Jamaal Bowman’s primary defeat leaves progressives angry at role of Aipac

Progressive groups reacted with disappointment and anger over Jamaal Bowman’s decisive primary loss to a moderate Democrat in New York’s 16th district, calling for the party to cut ties with pro-Israel lobbying groups they blame for the result.

In a letter to the House Democratic leader, Hakeem Jeffries, more than a dozen progressive organizations said they had “dire concerns” over the party’s continued association with the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (Aipac), “the future of the Democratic Party, the future of our multiracial democracy, and the future of our planet”.

Aipac and its affiliates plan to spend $100m across the election cycle, and Bowman’s defeat marks their most significant victory to date. Looking ahead, they have already set their sights set on the Missouri congresswoman Cori Bush, who will face Wesley Bell in her August primary. United Democracy Project, a Super Pac affiliated with Aipac, has already spent nearly $1.9m promoting Bell’s candidacy.

The signatories of the letter included the Center for Popular Democracy Action, Jewish Voice for Peace Action, New York Communities for Change and New York City Democratic Socialists of America.

In the letter, they said that in the run-up to the vote, UDP had flooded the Westchester county–northern Bronx district with nearly $20m in mailers and ads “funded largely by Republican billionaires, to drown out Jamaal Bowman’s message of humanity, dignity, and a thriving future for all”.


The result, they said, had been to unseat a a candidate that Jeffries had personally endorsed, who retains “a deep well of support among the Black and brown communities in the district”, and to replace him with “a conservative politician with a history of racist remarks and governance”.

Bowman, a Black former middle school principal who has been an outspoken critic of Israel’s conduct in Gaza, lost to challenger George Latimer by a wide margin of 58% to 42% of the vote. The race was called within an hour of polls closing.

Bowman had been supported on the campaign trail by heavyweight party progressives, including Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and the Vermont senator Bernie Sanders, who called the race “one of the most important in the modern history of America”.

Sanders said in a statement after Bowman’s loss that it was “an outrage and an insult to democracy that we maintain a corrupt campaign finance system which allows billionaire-funded Super Pacs to buy elections.”

“Aipac and other Super Pacs spent over $23 million to defeat Bowman. He spent $3 million. That is a spending gap which is virtually impossible to overcome,” he said, adding: “It is not a coincidence that with our corrupt campaign finance system we also have a rigged economy that allows the very rich to get much richer while many working people are falling further behind. Big Money buys politicians who will do their bidding, and the results are clear.”

Progressives, like Sanders, attempted to characterize the race as an example of big-money influence in politics after pro-Israel groups and a number of wealthy residents of the New York suburban parts of the district weighed in with their checkbooks.

Bush underscored that Latimer’s victory represented a clear threat to the progressive movement, saying in a statement: “These same extremists are coming to St Louis. They are bankrolling a faux-progressive, former Republican campaign operative to buy our deep blue Democratic seat. But let me be clear: St Louis will not be silenced or sold out.”

The progressive groups said that Aipac had “turned the NY16 race into the most expensive Democratic primary in history, waging an unacceptable assault on our democracy, our communities, and our shared future” and called on Jeffries to take action against “destructive actions in your own backyard”.

Related: The pro-Israel groups planning to spend millions in US elections

Jeffries, along with most of the House Democratic leadership team, has received Aipac’s endorsement, and the progressive groups demanded that he reject the pro-Israel lobby group’s financial support to protest against Bowman’s defeat.

Protect Our Power said in a statement that Bowman’s defeat was a “loss for young people and anyone who cares about our continued movement toward justice, peace, and building a multiracial democracy”.

The progressive group blamed “Aipac and the Maga billionaires who recruited and paid for George Latimer’s campaign from start to finish” for the defeat, and vowed “to tell Aipac they have no business creating division in our democracy”.

In a separate letter of protest, Jewish Voice for Peace Action said it was “saddened” by the results that had unseated a congressman who “has been one of the few members of Congress committed to defending Palestinian human rights”.

“Today is a sad day for American democracy,” said JVP’s political director, Beth Miller. “To protect progressive candidates moving forward it is essential that Democrats reject Aipac,” she added.

Bob Herbst, a member of the group and a constituent of NY-16, called Aipac’s multimillion-dollar spend in the district “a dangerous interference in our democracy”.

The race had been viewed as a crucial test of Democratic party unity over an issue that threatens to separate traditionally Democratic-voting Jewish Americans from the party in the aftermath of Hamas’s 7 October attack on Israel that killed nearly 1,200 people, and a nine-month Israeli counter-offensive that has killed more than 37,000 Palestinians and driven hundreds of thousands more to the point of starvation.

Related: The Aipac-funded candidate defeated Jamaal Bowman. But at what cost? | Ben Davis

Bowman claimed that the results would show “fucking Aipac the power of the motherfucking South Bronx”, though the Aipac campaign focused primarily on Bowman’s weaknesses overall and not specifically or solely his stance on Israel. One UDP attack ad against Bowman specifically called out his votes against the bipartisan infrastructure bill and the debt ceiling agreement, accusing the representative of failing his constituents.

“Jamaal Bowman has his own agenda and refuses to compromise, even with President Biden,” the ad’s narrator says. “Jamaal Bowman has his own agenda, and it’s hurting New York.”

Nonetheless, Aipac is using Latimer’s victory to claim that Bowman’s stance on Israel is why he lost.

“This race presented a clear choice – between George Latimer, who reflects the views of the Democratic mainstream in his congressional district and across the country, and his opponent, who aligns with the extremist, anti-Israel fringe,” an Aipac spokesperson, Marshall Wittmann, told Axios.

Bowman was no stranger to scandals while in office. In December 2023, he became the 27th House member in history to be censured after pulling a fire alarm on his way to vote on a stopgap spending bill. He was also linked to problematic blogposts that pushed unfounded conspiracy theories about the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. The posts, which Bowman said were from more than a decade ago, were unearthed by the Daily Beast earlier this year and the former representative has since said he regrets them.

Bowman’s opponent, Latimer, offered a more measured approach in a district with a large number of Jewish voters.

After Latimer accepted his win on Tuesday night, he told supporters: “We have to fight to make sure that we do not vilify each other, that we remember that we’re all Americans, and that our common future is bound together.”

Joanie Greve contributed reporting

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