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Aipac, pro-Israel groups spend big: Key US midterm wins and losses

Pennsylvania Democrat Summer Lee won big in the US midterms, despite Aipac spending $4m against her
Summer Lee drew the ire of pro-Israel groups after she posted a tweet critical of Israel's treatment of Palestinians.
Summer Lee drew the ire of pro-Israel groups after she posted a tweet critical of Israel's treatment of Palestinians (AFP/File photo)
By MEE staff in Washington

Pro-Israel Super Pacs spent millions of dollars in this year's US midterm elections, hoping to help tip the balance in their favour in key races. However, in several elections where they spent big, they still came up short.

Aipac came out on Wednesday morning celebrating the results of the elections, saying they had helped deliver victories for many of the candidates they supported either through funding or endorsements.

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"We congratulate the elected and reelected senators and representatives from both parties who will be joining an overwhelmingly pro-Israel Congress," Aipac said in a statement on Wednesday.

"Despite the fierce partisanship of this election cycle, there remains a resolute bipartisan commitment to the US-Israel alliance."

Aipac has celebrated a number of new pro-Israel Democrats that won on Tuesday evening, including Don Davis, Jared Moskowitz, Robert Garcia, Valerie Foushee and Glenn Ivey. The pro-Israel group spent $6m during Ivey's primary election in July.

Foushee had also received millions from Aipac and other pro-Israel groups in her primary election, in which she defeated progressive candidate Nida Allam, who had been vocally critical of Israel's treatment of Palestinians.

Middle East Eye takes a look at the major wins and losses for Aipac and other pro-Israel groups in this year's midterm elections:

Summer Lee defeats $4m campaign against her

The biggest loss for these groups was in Pennsylvania's 12th congressional district, where progressive Summer Lee defeated her Republican opponent Mike Doyle.

Aipac and other pro-Israel groups spent more than $1m in recent days in a last-ditch effort to boost Doyle over Lee, after the group previously spent $3m in support of Lee's opponent in the Democratic primary election earlier this year.

Lee, who previously served as a state representative in Pennsylvania, drew the ire of pro-Israel groups after she tweeted a parallel between the US and Israel and how Americans use the term "self-defence" to justify "indiscriminate and disproportionate force and power on weakened and marginalized [people]".

Yet despite the last-ditch spending effort against her, Lee easily won her election, beating out Doyle by more than 10 points.

Lee, who was also backed by the liberal Zionist group J Street, has also received major support from the Jewish community in Pennsylvania.

Last week, more than 240 members of Pittsburgh's Jewish-American community released a letter supporting Lee's bid for Congress and condemning Aipac for attacking the representative-elect.

Fetterman versus Oz

One of the most anticipated races was the Pennsylvania senate election between Turkish-origin Republican television personality Mehmet Oz and Democrat John Fetterman.

Fetterman ultimately won comfortably by more than five points, despite dropping in the polls after a woeful performance in a televised debate with Oz last month, while he was recovering from a stroke suffered on the campaign trail.

In addition to the race receiving widespread national attention, it also received an influx of cash from a variety of pro-Israel groups who spent in favour of both opposing candidates.

Fetterman was backed by the J Street Pac and the Jewish Democratic Council of America's Pac which spent more than $500,000 in support of the lieutenant governor.

On Oz's side, the Republican Jewish Coalition's Victory Fund spent $1.5m in September towards attack ads against Fetterman. The ads were the single-largest amount spent by the fund on a Senate campaign.

Top pro-Israel Democrat in Virginia loses

Congresswoman Elaine Luria, one of Congress' most pro-Israel Democrats, lost to Republican challenger Jen Kiggans by about four points, dealing a significant blow to the pro-Israel branch of the Democratic Party.

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Luria has been an ardent supporter of Israel, as well as Aipac, and in 2020 the lawmaker condemned Senator Bernie Sanders' criticism of the pro-Israel lobby. According to OpenSecrets, the lawmaker received more than $700,000 from pro-Israel donors.

Aipac had identified the race between Luria and Kiggans in Virginia's 2nd district as one of the key contests in this midterm cycle.

Still, another pro-Israel Democrat in the state, Abigail Spanberger, narrowly won her race and secured her reelection to Congress. 

Spanberger received nearly $300,000 from pro-Israel groups in this year's election cycle.

Aipac endorses election deniers and far-right Republicans

Aipac has for decades stood as a recipient of strong bipartisan support in Washington.

Top Republicans and Democrats alike would attend their annual conference to offer their views on how they would keep the US-Israel relationship strong.

However, in recent years this has changed, with Democrats and progressives becoming more critical of Aipac as well as the Israeli government. 

This departure was also visible in the pro-Israel group's approach to the midterm elections, where it created a Super Pac to donate to specific campaigns.

That political action committee, the Aipac Pac, went on to endorse a number of candidates, many of whom denied the results of the 2020 presidential elections.

The United Democracy Project (UDP), a Super Pac affiliated with Aipac, has also spent tens of millions of dollars this election cycle to oppose candidates they deemed too critical of Israel.

The endorsements and money that Aipac has spent this year on right-wing candidates has drawn sharp criticism from lawmakers on the left, including Senator Bernie Sanders who in May described the battle against Aipac as "a war".

On Wednesday afternoon, the Aipac-affiliated UDP released a statement regarding its spending in the elections and giving a warning to candidates critical of Israel.

"Those who seek to undermine American's partnership with Israel can expect a strong and unyielding political response," UDP said.

This article is available in French on Middle East Eye French edition.

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