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Robert Reich: AIPAC’s Horrendous Role In This Year’s Democratic Primaries – OpEd

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On Tuesday, in a House Democratic primary contest to represent a predominantly Black middle-class district north and east of Washington, DC., Glenn Ivey, a former state’s attorney for Prince George’s County, defeated Donna Edwards, the first Black woman elected to the House from Maryland. (Edwards left the seat to run unsuccessfully for the Senate in 2016 and had hoped to return.) 

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Progressive groups backed Edwards, but television and radio were saturated with ads questioning her willingness to perform basic services for her constituents and to make the kinds of compromises necessary for legislative success. The argument was horse manure. 

Where did the money for those ads come from? The American-Israel Political Affairs Committee (AIPAC) and its new super PAC, the United Democracy Project (along with another group, the Democratic Majority for Israel). Together they spent almost $7 million to defeat Edwards. That’s a staggering sum for a single Democratic primary. 

What did Edwards do to deserve this degree of AIPAC enmity? Could it have been because she was an early supporter of a nuclear deal between Iran and five industrial countries, including the United States? Probably not, because that hardly distinguished her from most other Democrats. Besides, the Obama administration supported the deal. Was it because Edwards took a number of votes that expressed support for Palestinian rights and the resumption of a meaningful peace process? These were hardly outside of the mainstream. 

So what was it? Dig deeper. 

Remember, AIPAC never used to endorse candidates. Until this election cycle, it didn’t even have a super PAC. But it’s on the way to spending nearly $20 million in the 2022 Democratic primaries alone. That makes it the single most influential political group in Democratic electoral politics. And what’s the criterion for whom AIPAC supports in Democratic primaries? 

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If AIPAC were simply aiming to promote Israel or deter antisemitism, presumably it would be as active in Republican primaries as it is in Democratic ones. But it has barely spent a dime in Republican primaries — not even against Republican candidates who have been widely criticized for antisemitic comments. And its United Democracy Project super-PAC hasn’t spent a penny. 

AIPAC hasn’t supported a Republican primary challenger to Marjorie Taylor Greene (who claimed that Jewish space lasers were behind California’s 2018 wildfires), for example. But AIPAC has endorsed Republican Scott Perry, who compared Democrats to Nazis.

The real criterion for AIPAC’s support or enmity in Democratic primaries seems to have more to do with which candidate is friendlier toward America’s moneyed interests and the Republican agenda. When Edwards was last a member of Congress, she backed single-payer health care and was one of the early champions of sweeping campaign finance reforms. Both irked big money. In the pending race between Haley Stevens and Andy Levin in Michigan’s 11th Congressional District, AIPAC is supporting Stevens (who has a history of fighting worker protections) against Levin (who is a labor champion). 

AIPAC is on the way to becoming a Republican front group. Much of AIPAC’s trove is coming from Republican donors. In May, Republican billionaires Paul Singer and Bernie Marcus donated $1 million each to AIPAC’s super PAC. Marcus famously gave $7 million to President Trump’s campaign in 2016.

So far in this election cycle, AIPAC has endorsed over 100 Republican candidates who refused to certify the 2020 election results.

What to do about this?

First, Democrats must stop allowing AIPAC to be a Democratic kingmaker. The Democratic leadership in Congress must openly criticize AIPAC’s role in Democratic primaries. Democratic candidates should cease taking money from AIPAC in primaries and condemn candidates who do.

Second, all of us need to get behind campaign finance reforms that prevent big money from whatever source from corrupting our elections. Such reforms are possible notwithstanding the Supreme Court’s horrific Citizens United decision. The House has already passed legislation that would encourage small-dollar donations by matching them dollar-for-dollar with public financing. Like most other reforms, it’s been stalled in the Senate. We must elect Democrats to the Senate who will pass this. 

Finally, if you’re concerned about Israel’s future or about antisemitism in America, I’d recommend you not give another penny to AIPAC and urge others to cease funding AIPAC, too. Instead, consider supporting “J Street,” the pro-Israel nonprofit group that advocates diplomacy-based solutions and supports progressive candidates, or If Not Now.

What do you think?

Robert Reich

Robert B. Reich is Chancellor's Professor of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley and Senior Fellow at the Blum Center for Developing Economies, and writes at robertreich.substack.com. Reich served as Secretary of Labor in the Clinton administration, for which Time Magazine named him one of the ten most effective cabinet secretaries of the twentieth century. He has written fifteen books, including the best sellers "Aftershock", "The Work of Nations," and"Beyond Outrage," and, his most recent, "The Common Good," which is available in bookstores now. He is also a founding editor of the American Prospect magazine, chairman of Common Cause, a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and co-creator of the award-winning documentary, "Inequality For All." He's co-creator of the Netflix original documentary "Saving Capitalism," which is streaming now.

3 thoughts on “Robert Reich: AIPAC’s Horrendous Role In This Year’s Democratic Primaries – OpEd

  • July 24, 2022 at 5:48 am
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    Robert Reich should do his homework before publishing such drivel as this column. It is clear he has not read any AIPAC material or spoken with anyone in the organization. AIPAC is bipartisan–that means cultivating relationships with Democrats AND Republicans.
    AIPAC does not pay attention to the “America’s moneyed interests and the Republican agenda.”
    AIPAC understands there is a battle for the soul of the Democratic Party on the issue of support for the existence of Israel as a homeland for the Jewish people. Palestinians are sworn to destroy Israel. The American People support Israel. That is why AIPAC has focused on Democratic primaries.
    AIPAC did not defeat Donna Edwards-the voters did. AIPAC is supporting pro-Israel Progressive Democrats. Democratic leadership does not criticize AIPAC because most of them agree with AIPAC’s goals.
    If Robert Reich believes J Street and If Not Now are good for Israel, then he also has not spoken with many Israelis.
    Mr. Reich is so confident in the his beliefs that he does not need to do any research. He is entitled to his opinions but readers should not trust them.

    Reply
  • July 24, 2022 at 2:07 pm
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    While I share Mr. Reich’s concern regarding AIPAC new PAC, I am more concerned about the rising tide of antisemitism and anti-Israelism in this country in my Democrat Party leaving many of us who are progressives in every sense without a political home. Sadly and I hate to admit it, it started in the Obama administration with that administration’s well meaning, but poorly executed deal with Iran and public disdain for Netanyahu allowing the right wing Republicans make Israel, previously a bi-partisan common ground, an almost exclusively Republican plank leading to Trump’s single accomplishment, the Abraham Accords and leading many AIPAC leaders invest heavily in the Republican Party to the point of having AIPAC make a hard right turn because of growing anti-Israel sentiment in Democratic circles in Congress. Sadly under the guise of Democratic progressivism, many misinformed Democratic Jew and Israel-haters have been loud and vocal candidates and office holders because of this and AIPAC justifiable has leaned into the issue. I would agree it has been clumsy and not well executed, but it is necessary. I lived in Scott Perry’s district for 48 years and have expressed my disgust with the AIPAC people at their backing of him, but he has been a friend of Israel whether you like him or not, not withstanding his extensive involvement in the January 6 insurrection. Sadly he owns the district and even the strongest and best of Democratic candidates and I knew 2 of the 3 who ran against him very well, could not unseat him. While AIPAC has perhaps made some mistake, they have every right under law and as a very important special interest to back candidates they feel are in the best interests of their members. I applaud their efforts and the efforts of other expanding Jewish PAC’s to back candidates on both side of the aisle who will stand up for Israel, it’s right to self determination and to have security in a hostile neighborhood. Mr. Reich minimizes that AIPAC and other Jewish PAC’s spent a great deal of money on Democrats of color who represented support for Israel. If that is wrong and Mr. Reich has a problem with that, then he clearly misunderstands the mission, which is not right wing, but supportive of the right of a close ally to continue to live with democracy and security.

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  • July 27, 2022 at 2:44 am
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    AS a citizen that holds an Israeli Passport, as a person believing in decency, AIPAC is one good reason for the rise of antisemitism. They are the Michael Flynn of pacs. I don’t care if it is AIPAC or Putin’s militia both work against our Democracy. They should be considered and labeled as an enemy of our Democracy, a subversive group that should register as a foreign agent. This is a treasonous organization, willing to destroy the United States to aid Israel. MOVE TO ISRAEL! It is this kind of work that turns me against Israel, the country where my parents are buried.
    AIPAC should be dismantled. Their operatives should be considered traitors to this Government. They should be tried and punished. SHAME ON AIPAC

    Reply

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