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Blame the Jews

Why Democrats are pretending a pro-Israel PAC sank Jamaal Bowman.

Jamaal Bowman speaks at a campaign rally at St. Mary's Park in the Bronx on June 22, 2024, in New York City. (Photo by Steven Ferdman/GC Images)

“With the exception of Lauren Boebert’s carpet-bagging, last night’s primaries were full of victories for Team Normal,” former Trump staffer turned Never Trumper Alyssa Farah Griffin tweeted on Wednesday.

It’s true! Even the carpetbagger’s 29-point win held a silver lining for normalcy nostalgists.

Candidates endorsed by Donald Trump were rejected in Republican primaries across the map, some by ignominious margins. The man whom he hoped would replace his nemesis, Mitt Romney, in the Senate is headed for a 20-point defeat in Utah. His hand-picked choice for the House district that encompasses Colorado Springs fell short by more than 30.

He almost got a win in South Carolina’s 3rd District, where Trump-backed pastor Mark Burns lost a 51-49 squeaker. But Burns “had called for teachers who push an LGBTQ+ agenda in schools to ‘be immediately terminated,’ lied about obtaining a bachelor’s degree, misrepresented his military service and urged protesters in Washington ahead of the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol,” per Politico.

No wonder he was so competitive in a Republican primary.

As for Boebert, she may have cruised to victory in her new district but she did so with 43.4 percent of the vote. The rest of the electorate split evenly among five challengers, four of whom ended up in double digits. Even in a race in which lowbrow populism prevailed, in other words, nearly 60 percent of Republicans preferred another option.

The best news on a night of good news came from New York, however. And it came from the other party.

It’s tragically rare for a fringy populist who’s made it to Congress to be ousted in a primary. Gerrymandering has made it hard and the gradual civic degradation of the American people has made it harder. It does happen occasionally—ask Steve King or Madison Cawthorn—but it takes a lot to get primary voters motivated to dump A Man of the People after he’s gained the advantage of incumbency.

King spent nearly 20 years in the House before his confusion about why white supremacy should be thought of as a bad thing finally did him in. Cawthorn was a conspicuously young one-termer buried in scandal who made enemies of the Republican leadership when he chattered in an interview about the cocaine and orgies some of his House colleagues allegedly enjoyed.

We live in an era without shame. And so you need to be very, very embarrassing—more embarrassing than this, even—to be too embarrassing for shameless American voters to return you to Congress.

Democratic Rep. Jamaal Bowman is very, very embarrassing.

Bowman is affiliated with the Squad, the nickname given to the vanguard of young, nonwhite progressive populists in the House. The Squad fills a similar niche politically on the left that Tea Party Republicans filled on the right circa 2011. They’re hard ideologues, they purport to represent the voiceless grassroots of their party, and they’re keen to repopulate the ranks of their House caucus with insurgents who share their beliefs.

They’re darlings of the activist class and so they frequently embarrass themselves, as activists are wont to do. Usually that embarrassment takes anodyne policy forms, such as enthusiasm for unworkable economic nonsense like the Green New Deal. But from time to time it reveals itself in other, darker ways.

Jamaal Bowman is embarrassing even by Squad standards.

Four years ago he scored one of the biggest progressive primary victories of the populist era when he ousted establishment mainstay Eliot Engel. Four years later, on Tuesday night, he became the first member of the Squad to lose a primary—and not by the skin of his teeth. He’ll end up falling short of centrist challenger George Latimer by 16.8 points or so when all the votes are counted in New York’s 16th District.

Do you have any idea how embarrassing you need to be to get blown out in a primary by a normie in 2024 despite having impeccable populist credentials?

Bowman is the guy who pulled a fire alarm in the Capitol last October, seemingly out of desperation to thwart a House vote on a spending bill. That earned him a censure from his colleagues and a misdemeanor charge. In January it came out that he had published 9/11 conspiracy theories on his blog years ago … in the form of free-verse poetry: “2001/Planes used as missiles/Target: The Twin Towers…. Later in the day/Building 7/Also Collaspsed [sic]/Hmm…/Multiple explosions/Heard before/And during the collapse/Hmm…”

He was a middle school principal at the time. Imagine trusting your child’s education to someone who sounds like Tucker Carlson on a good day.

Bowman’s most embarrassing behavior, and by far the most salient to his primary race, involved his commentary on Israel since October 7. National Review summarized the lowlights:

He has revealed himself to be a staunch friend of Hamas and an opponent of the Israeli state’s right to exist. Little more than a month after October 7, Bowman appeared with Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib to call for a “cease-fire now,” informing his Jewish constituents who might object that “by me calling for a cease-fire with my colleagues and centering humanity, I am uplifting deeply what it actually means to be Jewish.” During one pro-Hamas rally, Bowman denied that the terrorist group raped Israeli women, claiming the well-documented atrocities were a “lie” and “propaganda”—a statement which he ham-handedly apologized for only recently. In an interview with Politico, he lamented that in his district, “There’s certain places where the Jews live and concentrate”—ignoring their need to be near synagogues, Kosher supermarkets, and other institutions essential to practicing Judaism.

He had to issue a second apology after sitting for an interview with Norman Finkelstein, who compared the slaughter by Hamas on October 7 to the Jewish uprising in the Warsaw Ghetto during World War II. Later Bowman took to describing Israel as a “settler colonial project,” progressive jargon designed to delegitimize the nation as a usurpation of Palestinian rights to the land. His hostility to the Jewish state grew so queasy that the advocacy group J Street, which promotes left-of-center solutions to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, withheld its endorsement from him this year.

By the end of the campaign with Latimer, Bowman and his supporters had identified one villain above all others who was determined to see him driven from power:

That’s not the first time a Squad member has accused the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), the nation’s best-known Jewish-aligned lobbyist group, of “buying” political support. On Saturday, at a rally attended by progressive royalty like Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Bowman went a step further and vowed to “show f—ing AIPAC the motherf—ing power of the South Bronx” in the primary.

That was an embarrassing line when it was uttered and even more embarrassing in hindsight given Tuesday’s results. But in fairness to him, AIPAC did not succeed in ending Jamaal Bowman’s political career.

It only seems that way because both sides of the left’s Israel divide have reason to pretend that it did.

The grain of truth in the “AIPAC sank Bowman” narrative is that the group did spend a mind-boggling amount of money on his race.

As of June 20, over little more than a month, AIPAC dropped $14.5 million to promote Latimer. That accounted for more than half of the $24 million total spent on the race to that point, making it the most expensive primary in U.S. history. Post hoc ergo propter hoc: If the spending was extraordinary and a populist incumbent losing is extraordinary, it must be that AIPAC’s spending caused Bowman’s defeat.

It makes sense. But it’s almost certainly not true.

For starters, Latimer’s gaudy margin didn’t develop recently, as one might expect if AIPAC’s lavish expenditures in May and June had propelled him to victory. One poll taken all the way back in late March, before AIPAC’s cash began flowing, gave him a 52-35 lead over Bowman. Another survey conducted in early June found him ahead by the same margin, 48-31. In the end, on Tuesday night, Latimer prevailed by an almost identical margin of 16.8 points.

In three months, the race never moved. There’s a stronger case that AIPAC wasted its money on a contest the challenger had in the bag all along than that Bowman would have been reelected without its involvement.

The hype about AIPAC might also lead you to believe that the group successfully turned the election into a referendum on Israel. The people’s champion, Bowman, strained mightily to make the race about the sort of kitchen-table issues the working class cares about, progressives might tell you. But the dastardly Jewish lobby plowed millions into an effort to distract Democratic voters with a shiny foreign-policy object.

The truth is basically the opposite.

“Few of the ads that the group paid for in New York mentioned Israel,” the New York Times said of AIPAC in its postmortem of the campaign. Instead those ads emphasized Latimer’s support for infrastructure spending, a sore spot in the district given that Bowman voted no on the infrastructure bill that passed Congress in 2021. “His district is not woke. It is Democratic,” one former Bowman adviser told The Atlantic. AIPAC appeared to understand that and focused its political energies accordingly. The congressman, who spent the end of the campaign shrieking about the influence of “the Zionist regime we call AIPAC,” weirdly did not.

He’s simply not a good retail politician. He disdains the entire concept of retail politics, in fact, sneering in an interview with HuffPost in May that Latimer “doesn’t do anything. He’s a retail politician. He has coffee with Dem leaders to make them feel good about themselves.” One local official complained to the Times that “I could see Latimer maybe five times a week…. I’ve only seen Bowman maybe three or four times since he’s been a congressmember.”

All you need to know about Bowman’s retail skills is that the South Bronx, where he held his rally last weekend and whose “motherf—ing power” he vowed to show AIPAC on election night, isn’t even in his district.

On top of all that, he was cursed with an unusually strong primary challenger in Latimer. Normally incumbents can count on a fearsome advantage in name recognition, but Latimer has been the top executive in Westchester County since 2018. Before that he spent 25 years representing the area in state and local government. “A local leader who first took office in the Reagan era, he had racked up friendships, favors and familiarity through decades of retail politics at the local, state and county levels, overseeing a huge county budget and showing up at senior bingo hours,” the Times wrote of him.

Latimer was a very comfortable alternative to a congressman who’d made his constituents uncomfortable repeatedly since taking office in 2021. So why did AIPAC feel obliged to spend a cargo-hold of money on him that he didn’t need? And why are progressives intent on convincing observers that that was the difference in the race?

The answer is that the two wings of the left’s split over Israel benefit from the false narrative that the group is responsible for Bowman’s defeat.

For AIPAC and its supporters, the logic is simple: Pour encourager les autres.

Many progressives in Congress share Bowman’s opinions on Israel, of course. AIPAC is eager to raise the political cost to them of doing so. Blowing $14.5 million on a race their preferred candidate was all but certain to win anyway is their way of warning Democratic Hamas apologists to now witness the firepower of this fully armed and operational political battle station. The bigger the number, the more firepower anti-Israel Dems have to fear.

The acronym “FAFO,” which I’ll leave you to Google for yourself, leaps to mind.

That message was sent so clearly and emphatically that even some pro-Israel House Democrats were left grumbling to Axios on Wednesday about how heavy-handed it was. “The number is gross…. I don’t like it,” one Democrat said of AIPAC’s spending against Bowman. “If anything, that much money could backfire, because then you get people that are like, ‘This is just wrong.’”

The irony is that AIPAC almost certainly chose to get involved in the race only because Bowman was already en route to a humiliating defeat. When the group had a chance to spend against progressive Rep. Summer Lee in her own primary in Pennsylvania earlier this year, it declined in the belief that she’d win anyway and AIPAC would be left looking impotent. Jumping into Bowman’s contest to bounce the rubble is tantamount to racing out in front of a pro-Latimer parade that’s already in progress and purporting to lead it.

Still, $14.5 million really is a big number. And the group isn’t done this summer with targeting progressives: It’s already begun spending to defeat Missouri Rep. Cori Bush, another Squad-ster who spent the first weeks of the war accusing Israel of “ethnic cleansing.” A poll released on Tuesday found her primary challenger, Wesley Bell, surging 14 points since January to take a 1-point lead. AIPAC knocking off Bush on top of Bowman’s defeat really might spook some House Democrats into biting their tongues the next time they’re moved to defend Hamas.

Progressives have their own reasons to push the “AIPAC sank Bowman” lie, meanwhile.

For starters, it fits easily into the standard populist political template of brave truth-tellers facing down a corrupt yet all-but-invincible establishment. (Populists love a martyr, as this newsletter frequently has occasion to note.) Whom would you choose if you had to cast the role of “villainous establishmentarian” in a left-wing fable about the New York primary? The average joes who voted in Westchester County? Unassuming Democrat George Latimer? Or AIPAC, the beating heart of Zionist influence in American politics bent on providing political cover for Israel’s “genocide”?

Treating AIPAC money as the root of Bowman’s defeat also conveniently lets progressives go on pretending that their vitriolic contempt for Israel and uncritical solidarity with the Palestinians is popular, mainstream, and certainly not an electoral liability. In a fair political fight Americans would side with them and Hamas, you see; only because the Israel lobby continues to pour oceans of cash into shaping public opinion does the U.S. continue to support the Jewish state.

Bowman himself promoted that storyline in stark terms after Tuesday’s defeat. 

The goal here, very obviously, is to delegitimize the idea that Democratic voters might prefer a pro-Israel candidate for rational reasons by implying that something untoward and illicit happened in Bowman’s race. Latimer supporters weren’t persuaded, they were “brainwashed.” Voters in the district didn’t reject the incumbent because they found his antics repulsive, they did it because a rich special interest corrupted democracy with unprecedented spending.

Progressives want hostility to Israel to become left-wing, and ultimately Democratic, orthodoxy. (They’re well on their way.) Convincing liberals that Zionists played dirty pool somehow in Jamaal Bowman’s race suits those purposes. Cori Bush is already in on it, in fact, no doubt hoping that left-wing outrage at his defeat will spur turnout in her own upcoming primary.

And so, in the end, everyone has a cynical and self-interested reason to pretend that AIPAC was the difference on Tuesday … except, strangely, Jamaal Bowman himself.

He does have a reason, to be sure—blaming the group conveniently absolves him of being a terrible politician—but I agree with Jonathan Chait’s theory of why the congressman became so obsessed with AIPAC as his primary wore on. It’s not that he was resigned to defeat and looking to maximize his appeal to hard-left activist groups after he leaves Congress, as some have suggested. It’s that he got sucked so deeply into left-wing argle-bargle about Zionism and “settler-colonialism” that he either forgot he had an election to win or convinced himself that that argle-bargle would actually win him the election.

“Bowman has simply gotten so carried away with the logic of progressive-movement politics that he’s lost all sight of the practical opportunities to build an electoral coalition rooted in the liberal side of the intra-Jewish debate,” Chait surmised. He could have aligned himself with J Street as a harsh critic of Benjamin Netanyahu’s government while still endorsing a two-state solution and Israel’s right of self-defense, but he kissed off mainstream liberals who hold those positions when he sank into denialism about October 7 and demagoguery about Zionist influence. As Chait put it, “Liberal Jews who disagree with AIPAC are going to suspect that somebody who treats AIPAC as the greatest force for evil in the world is harboring deeper levels of hostility toward their community.” Thus was Latimer’s win assured.

Bowman blamed the Jews—sincerely—and lost his election because of it. Who says good things don’t happen anymore in American politics?

Nick Catoggio is a staff writer at The Dispatch and is based in Texas. Prior to joining the company in 2022, he spent 16 years gradually alienating a populist readership at Hot Air. When Nick isn’t busy writing a daily newsletter on politics, he’s … probably planning the next day’s newsletter.