Pennsylvania congressional candidate Summer Lee, a rising star on the left, won a May primary despite a withering assault from a super PAC set up by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) to defeat progressives in Democratic races. It was an important victory for grassroots activists in Pennsylvania’s historically Democratic 12th Congressional District, and for progressives nationally who have been looking forward to Lee’s joining the “Squad” of advocates for economic, social, and racial justice in the House.
But AIPAC hasn’t given up on beating Lee. Through its United Democracy Project, which spent more than $2 million against Lee in her primary, the group is now spending big money to bolster her right-wing Republican rival, Mike Doyle (who has the same name as the outgoing Democratic congressman). What’s ironic about the latest turn of events is that in the primary, the AIPAC-funded attacks targeted Lee for alleged disloyalty to the Democratic Party. Now, the group is trying to defeat Lee by recycling Republican talking points.
Over the weekend, the United Democracy Project reportedly spent $80,000 on an anti-Lee mailing that parroted the crime-focused attacks Republicans have been using against Democratic candidates, including Senate hopefuls John Fetterman in Pennsylvania and Mandela Barnes in Wisconsin.
By Tuesday, Pittsburgh’s WESA radio was reporting that the AIPAC-aligned project would spend as much as $1 million on an anti-Lee television advertising and mailing blitz in the district, where polls suggest the Democrat’s lead has narrowed following a media assault from the National Republican Congressional Committee. The district is one of several where, as Axios notes, “Republicans are pouring cash into House districts that voted for President Biden by as much as 20 points, targeting under-the-radar battlegrounds amid growing signs of a red wave.”
The United Democracy Project is funded by a who’s who of investment bankers and financial services powerhouses such as Goldman Sachs, Elliott Management, and the Capital Group Companies. On its website, the group says it wants to “help elect candidates that share our vision and will be strong supporters of the U.S.-Israel relationship in Congress.”
Lee has made it clear that she “absolutely” respects Israel’s legitimacy as a Jewish state. So what’s AIPAC’s objection? Like former president Jimmy Carter and other leading Democrats, Lee couples her recognition of the need for Jewish people to have “a safe haven” in Israel with the position that it’s vital to “to protect and stand up for Palestinians.” That balanced stance has won her praise from J Street, the national group that organizes supporters of Israel who seek peace in the Middle East, and on-the-ground support from Bend the Arc, Jewish Action’s Pittsburgh affiliate.
But AIPAC’s still on the attack.
Since AIPAC and the United Democracy Project began its assault against Lee, leading Democratic officials have cried foul.
“Why would an organization go around criticizing someone like Summer Lee for not being a strong enough Democrat when they themselves have endorsed extreme right-wing Republicans?” asked Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who campaigned for Lee during the primary fight and will return to campaign with her on Sunday. “In my view, their goal is to create a two-party system, Democrats and Republicans, in which both parties are responsive to the needs of corporate America and the billionaire class.”
Laura Birnbaum, J Street’s national political director, put it more directly: “After spending nearly $30 million in Democratic primaries on ads that claimed to care about democratic values and priorities, this right-wing group isn’t lifting a finger to defend democracy itself from candidates willing to overturn elections and undermine belief in our core institutions. Instead, UDP is making its only expenditures in the General Election to target Democrats.”
Noting that AIPAC has endorsed and raised funds for 109 members of Congress who, on January 6, 2021, voted to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election, Birnbaum says, “AIPAC’s actions make clear that they really mean it when they say that nothing matters to them other than unquestioning support for Israel—not the survival of American democracy, nor the core values and concerns of the majority of Jewish Americans.”
That’s a blunt statement. But Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s response was even blunter: “Shamefully, AIPAC is working for Republican control of Congress and further destabilization of US democracy.”