Over the past couple of weeks, there have been some notable results. The four female progressive Democratic congresswomen (Alexandria Ocasio-Cortx, Rashida Tlaib, Ilhan Omar, and Ayanna Pressley, known collectively as ‘the Squad’) who came into office in 2018 by overthrowing well-entrenched establishment candidates and caused consternation within the party hierarchy, all faced well-funded opposition in their primaries. The people who funded the opposition no doubt hoped to blunt the growing narrative that the party needed to adopt more progressive policies and not, as it usually does, kowtow to the finance, business, and military sectors. The good news is that all four won re-election easily. The upset win by Cori Bush in Missouri may mean that the Squad now actually increases to five.
Most notable were the wins of Tlaib in Michigan and Omar in Minnesota. The Israel lobby had targeted them because they had taken a more progressive stand on the Palestinian issue than the party leadership. Omar was a particular target.
Omar, seeking her second term in November, easily defeated Antone Melton-Meaux, an attorney and mediator who raised millions to run against her.
Melton-Meaux used the cash to paper the district and flood airwaves with his “Focused on the Fifth” message that portrayed Omar as out of touch with the heavily Democratic Minneapolis-area fifth district, which hasn’t elected a Republican to Congress since 1960. He conceded defeat and acknowledged that his efforts weren’t enough, while declining to speculate on why.
Omar rejected Melton-Meaux’s attacks, saying they were funded by interests who wanted to get her out of Congress because she’s effective. She also downplayed Melton-Meaux’s prodigious fundraising before the vote, saying, “Organized people will always beat organized money.”
There was a time when for any politicians to say anything other than unswerving loyalty to whatever policies that the Israeli government adopted, however horrendous, or to express concern for the apartheid conditions under which Palestinians lived, would suffer swift retribution at the next election. A candidate would be recruited to run against them, that candidate would be well funded, and the Democratic party establishment would distance themselves from the incumbent and even actively undermine their campaign. This was usually enough to defeat the renegade member and their loss would be held up as an example of what would happen to anyone who did not toe the Israel lobby’s line. The lobby wanted to instill fear in anyone who might even think of criticizing Israel, similar to the way that the NRA seeks to make candidates fearful of crossing them.
But that is no longer the case. The lobby no longer has the clout it once had. Philip Weiss explains the reasons for its diminished influence.
Omar’s victory represents an important trend: the Democratic street is progressive on Palestine. The Israel lobby is not ten feet tall. Three times in recent weeks it has tried to defeat the pro-boycott-and-sanctions movement inside the party (BDS), and been crushed. Jamaal Bowman knocked off pro-Israel heavyweight Eliot Engel in the Bronx/Westchester in June. Rep. Rashida Tlaib handily won reelection in Michigan last week. Now Omar wins by 17 points, in a race that was all about Israel.
So the “Squad” of young progressive people of color is just getting stronger and bigger in the Democratic Party.
The Israel lobby used to run politicians who are critical of Israel off the road. No more. MJ Rosenberg wrote me last night that this is a sea change in politics:
For two decades at least I have been writing and speaking about AIPAC’s power to destroy Members of Congress who dared deviate from the “correct” line on Israel/Palestine. After the primaries in NY, Michigan and Minnesota it is clear that have lost their juice. Yes they have the monied old guard but they don’t have the up and coming party activists, they don’t have the kids (Jewish kids are either indifferent to Israel or with IfNotNow, J Street, etc.). They can and do pour money into a candidate’s coffers but that’s it: no conviction and no energy. In short no troops, just cash. 2020 was the first election year ever in which the safe side of the issue is the side that recognizes Palestinian rights and that the US can no longer stand in solidarity with apartheid in the occupied territories and Jim Crow in Israel itself.
There is no doubt that Bernie Sanders’s progressive stances on Israel and the widespread support he received and his enthusiastic support of the Squad has helped to blunt the power of the lobby, though it still wields clout in the old-guard party leadership. Joe Biden and Kamala Harris never miss an opportunity to state their total devotion to AIPAC and the Israeli government. But these recent results send a message that the tide is shifting on Israel and that it is no longer immune from criticism. The lobby is losing the long-term battle.