Israel Lobby Targeted Key Democrats in 2022 Midterm Elections
WALTER L. HIXSONNORTH
Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY), incoming House Democratic leader, speaks at the 2019 American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) Policy Conference, at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in Washington, DC. Pro-Israel funders were his second largest contributors in 2022. (CHERISS MAY/NURPHOTO VIA GETTY IMAGES)
Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, January/February 2023, pp. 18-19
By Walter L. Hixson
THE ISRAEL LOBBY pumped unprecedented millions into the November 2022 midterm congressional election cycle, with most of it concentrated on Democratic Party races. Zionist political action committees (PACs) targeted for defeat a select group of candidates deemed pro-Palestinian, anti-Israel or insufficiently pro-Israel.
According to an in-depth analysis by Americans for Justice in Palestine Action (AJP Action), the Israel lobby injected more than $70 million into the 2022 races, far exceeding contributions in any previous election, including the 2020 presidential canvass. “Pro-Israel groups collectively contributed more than $30 million to candidates in congressional races across the U.S.—more than triple the contributions of abortion rights, gun control, and environmental groups and individuals combined,” according to the AJP report. In addition to money provided to individual campaigns, the lobby spent $40 million to influence voters’ perceptions for or against candidates in specific elections.
Pro-Israel organizations donated to Democrats at twice the rate of Republican candidates, collectively contributing $20 million to Democrats compared to $10 million to Republicans. AJP Action explains the disparity as an effort by rightwing Zionist groups to counteract the growing influence of pro-Palestinian members of the Democratic Party.
Until 2021, AIPAC did not raise funds for political candidates itself. Its members raised money for candidates through political action committees. In late 2021, AIPAC formed its own political action committee (AIPAC PAC) as well as a Super PAC, the United Democracy Project (UDP).
The Democratic Majority for Israel Super PAC, founded in 2019 by right-wing pro-Israel groups, is touted as an advocacy group that supports pro-Israel policies among the U.S. Democratic Party’s political leaders. It was created after AIPAC affiliated too closely with the Republican right during the Obama and Trump administrations, opening a schism among Israel’s supporters in Congress.
Together the Democratic Majority for Israel and AIPAC’s new UDP Super PAC spent $40,277,175 to influence the 2022 midterms. The spending represented a dramatic increase from the $6 million spent in the 2020 presidential election cycle, according to the AJP Action report, entitled “Rightwing Zionist Money & its Influence on U.S. Elections.” Not to be left out of the pro-Israel debate, the J Street PAC and its affiliates spent $3,262,066 on candidates, who were often challengers to AIPAC’s chosen list.
All of AIPAC’s UDP Super PAC spending went to Democratic elections, the majority spent in the primaries to either support or oppose candidates. AIPAC PAC, meanwhile, spent 66.1 percent of its money in Democrat races, with little spending on Republican races, while its affiliate lobby groups such as the Republican Jewish Coalition, Joint Action Committee for Political Affairs, and the U.S. Israel PAC, to name a few, were actively supporting Republican races.
However, the AJP report found that lobby spending was “hyper focused against vulnerable Democrats that were deemed as not sufficiently pro-Israel.” The lobby largesse succeeded in a few races, as some of the targeted candidates went down in defeat, though many others weathered the onslaught. Notably only one (Rep. Marie Newman, D-IL) of the heavily targeted co-sponsors of the proposed Defending the Human Rights of Children and Families Living Under Israeli Military Occupation (H.R. 2590) was defeated. The bill, sponsored by Rep. Betty McCollum (D-MN), has 32 co-sponsors and is bitterly opposed by the Israel lobby.
All ten of the highest grossing recipients of pro-Israel contributions were Democrats.
The spending pattern highlights the two Super PACs’ efforts to undermine progressive Democrats in the House, who comprise essentially the only coalition that defies the lobby and is openly critical of Israel’s illegal occupation and repressive policies. The massive contributions to Rep. Shontel Brown’s (D-OH) campaign had less to do with her and more to do with her primary opponent, Nina Turner, a Bernie Sanders-allied critic of Israeli repression. Similarly, the lobby heavily funded the primary campaign of Glenn Ivey in a successful campaign to defeat former Rep. Donna Edwards (D-MD), an opponent of Israeli apartheid.
But the Zionist PACs also targeted moderates, notably Rep. Andy Levin (D-MI), deemed insufficiently supportive of Israel, who was defeated by the lobby-backed candidate Rep. Haley Stevens. AIPAC and other lobby groups invested heavily in Michigan, spending more than $10 million altogether on three congressional races, headlined by Stevens’ ouster of Levin.
The lobby did not win them all, however, and the progressive anti-apartheid coalition in the House remains largely intact. Rep.-elect Summer Lee (D-PA), targeted for defeat, fended off a heavily funded lobby backed opponent (Steven Irwin) to win her seat.
Recognizing that Israel was not a central public issue in the nationwide campaigns, lobby political advertising homed in on other issues while shrouding its own motives. The UDP Super PAC touted Ivey for his support for gun control, abortion and public-school investments, while ignoring Israel altogether. Likewise, the lobby alleged that Lee would “defund the police” and was “more interested in fighting Democrats than getting results.”
In addition to targeting critics of Israel, the lobby contributions shored up longstanding support for two New York power brokers, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, the newly chosen leader of the House Democrats. In 2020, the Israel lobby did not even rank in the top twenty sources for funding Jeffries’ campaign, but in 2022 “pro-Israel funders were the second largest contributor,” AJP Action notes.
The full AJP Action report can be accessed at: <https://ajpaction.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/11/Rightwing-Zionist-Money.pdf>.
Contributing editor Walter L. Hixson is the author of Architects of Repression: How Israel and Its Lobby Put Racism, Violence and Injustice at the Center of US Middle East Policy and Israel’s Armor: The Israel Lobby and the First Generation of the Palestine Conflict (available from Middle East Books and More), along with several other books and journal articles. He was a professor of history for 36 years, achieving the rank of distinguished professor.
TOP TEN RECIPIENTS OF ISRAEL LOBBY FUNDING IN THE 2022 CONGRESSIONAL ELECTIONS
1. Rep. Shontel Brown (D-OH): $1,038,202
2. Rep. Haley Stevens (D-MI): $790,729
3. Rep. Elaine Luria (D-VA): $731,038
4. Rep.-elect Glenn Ivey (D-MD): $697,205
5. Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY): $689,375
6. Steven Irwin (D-PA)*: $687,367
7. Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-NJ): $548,262
8. Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY): $459,670
9. Sen. Maggie Hassan (D-NH): $436,625
10. Rep.-elect Valerie Foushee (D-NC): $429,305
*Defeated in primary election
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