similar sums during that election cycle to save the seats of old-line pro-Israel Democrats like Elliot Engel, who was hopelessly out of touch with his district and proved an embarrassing campaigner. Despite spending $665,000 in attack ads against his African-American opponent, Jamaal Bowman; and $900,000 on Engel’s behalf, the former won. $1.5-million spent to no avail. Bowman was promptly hailed by Ocasio-Cortez as a new member of the Squad.
DMFI spent $200,000 to defeat progressive Massachusetts Congressional candidate, Alex Morse, who ran against powerful, longtime Democrat stalwart, Richard Neal. The latter offers Israel a blank check for whatever it needs, whether it be a weapons system or a vote against BDS. Neal retained his seat thanks in part to DMFI and other Lobby dirty tricks, which falsely painted Morse, who is Jewish, as a sexual predator and radical threat to Israel. Pro-Israel forces are not above using homophobia to advance their interests.
Overall, the group raised and spent $6.4-million from 2019-2020. Already this year, DFMI has raised $7.5-million. Among its donors is Stacey Schusterman, heiress of a $7.2-billion Oklahoma oil fortune and stalwart pro-Israel donor. She has given DMFI $2.7-million so far this year. New England Patriots owner and long-time Trump supporter, Bob Kraft, has given $300,000.
In yet another bizarre development, the group deemed Jewish Rep. Andy Levin a traitor-to-the-tribe because he refused to vote the straight party line for Israel. He even had the chutzpah to reach out to African-American, Muslim, and Palestinian House members to create a Black-Jewish alliance. Oh, and he sponsored a resolution supporting a two-state solution: a schandeh! Much too dangerous for the Lobby, It has plowed $1-million into the campaign of his opponent, Haley Stevens, who is not Jewish. Thus, a Jewish group decides that a Jewish candidate who, while being pro-Israel, isn’t pro enough. Aipac’s own PAC added over $200,000 on behalf of Stevens.
If that wasn’t bizarre enough, in a 2020 southern California Congressional race a progressive Jew, Sara Jacobs, ran against a local Hispanic city council member. When Jacobs espoused views that went too far for DMFI’s taste, it groomed the Hispanic and showered her with campaign case. Though she had never taken any positions on Israel-Palestine, that was fine with the group. The less she said the better as far as it was concerned. A pliant candidate who does or says little on the issue is better than a progressive Jewish candidate who will rock the boat.
What was Jacobs’ sin? Apparently, she knew too much and said too much about Israeli-Palestinian peace:
Jacobs spoke passionately about using U.S. policy and its assistance to Israel to promote peace with Palestinians. She also criticized a number of efforts — such as legislation condemning the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement and Trump’s decision to move the U.S. Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem — that hard-line pro-Israel organizations supported.
“The window for two states may be closing faster than we would like for logistical reasons,” she said. “I think all U.S. assistance needs to be viewed through the lens of ‘does it move things closer to peace?’”
She was unwilling to vote for legislation condemning the BDS movement as being anti-Semitic because, as many other Congressional Democrats believe, it violates the sacred American right to free speech. When Trump moved the US embassy to Jerusalem it upset decades of bipartisan consensus from Republican and Democratic administrations, which refused to predetermine the outcome of negotiations between the parties over the status of Jerusalem. And the hint in the last paragraph, that she supported Bernie Sanders position that US aid should be tied to Israel’s willingness to abide by international law and the US policy of opposing Israeli settlements, was too much for the Lobby. Such “anti-Israel” positions made her persona non grata.
DMFI wasn’t even above using tacitly anti-Semitic campaign ads focussing on Jacobs, who was a local community activist and daughter of the founder of Qualcomm. It derided her wealth and ownership of a major stock portfolio. It also highlighted the fact that she’d lived in east coast cities, as if that made her an alien (she was born and raised in San Diego):
One widely distributed ad consists of panorama shots of skyscrapers and monuments in New York and Washington, D.C., flashes of the Wall Street sign, and closeups of Jacobs’s face. The narrator criticizes the candidate, a San Diego native, for having lived in New York and D.C., and for owning substantial stock holdings in large corporations. The caption declares that Jacobs “doesn’t share our views,” though the ad does not criticize any of her policy positions.
Someone “not from here.” Who lived in cosmopolitan east coast cities filled with Jews like New York and Washington DC. Alien places far away from here. Someone who has Wall Street money. Someone supported by rich and powerful interests. All anti-Semitic tropes. How in God’s name can a Jewish group use such rhetoric in attacking a Jew??
The above ad and others like it cost DMFI $425,000 in a losing effort to defeat her. The group also donated $45,000 to her opponent.
In a North Carolina race, It spent $300,000 in support of Valerie Foushee, a candidate running against a progressive Muslim-American woman, Nida Allam, who would have been the first Muslim ever to represent the state in Congress. United Democracy Project added over $2-million. All to ensure a Muslim-American sympathetic to Palestinian rights was kept out of Congress.
DMFI’s top executive is Mark Mehlman, a longtime Democratic campaign consultant with close ties to Aipac. The group paid Mellman’s consulting firm, Mellman Group, $600,000 over the past year for his services. That’s a nice chunk of change for a part-time job. Another key figure on its board is Ann Lewis, another Aipac stalwart. They are hired guns working for clients who pay best. And Aipac and its candidates pay exceedingly well. Money buys loyalty in this game, regardless of principle. 11 fof the 14 board members worked or volunteered for Aipac.
The CEO of the Republican Jewish Coalition, Matt Brooks, hailed DFMI as a group witch “mirrors the RJC.” With friends like this, Democrats need no enemies. DFMI’s purpose and allegiance are clear. Israel first, Democratic Party second, if that.
Eli Clifton’s criticial profile is also worth reading.
United Democracy Project: creature of Aipac
A second astroturf group established as a “creature” of Aipac, is the United Democracy Project. Their ties are close and deep. Its spokesperson, Patrick Dorton, served in the same role with Aipac. Its CEO, Rob Bassin, is the former political director at Aipac. UDP raised $15-million so far in this election cycle. It too claims it maintains bipartisan support for Israel’s interests in US politics. But if you follow the money, the facts say something different. UDP may spend money to elect Democrats, but it raises money almost solely from Republican billionaire donors. And the candidates it supports are both pro-Israel and primarying progressives who Aipac has deemed enemies to its agenda. As Haaretz wrote:
$6.4 million…has been used for funding attack ads against progressive Democratic candidates whom AIPAC regards as anti-Israel.
The Democrats on its hit list include African-American, Donna Edwards, who is such a “danger” to Israel that UDP is spending $2.5-million (so far) to defeat her. She tweeted last week that it spent $800,000 in a single week (!) on attack ads. Her primary opponent got over $600,000 from the PAC.
It spent over $2-million in a Democratic primary (!) to defeat yet another progressive African-American candidate, Summer Lee. But she appears to have defeated UDP’s chosen candidate, Steve Irwin, who is white. It spent $650,000 on his behalf. It also spent $1.4-million against progressive Hispanic American, Jessica Cisneros, who challenged Texas Democrat, Henry Cuellar. He has the distinction of being the only anti-abortion Democrat in Congress. Cuellar hung on by the skin of his teeth and retained his seat with the help of $425,000 from UDP.
Mainstream Democrats: Aipac’s ‘Baby’ PAC
Aipac set up yet a third PAC last February. Mainstream Democrats, raised $2-million for the current election cycle. Nearly $600,000 went to Bluedog Democrat and heir to a pharmaceutical fortune, Kurt Schrader. He was an incumbent who consistently voted against his Party’s legislative priorities. The Lobby must have figured that anyone who was in the pocket of Big Pharma, would be just as happy to be in the Lobby’s pocket. Schrader lost to a progressive challenger, Jamie McLeod-Skinner, who had views that were frighteningly independent for the Lobby. And let’s whisper a dirty little homphoic secret that undoubtedly disturbed Aipac: she’s gay. MD also spent nearly $200,000 in attack ads against her.
Aipac has created a PAC of its own for the first time in its history named suitably, Aipac PAC. It claims to have raised $11.5-million and has a large roster of endorsees. 109 of the 147 Republicans currently endorsed refused to certify Joe Biden’s election. As I mentioned above, if you support insurrectionists financially you become an accessory to the crime yourself. It has an extensive FEC list of candidate donations. But it appears this raw data hasn’t yet been compiled by OpenSecrets.
DMFI and UDP’s Republican Billionaire Donors
The group’s donors also tell an interesting tale regarding its real goal. Aipac itself gave $8.5-million. GOP billionaires, Paul Singer (worth $4-billion) and Bernie Marcus each donated $1-million, just prior to last month’s Democratic primaries. Each was a major supporter of Donald Trump and has long bankrolled Republican races. Marcus defended Steve Bannon as “a passionate Zionist and supporter of Israel.” While a candidate he supported called Democrats “Nazis.”
In many of the races, DMFI and UDP oppose African-American, Hispanic, women and LGBTQ progressives, and support white male candidates. Clearly, the Israel Lobby has a problem with both racism, misogyny and homophobia in choosing candidates. It is no accident then, that Israel itself faces the same ugly phenomena within its own society.
Besides these two devious PACs there are scores of other pro-Israel donors and PACs showering candidates with money. If you’ve ever wondered why US politics is so enervated regarding Israel-Palestine, consider these numbers: Joe Biden raised nearly $4-million from pro-Israel sources. Jon Ossof, considered the Great Jewish Hope in his recent Georgia race, took $700,000. His Democratic counterpart, Raphael Warnock, $450,000. Lindsay Graham, $460,000. Kelly Loeffler, the losing GOP Georgia Senate candidate and Trump acolyte, $450,000.
Though it’s commonly understood that such money buys support for Israel Lobby interests. It plays another, perhaps even more important role: when progressive Democrats like Ossoff and Warnock might otherwise take strong positions criticizing Israel, such gifts anaesthetize them. They must steer clear of such activism in their political positions to keep in the good graces of the Lobby.
That’s why Ossoff, in a flattering Haaretz profile, launched into this platitude-filled bit of puffery:
“I believe that peace is best built on a foundation of trust, and effective leadership toward peace requires the establishment of trusting working relationships with all parties. At the same time, I’ve been building very strong partnerships across the aisle – with…Sen. Romney and Sen. Graham – to pursue the U.S. national interest and support efforts toward peace and stability in the Holy Land.”
Ossoff’s first act of Mideast public leadership was leading 29 senators in calling for an immediate cease-fire to last year’s war between Israel and Hamas. In the 12 months following that call, he has met repeatedly with Israeli and Palestinian officials in Washington, Jerusalem and the West Bank.
“From the beginning, my approach has been and remains to build really effective working relationships with key leaders on all sides of these issues. That is an undertaking of years, and it requires frequent conversations that require the establishment of trust. On that basis, I can be an effective interlocutor at supporting talks between parties who have difficulty talking, and an effective advocate for U.S. interests in the region.
…Ossoff hopes Biden’s visit will “lay the foundations for an improvement of conditions in the region, and reduce the probability of a broad outbreak of conflict in the region.
700,000 bucks buys a lot of puffery. And a young professive Senator who boasts of building a Jewish-Black alliance to fight for justice and civil rights, falls flat on his face when it comes to matching that rhetoric on Israel-Palestine. It is no mistake that Ossoff cranks out this meaningless drivel. Pro-Israel bucks put a sock in his mouth when it comes to addressing the real issues and standing for justice and civil rights for Palestinians.
Returning to DMFI and UDP, why are Republican megadonors all of a sudden giving to Democrats? It certainly has nothing to do with supporting the Party itself. Rather, it’s a devious attempt not only to shape a Party that is “centrist” and pro-Israel; but to sabotage it by sowing dissension between its progressive and moderate wings. A political movement that is riven by conflict and ideological dysfunction cannot contest GOP dominance of the American political landscape.
Aipac and its loyal donors not only want an ascendant Republican Party controlling all the levers of power, they want a weakened Democratic Party that cannot contest elections, unless it offers candidates whose pro-Israel loyalty is guaranteed. It is a nefarious plot that could succeed unless voters, and progressive Jews and Democrats wake up and mount an aggressive campaign to expose the hypocrisy lurking behind such efforts.
There are a few antidotes to such chicanery. Jewish Voice for Peace maintains its own political action program to influence legislation, endorse candidates and related issues. You may make donations to its work here. Bend the Arc is another progressive group which founded a political action committe to which you may donate.
Silverstein has published Tikun Olam since 2003, It exposes the secrets of the Israeli national security state. He lives in Seattle, but his heart is in the east. He publishes regularly at Middle East Eye, the New Arab, and Jacobin Magazine. His work has also appeared in Al Jazeera English, The Nation, Truthout and other outlets.