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News / Politics

More than 20 progressive groups form a coalition to counter pro-Israel groups before the election

By FARNOUSH AMIRI, Associated Press
Published: March 11, 2024, 9:00am

WASHINGTON (AP) — Facing a barrage of super PAC money, more than 20 progressive groups are coming together to forcefully counter pro-Israel groups’ efforts to primary challenge liberal members who’ve been critics of Israel’s blistering military offensive in Gaza.

The coalition, called Reject AIPAC, includes Jewish peace organizations and Arab American and Muslim groups that have been organizing in record numbers since the Israel-Hamas war began in October.

Their efforts are a direct response to pro-Israel political action committees like the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, better known as AIPAC, that are pledging or planning to spend tens of millions of dollars to try to defeat Democratic members of the so-called “squad” in primaries and the general election this year. That campaign has turned the otherwise safely Democratic districts into election battlegrounds.

“These are a handful of Black and brown progressive incumbents who are under attack from a threat of $100 million in spending and usually Democratic leadership and establishment is up in arms anytime someone primaries an incumbent,” said Usamah Andrabi, communications director for Justice Democrats, one the groups leading the coalition. “But the energy is a little lighter when it comes to some of these progressives and so we are coming together to ensure that they have the resources to defend themselves against AIPAC.”

The strategy, according to Andrabi, is to link up the grassroots organizations behind a seven-figure “electoral defense campaign” that aims to not only protect members of Congress being targeted by AIPAC but also to bring light to what they see as the group’s divergence from the longstanding values of the Democratic Party.

AIPAC has defended its track record, telling The Associated Press last month that “it is entirely consistent with progressive values to stand with the Jewish state” and that the group has a history of supporting members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus.

Nonetheless, the coalition’s lobbying effort will focus on promoting pro-Palestinian members and candidates as well as highlighting national polling that shows that the majority of Democratic voters are aligned with their stances, including increasing calls for a cease-fire in Gaza and conditioning U.S. aid to Israel as the number of civilian casualties rises above 30,000 Palestinians in just five months of war.

Israel’s air and ground offensive has also driven most Palestinians from their homes and pushed one-quarter of the population toward starvation. In the Oct. 7 attack by Hamas that sparked the war, militants killed some 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and took about 250 people hostage.

In Congress, the war has driven a familiar wedge between Democrats, with even some lawmakers aligned with AIPAC declining to discuss the dynamics on the record.

Part of the strategy of the new coalition is to force those fissures into the open by requiring any candidate or member aligned with them to sign a pledge, outright rejecting any campaign money from groups like AIPAC, which has historically yielded immense clout in Washington.

This comes as AIPAC shifted in its own strategy in the last several years, transitioning from strictly a lobbying organization to helping elect centrist, pro-Israel Democrats. In 2022, it began challenging Democratic incumbents in primaries.

Before November, the group and PACs connected to its ethos have once again begun contributing to candidates running against members of the squad. The Democrats facing challengers include Jamaal Bowman of New York, Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, Summer Lee of Pennsylvania and Cori Bush of Missouri, all of whom have not only called for a cease-fire but have demanded an end to U.S. aid to Israel.

In 2022, AIPAC spent around $27 million targeting progressive candidates. Its war chest this cycle is expected to be more than twice that amount.

“We will never be at parity and that’s the reality of this,” Andrabi said. “This has always been a David vs. Goliath conflict and it will continue to be but the most we can do is organize now in a concerted way and take them on head-on in a way that folks haven’t in past cycles.”