AIPAC Is Cleaning Up in Democratic Primaries

A super-PAC linked to the pro-Israel group has spent millions to defeat progressive candidates.

Haley Stevens

Michael Brochstein/ZUMA Press Wire

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Michigan Rep. Haley Stevens defeated fellow Democratic Rep. Andy Levin on Tuesday, in a matchup between two incumbents competing in the same district after Michigan lost a seat in redistricting. Levin, the son of former Rep. Sander Levin and nephew of the late Sen. Carl Levin, is a progressive who boasted the support of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, while Stevens has a more moderate platform. But the most notable thing about this race wasn’t what either of them said or did—it was the incredible amount of money that poured in from the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the biggest American lobbying group for, in its words, “a strong, enduring and mutually beneficial relationship with our ally Israel.”

The group pumped $4.3 million into the race in support of Stevens, using a super-PAC called the United Democracy Project, with ads that left no indication of the group’s actual purpose. What’s the backstory there? NBC News offers some helpful context:

In January, one of Stevens’s top fundraisers, former AIPAC president David Victor, sent a solicitation to friends accusing Levin, who is Jewish, of being “arguably the most corrosive member of Congress to the U.S.-Israel relationship.”

In the email to friends, Victor contends that Levin has been too critical of Israel’s treatment of Palestinians, and that the fact that Levin is Jewish gives cover to other lawmakers to call themselves pro-Israel while delivering similar rebukes. That has put Victor and AIPAC in the position of backing Stevens, who is not Jewish.

By comparison, J-Street, a “pro-Israel, pro-peace” Jewish group that argues for a less hawkish Israel policy, spent a mere $700,000 on Levin’s behalf. And what’s interesting here is that while AIPAC was extremely committed to getting Levin out of Congress because of a specific policy beef, UDP’s ads didn’t really mention that policy.

J-Street argued, unsuccessfully, that Levin was being targeted by right-wingers wading into a Democratic primary. AIPAC also endorsed a number of Republicans who voted to overturn the 2020 election results, and much of UDP’s funding has come from Republican mega-donors, including the hedge funder Paul Singer.

After years of cozying up to Trump, AIPAC has been one of the biggest-spending outside groups in this year’s Democratic primaries. Last month, it shelled out $6 million to defeat former Maryland Rep. Donna Edwards, who was seeking to return to Congress. In that race, UDP attacked Edwards for “a poor reputation for constituent services”—the group’s true passion. And in South Texas, UDP spent $1.9 million on behalf of Rep. Henry Cuellar, who defeated progressive challenger Jessica Cisneros by 289 votes.

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