AIPAC-backed candidate wins in closely watched US Democratic race

Amid heavy pro-Israel spending, former congresswoman Donna Edwards loses bid to return to Congress in Maryland primary.

Donna Edwards
Donna Edwards represented Maryland's 4th congressional district seat from 2008 to 2017 [File: J Scott Applewhite/AP Photo]

US pro-Israel groups have claimed victory in another win in Democratic congressional primaries, helping defeat a veteran former lawmaker critical of Israel, who was endorsed by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

Former prosecutor Glenn Ivey – backed by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), which spent millions of dollars to help his campaign – won against ex-congresswoman Donna Edwards in Maryland on Tuesday.

The race mirrored other Democratic primaries in this election cycle, where the AIPAC-aligned super PAC, the United Democracy Project (UDP), has been sponsoring ads attacking Israel’s critics on issues unrelated to the Middle East to prop up its favoured candidates.

But while in previous contests UDP largely came on the side of establishment-backed candidates against progressives, Edwards enjoyed the support of many top mainstream Democrats.

She was endorsed by former presidential candidate Hillary Clinton as well as key lawmakers, including congressman Adam Schiff; Pelosi also defended the former congresswoman against AIPAC’s attacks.

Edwards had represented the House district neighbouring Washington, DC for nearly a decade, before launching an unsuccessful Senate bid in 2016. She hoped to return to Congress with incumbent congressman Anthony Brown running for Maryland attorney general.

The district is overwhelmingly Democratic, so Ivey is almost certainly to be elected to Congress after the general elections in November.

UDP spent almost $6m to help defeat Edwards, according to Open Secrets, a website that tracks election spending. The Democratic Majority for Israel (DMFI), another pro-Israel group, also spent $426,000 in support of Ivey.

Edwards enjoyed some outside backing but nowhere near the level of resources UDP and its allies put into the race. Another PAC, aligned with J Street – a liberal Jewish group that opposes the occupation, spent $413,000 to back her.

It is not clear how such spending may have affected the outcome of the race. The former congresswoman had a sizable lead over Ivey in an early public opinion poll in May.

“Glenn Ivey was down 21 points just two months ago. But with the support of our community and our new political strategy, Ivey came back to win this critically important election,” AIPAC said in an email to supporters on Wednesday.

On Twitter, the group added Ivey’s name to a list of nine Democratic candidates it has successfully backed in primaries this year.

“Being pro-Israel is both good policy and good politics,” AIPAC said in a post. DMFI also celebrated Ivey’s victory with a similar statement.

AIPAC’s critics have called on the Democratic leadership to denounce the pro-Israel spending in the party’s primaries, especially since the group receives funds from conservative donors and has endorsed dozens of Republicans aligned with former President Donald Trump.

In a strongly-worded statement on Wednesday, J Street slammed AIPAC’s election strategy, including dumping an “outrageous amount of money” in the Maryland race to defeat Edwards.

“It’s extremely harmful to the Democratic party when a group that endorses over 100 Republicans who voted to overturn the 2020 election on January 6th, and that is funded in part by Republican billionaires, spends seemingly unlimited sums of money to decisively shape the outcome of Democratic primaries,” said Kevin Rachlin, J Street’s vice president of public affairs.

Palestinian rights advocates told Al Jazeera earlier this year that while this kind of election spending by pro-Israel groups may yield immediate victories, it will not end the debate about the issue, especially with growing US public awareness of Israeli abuses against Palestinians.

Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and B’Tselem have accused Israel of apartheid. Meanwhile, in the United States, there have been growing calls for conditioning military aid to Israel.

Beth Miller, political director at JVP Action, a political advocacy group linked to Jewish Voice for Peace, said the Democratic Party needs to “get wise fast” before Super PACs funded by Republican donors “bring down any chance of meaningful and progressive change”.

“AIPAC’s electoral playbook is clear. They find races where hawkish, pro-apartheid candidates need extra support, and they flood those races with millions of dollars to smear progressives on issues unrelated to Israel or Palestinian rights,” Miller told Al Jazeera on Wednesday.

“When their candidate rides that multimillion-dollar support to a victory, they turn around and claim it was all about Israel when it never was. It’s about the role of right-wing Super PAC funding undermining progressive candidates.”

Source: Al Jazeera