Dark money for Israel that crushes leftwing candidates is giving Jews a bad reputation — Messinger

It’s already a bad week for progressives in U.S. politics. Jewish Insider reports that Max Frost, the charismatic new face of young Democratic politics, negotiated his position on Israel with Democratic Majority for Israel in order to keep the rightwing lobby group from pouring money into his Florida race. Frost then walked back his earlier support for BDS and issued anodyne language about being pro-Israel and pro-Palestine to escape the wrath (the money) of the rightwingers — and he won.

So Frost escaped the fate of Yuh-Line Niou, the New York progressive candidate who issued mixed messages on BDS but pretty much stuck by her pro-Palestine solidarity, and was drenched with negative messaging from the rightwing lobby, and lost last Tuesday.

All this “secret” Jewish money being spent “manipulating” elections in races all over the country is giving Jews a bad reputation, says Ruth Messinger, the civic leader and former NY City councilperson.

AIPAC announced after the [N.Y.] race was over that they were proud to have put several hundred thousand dollars in to defeat [Niou]… It’s that kind of after-the-fact and look-what-we-did, and we’re manipulating elections, in terms of one issue, that I find deeply troubling and has thrown some candidates that I’m quite sure would have won their races without AIPAC’s interference– particularly Donna Edwards…

Where large sums of money, in this case, it’s Jewish money, are put in through PACs, sometimes not public, to defeat a candidate, it is quite likely that the people who lost the race end up thinking less well of Jews, end up thinking that Jews only care about the Middle East, and end up thinking that Jews are willing to put secret money into campaigns in order to defeat candidates. That’s very definitely not the reputation I want us to have across the United States or around the world.

Messinger spoke on an Americans for Peace Now webinar about AIPAC’s spending on August 25.

Donna Edwards is a progressive former congressperson who was defeated last month by a relative unknown in Maryland who got millions of dollars of support from the Israel lobby because Edwards has been critical of Israel.

Messinger said the same reputational damage occurred when AIPAC and Democratic Majority for Israel spent millions trying to defeat congressional candidate Summer Lee in Pittsburgh and failed.

If you’re in a black district in Pittsburgh, and you’re eager to get your state representative to win the Democratic primary, and you discover that, quote, unquote, the Jews are raising $3 million to defeat her then you come to see the Jews, if you’re not Jewish as a kind of single issue organization. Again, not entirely, AIPAC’s fault, but is affecting the way people think and feel about the Jewish community.

Mik Moore, a progressive digital media political activist who co-authored an article with Messinger, said this Jewish reputational damage is being done by campaigns all over where Israel is not an issue for voters, but money has perverted the process.

So you have a series of sort of state based PACs that… are putting lots of money into races where the candidates have absolutely no influence whatsoever on the Middle East, or Israel Palestine or any of these issues. And yet, you know, they are having to deal with hundreds of 1000s of dollars or millions of dollars in spending against them. And it’s made city council races become like about Israel, right, or a state assembly race become about Israel, when that’s not why this person is running for office, it’s not what they’ve done with their life. And the money has really perverted, you know, what that process is supposed to be about. And… people see this, right, voters see this. And it does, you know, I think have an impact on people and how they perceive the community.

Moore said that Jews who care about social justice or health care or climate issues have to take on the Israel lobby because it’s demolishing “the boldest” candidates.

You back a candidate, and then that candidate ends up spending like 50% of their time responding to attacks over… the issue of Israel [which] is not the issue that they are an expert in, not the reason they’re running and frankly not the reason you’re necessarily backing [them], right. This creates a dynamic where the most progressive, the boldest candidates on all these other issues become very difficult to elect because of this broader dynamic. So I think it’s, it’s impossible to avoid it entirely, and I think requires taking it on.

Hadar Susskind of Peace Now said that rightwing pro-Israel money is now an issue in every congressional district in the country– and in city and county council races too.

For almost every race, this is now an issue… It has become a hot button issue that is unavoidable for any candidate, it doesn’t matter where you live, who your constituency is, you may literally not have a Jew in your district, and there are some districts like that in America. And yet, you know, you are still likely to be forced to choose between an AIPAC endorsement or a J Street endorsement.

I live in Montgomery County, Maryland, and our county council is dealing with what is purportedly an antisemitism resolution, but it’s really all about Israel.

Moore says AIPAC is spending all this money because it knows its grip on the Democratic Party is slipping as progressive Democrats enter races.

It’s coming from a position of real weakness and real fear, that they no longer have the kind of sway within the Democratic Party that they did traditionally, that there is increasingly a large constituency that thinks differently about this issue than they do. And so… this was done in a sense, out of desperation to sort of maintain the sort of level of influence that they’ve traditionally held.

Messinger says that legislative candidates everywhere are being quizzed about their stance on BDS, the boycott campaign targeting Israel over human rights abuses.

Messinger says that Andy Levin in Michigan lost Jewish support– and then lost his race to stay in Congress on August 2 — because he was alleged to have supported BDS.

Without naming names, I will tell you that someone I know to be a hugely responsible person engaged in Jewish and democratic politics, told me that Andy Levin was not supported– and I just want to be really clear I’m about to state a non-fact— told me that Andy Levin was not supported because he supported BDS. He does not support BDS.

This discussion was extremely normative. While Messinger and Moore and Hadar Susskind argued that they must promote political diversity inside the Jewish community in order to combat the negative image of Jews as blindly supporting Israel, they all basically stuck up for the liberal Zionist line, We love Israel but we can criticize it.

Moore spoke of “two poles” in Democratic politics, AIPAC and J Street. Messinger said there is a vast universe of Jews who aren’t pro-AIPAC but still love Israel:

There’s a vast universe of human we’re pro human rights, pro social justice, Jews who care tremendously about Israel, and about the future of Israel and the future of Middle East politics, but they care about other things as well. 

Can these people represent anti-Zionist Jews who think the Jewish state is a serial human-rights violator? Or IfNotNow Jews who call out Israeli “apartheid.” I don’t think so. But then pro-Israel propagandists claim that 97 percent of the American Jewish community are aligned with Israel. So there are miles to go in this discussion…

Messinger gave AIPAC credit for having convinced Congress that all Jews care about is Israel. But now Jews who work on social justice, or LGBTQ issues or health care are frustrated when the only Jewish question is where a candidate stands on BDS.

Mik Moore said that AIPAC and the conservative Jewish press have been driving the successful nationwide effort to bar BDS from the U.S. discourse:

So there’s a series of attempts to legislate against the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement… outside the electoral process… So that if you’re a government contractor, you can be forced to state that you do not support BDS in order to get a government contract. And this has been happening in state after state. You also see it though in more sort of informal ways in the political space. And I’d say the first way that this has happened is our organizations and I would say the Jewish press has decided that any commentary on BDS or anyone’s position on BDS is going to get a ton of attention. And so you see in race after race, if you have a candidate that makes any comment that could be seen as even sympathetic to BDS or partial BDS, where it’s critical of Israel or that outright doesn’t state exactly what the sort of acceptable communal position is, there’s going to be a ton of negative press attention and attacks by Jewish communal leaders on on that candidate. And we’ve seen that and AIPAC is driving that, but it’s not AIPAC alone.

Though let’s be clear that liberal Zionists including J Street have backed legislation that characterizes BDS as antisemitic.

Here’s the video of the webinar:

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