AIPAC’s Dark Money Arm Unleashes $100 Million

Amid the Netanyahu government’s assault on Gaza and intensifying repression in the West Bank, AIPAC is showing zero tolerance for even the mildest criticism of Israel during the 2024 U.S. elections.

Amidst global outcry over the ongoing assault on Gaza and the related humanitarian crisis it has wrought, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s super PAC is set to spend a staggering $100 million against both pro-Palestine congressional members and candidates who aren’t seen as sufficiently supportive of Israel. 

With increasing numbers of Democrats speaking out against the far-right government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over its genocide in Gaza and violent repression in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem, AIPAC has shown zero tolerance for even the mildest criticism of Israeli government policies and practices.

Dave Min, a Democratic California state senator running for Rep. Katie Porter’s (D-CA) House seat, has said very little publicly about Israel since the Oct. 7 attacks, which he strongly condemned. He does not support a Gaza cease-fire.

Min did, however, make the mistake of criticizing Netanyahu’s leadership and Israeli settlement expansion during private talks with AIPAC leaders and members. [Min lost his March 5 primary.] 

United Democracy Project, AIPAC’s dark money group, retaliated by firing a broadside of television and mail ads hammering Min over his May 2023 drunk driving arrest as part of a $4.5 million blitz against him.

Feeling the heat, Min turned to someone painfully familiar with AIPAC’s wrath — former Michigan Congressman Andy Levin, a two-term Democratic incumbent, former synagogue president and self-described Zionist who lost his seat following a $4 million AIPAC barrage during the 2022 Democratic primaries. The group targeted Levin over his opposition to Israel’s occupation.

The former congressman told Politico this week that “most” candidates can’t survive AIPAC’s deep-pocketed attacks: “I’m afraid that they can be quite successful in wiping them out.”

California State Sen. David Min meeting with military members in January 2023 at Joint Forces Training Base, Los Alamitos. (U.S. Air National Guard, Crystal Housman)

“AIPAC and their Republican mega-donors are targeting Black and brown Democratic incumbents with the same right-wing playbook across the country,” said Rep. Cori Bush (D-MO), an outspoken critic of Israel’s war on Gaza and the author of an October cease-fire resolution subsequently co-sponsored by 18 House Democrats.

Rep. Mark Pocan (D-WI) recently called AIPAC “basically a wholly owned subsidiary of the GOP” and a “front group for conservative policy.” [Ed: It is a Democratic administration however that is actively participating in the genocide in Gaza.]

Referring to the National Rifle Association, the right-wing lobby group that fronts for the U.S. gun industry, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) last month slammed AIPAC as “the NRA of foreign policy.” 

Usamah Andrabi, communications director for Justice Democrats, told Politico that “a handful of Republican billionaire mega-donors are using AIPAC to spend in Democratic primaries against Black and brown progressives, funding primary campaigns against the most popular and progressive members, so this should be a scandal.”

“The whole of the Democratic Party should be united in opposition to this,” he added.

But it isn’t, and part of the reason why is that many Democrats are beneficiaries of AIPAC’s largesse.

It wasn’t a Republican who unseated Levin, but rather Democratic Rep. Haley Stevens — who has been staunchly supportive of Israel even as its military forces have killed and maimed more than 100,000 Palestinians, forcibly displaced around 90 percent of Gaza’s 2.3 million people, and fueled growing famine by tightening an already crippling economic stranglehold on the besieged enclave.

U.S. Rep. Hakeem Jeffries in 2020. (Brookings Institution, Flickr, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY), another strong pro-Israel voice, counted AIPAC as his top donor during the last election cycle. AIPAC has also been a leading contributor to lawmakers including Reps. Ritchie Torres (D-NY) and Josh Gottheimer (D-NJ), who not only vocally support Israel, but also attack colleagues like Bush;  Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN); and Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI), the only Palestinian American in Congress, for their pro-Palestinian views.

Democratic Majority for Israel, an AIPAC-connected group, is backing nine House Democratic candidates, including Joana Weiss, who ran a nasty campaign against Min in California. But DMFI’s support pales in comparison to the $4.5 million that AIPAC’s United Democracy Project has spent in a bid to defeat Min.

“Despite Sen. Min’s support of Israel, and a broad coalition of endorsements from the Jewish community, a number of Republican donors at AIPAC are upset that he has called for Bibi Netanyahu to be held accountable for the security failures on October 7 and Netanyahu’s failure of leadership during this crisis,” Dan Driscoll, Min’s campaign manager, said in a statement.

“Sen. Min does not believe in the annexation of West Bank settlements, he had hoped that a constructive dialogue could be had. It appears they disagreed.”

Maurice Mitchell, political director for the Working Families Party, acknowledged to Politico that it’s hard to match AIPAC’s financial firepower.

“We can never go dollar for dollar, but our goal is to be competitive and we’re going to do that,” he said.

Progressives point to Democratic Pennsylvania Congresswoman Summer Lee — who in 2022 defeated AIPAC-backed Democrat Steve Irwin — as a sign of hope. 

“A Republican-funded Super PAC threatened to spend $100 million against us — and our grassroots people-powered movement has responded loud and clear,” Lee said earlier this year.

“I am so proud of the multigenerational, multiracial movement we have built in Western Pennsylvania to protect and expand our democracy — it is our greatest defense against the dark money super PACs and corporate lobbies who seek to undermine it,” she added.

“They have Donald Trump and Nikki Haley’s donors, we have the overwhelming power of the people.”

Brett Wilkins is a staff writer for Common Dreams.

Leave a Reply