Members of the Squad, who face primary challenges because of their stance on Israel, scored their first victory. Here are the other races to watch.

U.S. Reps. Rashida Tlaib, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, Cori Bush, Jonathan Jackson, Nydia M. Velazquez, Jamaal Bowman (seen), and Summer Lee hold a press conference with Rabbis in front of the U.S. Capitol to call for a ceasefire and end to the Israeli attacks on Gaza in Washington D.C., United States on Nov. 13, 2023. (Photo by Celal Gunes/Anadolu via Getty Images)
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OPINION: Pennsylvania Rep. Summer Lee, who beat a centrist Democrat supported by pro-Israel groups, was the first Squad member to survive a primary challenge. Will the other progressive members of Congress fair as well?

Editor’s note: The following article is an op-ed, and the views expressed are the author’s own. Read more opinions on theGrio.

Has the Squad reached a turning point?

The members of the Squad — progressive, Democratic Congress members of color — are facing primary challenges because of their position against Israel. Pro-Israel groups such as AIPAC and Republican billionaire donors are pouring tons of money to unseat Black social justice lawmakers who oppose U.S. support for Israeli apartheid and the genocide of Palestinians.

What we are witnessing is a big money operation designed to purge Democratic critics of Israel, at a time of massive public opposition and outrage over what Israel is doing to the Palestinians.

AIPAC is focused on the Squad, as the pro-Israel lobbying group is expected to spend $100 million to unseat these Democrats who have urged President Biden to call for a ceasefire in Gaza. In a first test for progressive lawmakers, Rep. Summer Lee — the first Black woman elected to Congress from Pennsylvania — killed it in the Democratic primary. Lee won by 20 points against her centrist opponent, Edgewood, Pa., City Councilwoman Bhavini Patel.

Summer Lee, The Squad, Israel-Gaza War, theGrio.com
Rep. Summer Lee, D-Pa., speaks during a rally in Pittsburgh, Pa., on April 21, 2024. (Photo by Nate Smallwood for The Washington Post via Getty Images)

Patel, who positioned herself as a centrist Democrat, received financial support from Jeffrey Yass, a GOP businessman, TikTok and TruthSocial investor and billionaire megadonor who supports public funding of private schools and conservative groups in Israel. Yass, now the largest donor nationwide in the 2024 election, funds the Moderate PAC, a super PAC that supports centrist Democrats like Lee’s primary challenger. Patel disavowed Yass’ support, which included more than $600,000 to sponsor ads that painted Lee as unsupportive of Biden because she criticized him.

One must wonder why a Republican is inserting himself into a Democratic primary and getting into Black folks’ — or specifically, Summer Lee’s — business. Well, Yass is also tight with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and bankrolled Netanyahu’s judicial coup, an attempt to take over the Israeli courts that was met with mass protests.

Meanwhile, with AIPAC spreading its money around to Democratic primary challengers, some members of the Squad may have more of an uphill battle for reelection than Rep. Lee.

Elections

AIPAC is bankrolling the campaign of Westchester County Executive George Latimer, a Democrat who wants to unseat Rep. Jamaal Bowman in his New York district in Bronx and Westchester counties. Bowman is considered one of the most vulnerable progressives running in Congress, with a district that was redrawn to represent more of suburban Westchester.

AIPAC is responsible for 42% of $1.4 million in total campaign contributions to Latimer, according to The Intercept. And a Trump Republican megadonor hosted a fundraiser for the candidate. An AIPAC donor even urged Jewish Republicans to switch parties and vote against Bowman — a critic of Israel who has called for a ceasefire — in the Democratic primary.

Missouri Congresswoman Cori Bush is being outspent and outpolled by challenger Wesley Bell, the St. Louis County prosecutor. Bush, who has been among the most vocal lawmakers in Congress against the Israeli bombing of Gaza, has warned supporters that AIPAC wants to buy the House seat. And with AIPAC support, Bell has $1.1 million in cash on hand, double the amount of Bush. One poll, from February, has Bell leading Bush by 22 points.

Elected in a wave of progressive prosecutors following the Michael Brown killing in Ferguson, Mo., Bell, who was running to unseat GOP Sen. Josh Hawley, suddenly switched races to run against Bush.

“I’m being targeted by AIPAC because not only do I believe Palestinians deserve to live freely and peacefully just like Israelis, but because I want to protect our democracy from Republican extremism,” Bush told The New York Times.

“We proudly endorse Wesley Bell, who is a strong advocate for the U.S.-Israel relationship,” said AIPAC’s Marshall Wittmann, “in clear contrast to his opponent who represents the extremist anti-Israel fringe.” Bell criticized Rep. Bush for saying Israel was engaging in an ”ethnic cleansing campaign” against the Palestinians in Gaza, calling her statement “offensive” and saying “I think we have to stand with our allies.” Bell promised to “stand with the president.”

While Rep. Bush has received contributions from NBA star Kyrie Irving of the Dallas Mavericks, and progressive groups such as the Squad Victory Fund and Progressive Voices for Peace, Bell has enjoyed donations from a number of billionaires, including donors tied to Republican politics. For example, hedge fund billionaire Daniel Loeb — who has contributed to Democrats such as Barack Obama and Cory Booker — has funded GOP politicos such as Elise Stefanik, Kevin McCarthy, Liz Cheney, Adam Kinzinger, John McCain and Mitt Romney.

And Reid Hoffman, the billionaire founder of LinkedIn and Biden donor who bankrolled Trump rival Nikki Haley gave a maximum donation to Bell.

Democratic Majority for Israel (DMFI) PAC has endorsed Wesley Bell, claiming that Bush has a “longstanding enmity towards Israel.” DMFI PAC also endorsed Latimer in the New York race against Bowman. The pro-Israel group is spending a total of $3 million for these two primary challengers to progressive Black incumbents.

In Minnesota, Rep. Ilhan Omar is facing a challenge as well. Democratic leader Hakeem Jeffries — whose largest contributor is AIPAC and who was accused of caping for Netanyahu by attending an AIPAC-funded junket to Israel with 24 House Democrats — is nonetheless supporting Omar and all Democratic incumbents. Omar, whose daughter Isra Hirsi was arrested and suspended from Columbia University for participating in a pro-Palestinian encampment protest, called AIPAC a “right-wing super PAC” funded by “dark money.”

Omar, who squeaked by and won a primary challenge against Black former Minneapolis City Councilman Don Samuels, is polling 18 points ahead of Samuels in a 2024 rematch. Samuels claims he is not receiving money from AIPAC, which spent $350,000 against Omar in 2022, but says he would consider it if offered.

At this point, Squad members Reps. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.), Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.) are safe. Pressley, who has evolved from a pro-Israel stance and now calls for a ceasefire, has not had a serious opponent since her first victory in 2018. AIPAC has not made any moves against her in this election cycle, according to Politico.

In light of the robust spending by AIPAC and others, more than 20 progressive groups have joined forces to form “Reject AIPAC.” This collective effort is designed to challenge AIPAC’s campaign to silence “growing dissent in Congress” over Israel.

That growing dissent reflects a humanitarian catastrophe in Gaza — a U.S.-funded industrial massacre of tens of thousands of Palestinians, famine and the first livestreamed social media genocide. Two-thirds of voters, including majorities among Democrats, Independents and Republicans have called for a ceasefire in Gaza and half of Biden voters polled believe Israel is committing genocide against Palestinians.

A majority of Black Americans want a permanent ceasefire and conditional U.S. military aid to Israel.

Palestine has become a defining human rights, social justice and free speech moment of this century. Protests supporting Gaza are spilling into the streets and college campuses of America as Black college students, scholars, clergy, civic leaders, activists and others are organizing and speaking out for boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) against Israel, facing arrest, suspension and punishment for doing so.

And it is within this context that the Israel lobby, like the NRA and others, is engaged in the legalized bribery of politicians, pouring money into races to replace the Squad with more compliant, moderate members of Congress — including compliant Black lawmakers — who will toe the line on the billions of dollars going to Israel and who will support everything Israel does.


David A. Love, theGrio.com
David A. Love, theGrio.com

David A. Love is a journalist and commentator who writes investigative stories and op-eds on a variety of issues, including politics, social justice, human rights, race, criminal justice and inequality. Love is also an instructor at the Rutgers School of Communication and Information, where he trains students in a social justice journalism lab. In addition to his journalism career, Love has worked as an advocate and leader in the nonprofit sector, served as a legislative aide, and as a law clerk to two federal judges. He holds a B.A. in East Asian Studies from Harvard University and a J.D. from the University of Pennsylvania Law School. He also completed the Joint Programme in International Human Rights Law at the University of Oxford. His portfolio website is davidalove.com.

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