Monday, April 15, 2024

‘Reject AIPAC’: US progressives join forces against pro-Israel lobby group | Politics News

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Washington, DC – Prominent progressive organisations in the United States are joining together to push back against the political and electoral influence of the country’s most powerful pro-Israel lobby group, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC).

More than 20 advocacy groups launched on Monday a formal coalition dubbed “Reject AIPAC” to organise against what they called AIPAC’s campaign to​​ silence the “growing dissent in Congress” against Israel’s war on Gaza.

The newly formed coalition cited reports that AIPAC is readying a $100m offensive through its electoral arms – AIPAC PAC and the United Democracy Project (UDP) – to take on a handful of progressives in Congress who called for a ceasefire in Gaza early in the war.

“Rejecting AIPAC is a crucial step in putting voters back at the center of our democracy,” the coalition said in a statement.

While individual candidates and organisations have previously criticised AIPAC’s involvement in US election campaigns, the coalition marks a collective and focused effort against the pro-Israel group.

Reject AIPAC includes mainstream left-wing groups, such as Justice Democrats and the Working Families Party, as well as organisations focused on Palestinian rights, including the US Campaign for Palestinian Rights Action, Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) Action and the IfNotNow Movement.

Beth Miller, political director at JVP Action, said the show of unity by progressive groups is “incredibly significant”.

She added that the coalition represents “a unified response” by the US political left “to the threat that AIPAC poses both to the work that progressive groups are building here at home and to Palestinian lives in Palestine”.

The coalition’s strategy

AIPAC, which is officially non-partisan, advocates unconditional US support for Israel and pushes back against any criticism of Israeli governments and their human rights record. The group’s uncompromising advocacy for Israel has also persisted unabashedly as Israeli politics tilted further to the right, with the current government waging the war on Gaza often described as the most far-right cabinet in Israeli history.

In the US, progressives say AIPAC’s targeting of left-wing candidates often advances right-wing priorities at home.

The anti-AIPAC coalition’s strategy, as outlined by its launch statement, is to back progressives targeted by AIPAC with an ad campaign, lobby against the group’s agenda in Congress and call on Democrats to renounce it.

And so, Reject AIPAC is urging politicians to sign a pledge against AIPAC support.

“For decades, [AIPAC] has been a hawkish, warmongering, and bullying force in US politics,” the pledge reads.

“AIPAC advocates for a US foreign policy directly at odds with human rights and international humanitarian law, and has supported an unconditional flow of US military funding and weapons to the Israeli government that have been used to support human rights violations against Palestinians.”

Long known as one of the most powerful special interest groups in Washington, AIPAC had formally stayed out of direct electioneering until 2022, when it formed a political action committee and an accompanying so-called “super PAC” to thwart the election of Israel critics.

AIPAC PAC and UDP focused on Democratic primaries in liberal-leaning congressional districts, where progressives are more likely to succeed.

They poured millions of dollars into races across the country, blanketing the airwaves with attacks against candidates critical of Israel, often focusing on issues that have nothing to do with foreign policy – a tactic that the group’s opponents describe as dishonest.

AIPAC did not return Al Jazeera’s request for comment by the time of publication.

‘Right-wing influence’

While AIPAC mostly focused on open seats in the last election cycle, it now appears to be gearing up to target incumbents, with key progressives in the House of Representatives in its crosshairs.

Progressives have been decrying the brute force of AIPAC’s election spending, which is partly fuelled by right-wing donors who have backed former President Donald Trump and other conservatives.

The pro-Israel lobby organisation has also endorsed dozens of Republicans in Congress, including many who refused to certify President Joe Biden’s election victory in 2020.

Usamah Andrabi, spokesperson for Justice Democrats, said many groups in the coalition have already been working against AIPAC and its “right-wing influence in Congress”.

“We wanted to come together to not only be more organised but to organise the Democratic Party, its voters and elected officials to once and for all reject the disruptive influence of the Republican mega donor-backed AIPAC on the Democratic primary process and our government’s policy towards Palestine and Israel,” Andrabi told Al Jazeera.

For a while, progressive Democrats had been on the offensive electorally. In 2018, Justice Democrats-backed Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, then 28 years old, defeated a top House Democrat who had been in office for nearly 20 years, shaking the party’s establishment.

That same year, Muslim-American progressives Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar were also elected to Congress. So was Ayanna Pressley, completing the so-called “Squad” of left-wing congresswomen.

Two years later, Cori Bush and Jamaal Bowman also successfully primaried powerful incumbent Democrats, growing the progressive base in Congress.

While focused on domestic US issues, like universal healthcare and economic, racial and environmental justice, that new wave of left-wing politicians also saw advocacy for Palestinian rights as part of its mandate.

Both chambers of Congress have remained overwhelmingly pro-Israel, but the rise of vocal left-wing lawmakers appeared to have spurred AIPAC to change track in its approach to elections.

‘David versus Goliath’

In 2022, AIPAC would spend millions on a single House primary race, tilting the scales in favour of its candidates. Still, the group suffered defeats that year.

For example, in Pennsylvania, candidate Summer Lee won against a massive late-spending onslaught by AIPAC backing her opponent, and she has gone on to become one of the most vocal supporters of Palestinian rights in Congress.

Reject AIPAC has said it will launch a “seven-figure electoral defence campaign” to back candidates targeted by AIPAC, but that would amount to a fraction of AIPAC’s war chest, which is expected to be nine figures.

Andrabi says progressives will never match AIPAC’s resources, but they can still win against the group.

“This has always been an unfair fight. This has always been a David versus Goliath fight,” he told Al Jazeera. “But that doesn’t mean it’s not worth fighting. And that doesn’t mean that we’re not going to win. We’ve shown time and time again that we can take on AIPAC, and that we can beat them.”

Andrabi added that the Democratic base overwhelmingly aligns with progressive positions in support of a ceasefire in Gaza and conditioning aid for Israel.

Miller, of JVP Action, also said that Reject AIPAC will not be able to match AIPAC dollar for dollar.

“AIPAC is funded by Republican billionaires and mega-donors,” she told Al Jazeera. “What we have on our side, though, is that what we are representing is what most American voters actually want.”

But with Congress backing Israel on a bipartisan basis as US-supplied bombs continue to drop on Gaza amid hunger in the territory because of the Israeli blockade, some Palestinian rights advocates are growing disillusioned with the entire political system.

Andrabi said that while apathy and frustration are understandable, advocates must use every tool at their disposal to push back against AIPAC’s influence and defend the human rights of Palestinians.

“At a lot of times, it feels like all hope is lost, but in our mind, this is a project that is absolutely worth fighting for because if we don’t, their power only grows and continues to expand,” he said.

Miller echoed his comments. “We cannot afford to step back from this. Right now, the US government is directly funding and fuelling the genocide of Palestinians,” she said. “We have to force demand and pressure change.”



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