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Why Is AIPAC Spending Millions in Primary to Defeat Rep. Andy Levin, a Former Synagogue President?

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Image Credit: AIPAC

As the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) invests millions in Democratic primaries to defeat progressives who support Palestine, we speak to one of the candidates: Michigan Congressmember Andy Levin, whose primary is on Tuesday. He is a self-described Zionist who supports a two-state solution, but earlier this year a former president of AIPAC described him as “arguably the most corrosive member of Congress to the U.S.-Israel relationship.” “What you have here is a real threat to the Democratic Party being able to choose our own nominees that we send to the general election in November,” says Levin. Levin was among 17 House Democrats arrested Tuesday in a pro-abortion protest outside the U.S. Supreme Court.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We begin today’s show looking at how AIPAC, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, is spending millions of dollars in primary races to defeat progressive Democrats. In Michigan, where voters go to the polls on Tuesday for a primary election, AIPAC has spent over $3 million targeting Andy Levin, a two-term member of Congress. Levin is a former president of his synagogue. He comes from one of the most prominent Jewish political families in Michigan. His father, Sander Levin, served in Congress, and his uncle Carl Levin was a U.S. senator. Congressmember Andy Levin is a self-described Zionist who supports a two-state solution. But earlier this year, a former president of AIPAC described Levin as, quote, “arguably the most corrosive member of Congress to the U.S.-Israel relationship.” Due to redistricting, Levin’s opponent in Tuesday’s primary is another incumbent, Haley Stevens, who has embraced AIPAC’s support.

Senator Bernie Sanders is heading to Pontiac, Michigan, today for a campaign rally with Levin and Congressmember Rashida Tlaib, who has also been targeted by outside money groups. A new PAC aligned with AIPAC run by Bakari Sellers has vowed to spend over $1 million to defeat Rashida Tlaib, who’s the first Palestinian American woman to serve in Congress.

This all comes just weeks after AIPAC spent nearly $6 million in Maryland to defeat former Democratic Congressmember Donna Edwards in her primary. Other progressives who lost after being targeted by AIPAC include Nina Turner in Michigan [sic] and Jessica — in Ohio, and Jessica Cisneros in Texas.

One prominent critic of AIPAC’s actions has been Peter Beinart. He’s editor-at-large of Jewish Currents. He recently appeared on Democracy Now!

PETER BEINART: So what this play is really about is trying to create a whole new generation of younger Democrats in Congress who will toe the AIPAC line on Israel-Palestine, also in many, many cases, also take a kind of more pro-corporate position, and therefore blunt the trend that we were seeing towards the Democratic Party moving in a more progressive direction.

AMY GOODMAN: We go now to Michigan, where we’re joined by Democratic Congressmember Andy Levin, who’s joining us from his home in Bloomfield Township.

Welcome to Democracy Now!, Congressman. In a moment, we’re going to talk to you about your arrest — or was it two arrests? — around abortion rights as you stood outside the Supreme Court. But first I want to go to this issue of your primary on Tuesday. How many millions of dollars have been spent by AIPAC PAC? And this is new for AIPAC. Although they have the word ”PAC” in ”AIPAC,” they’ve actually just recently established a super PAC.

REP. ANDY LEVIN: Right, they recently established a regular PAC and a super PAC. But between the money they bundled and the money in the dark money they’re spending independently, I believe it’s up over $4.2 million, Amy, just to try to take down a progressive Jewish congressperson, who — I don’t know if you remember, but I think I first appeared on your show when I created and ran Union Summer in 1996. So, I’m a little bit unusual as a member of Congress.

AMY GOODMAN: Yeah, that was the first year of Democracy Now!

REP. ANDY LEVIN: Wow!

AMY GOODMAN: So, of that, that amount of money — so we’re talking about a quarter of a century ago. But that amount of money you’re talking about, around $4 million, how much, overall, is being spent on your primary race?

REP. ANDY LEVIN: Well, I think we’re being outspent about five to one. And I believe two-thirds of the money being spent on the other side is not money that my opponent has raised in campaign contributions, but it’s independent expenditures. And also, it’s worth pointing out that EMILY’s List is partnering with AIPAC on this, even though I’ve been endorsed by Cecile Richards, by Heather —

AMY GOODMAN: Former head of Planned Parenthood.

REP. ANDY LEVIN: — Booth, by the leading — yeah, and by the leading abortion care provider in our region. And, you know, EMILY’s List is now backed by a former SEIU local union president, and they’re attacking the person in the race who helped hundreds of women of color join SEIU for a better life. So it’s kind of ironic.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to turn to your debate in May, when your opponent, Congressmember Haley Stevens, defended her endorsement by AIPAC.

REP. HALEY STEVENS: Well, allow me to say, I’ve been endorsed by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee alongside Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, Majority Whip Jim Clyburn, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, several dozen members of the House Progressive Caucus. And certainly that endorsement was based on my belief in a strong U.S.-Israel relationship. I’ve also been so proud to be endorsed by the Jewish Democratic Council of America, as well as several other pro-Israel groups.

REP. ANDY LEVIN: She didn’t answer the question. The question is about giving back money from AIPAC, giving back money from other PACs that support insurrectionist Republicans. Y’all, this is not like some gotcha thing in a political campaign. Our democracy is hanging by a thread. It’s — I’m going to speak Jewishly here, as, you know, it’s not halachically acceptable. It’s not acceptable, as a moral Jewish person, to support people who are undermining our democracy. And so, it’s not about getting endorsed by AIPAC. It’s about taking hundreds of thousands of dollars from them and then also taking money from other corporate PACs that also are supporting insurrectionist Republicans.

AMY GOODMAN: We just did a segment on Donna Edwards’ race in Maryland, where the issue of Israel and Palestine is hardly raised, even by the AIPAC super PAC, in ads. They raise other issues. Is that the case in your district? Are people aware of this outside money?

REP. ANDY LEVIN: Absolutely it’s the same, Amy. They are not talking about this. They may do some microtargeting, because maybe about 8% of the electorate of this new district is Jewish, and they may do some microtargeting at them. But their ads, there’s a double deception here, really, Amy. One is where the money is coming from. And most of this money is not even coming from Democratic, capital D, sources; it’s coming from Republicans, and mostly Republican billionaires, like Paul Singer and Bernie Marcus and the guy who founded WhatsApp, who — all of whom fund right-wing causes, are union busters and so forth. That’s the first part of this deception.

And the second part is, they don’t even talk about why they’re giving the money. They talk about other things, so whatever they think will be effective to make their chosen candidate win the race. So what you have here is a real threat to the Democratic Party being able to choose our own nominees that we send to the general election in November. This could — Amy, this could go to other issues. You could have Big Pharma, you could have Enbridge or ExxonMobil or tobacco companies deciding to flood the field with dark money in Democratic primaries so they get their chosen nominee. It’s horrifying.

AMY GOODMAN: So, Senator Bernie Sanders is coming out to campaign for you and for Rashida Tlaib. Both of you are Michigan. She’s one of two of the first Palestinian American women to serve in Congress. Is she facing the same issue in Detroit?

REP. ANDY LEVIN: Yes, but I feel really confident that Rashida Tlaib will win. She’s an incumbent running against a nonincumbent. Sixty percent of the new 12th District is part of her current district. And, you know, I’m really glad Bernie’s coming. I’m glad he’s supporting her, too. But I think their efforts there will not — you know, they’re not investing in the same level, because I think they know they can’t succeed. My race is an incumbent-on-incumbent primary, of course, so it’s quite a different matter.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s like here in New York, Carolyn Maloney versus Jerrold Nadler. The redistricting —

I don’t know if we are the first two, but we are the only current ones. I am such a Yes.

AMY GOODMAN: — led to incumbents facing each other. I wanted to end on this issue by asking you about David Victor, the former president of AIPAC, saying that — in an email to pro-Israel donors, that you are “arguably the most corrosive member of Congress to the U.S.-Israel relationship.” Can you talk about your stance on Israel and Palestine? You and, what, Jacky Rosen are the first two synagogue presidents to be congressmembers?

REP. ANDY LEVIN: I don’t know if we’re the first two, but we’re the only two current ones. She told me that. You know, I’m such an out-there Jewish person, Amy. I’ve got mezuzot on all my doors, even the nonpublic ones. And, you know, I love Israel, and I love Palestine. And I want Israel — I feel like, after all the pogroms and the Holocaust and all the history, that the Jewish people deserve self-determination and a homeland. And the Palestinian people certainly deserve the same. I may be the clearest Jewish voice in the House of Representatives saying that the only way to achieve a secure homeland for the Jewish people is to fully realize the political and human rights of the Palestinian people. That’s principled. It’s also practical. And I’m not going to back down from it, no matter how many millions of dollars they throw at me.

And I think we’re going to win on Tuesday, Amy, because we’ve got — Bernie is coming. Elizabeth Warren was here on Sunday. Jane Fonda was able to Zoom in on Monday. We’re out on the doors; thousands of doors, we’re doing, and thousands and thousands of phone calls. We’ve got all the energy, 14 national unions, every environmental group that’s endorsed in this race. Sunrise is on the doors, progressive Jews, Arab American, Muslims. It’s a beautiful coalition of all progressive forces saying we’re not going to let this dark money determine who wins this race. It’s going to be the human rights champion, the democracy champion, the workers’ rights champion, the champion for environmental justice.

AMY GOODMAN: Congressmember Levin, you’ve been arrested, what, twice in the last week in Washington? Explain.

REP. ANDY LEVIN: Yeah, well, it just happened that way. Yes. Well, on Tuesday last week, I was arrested with 16 of my sisters from the House of Representatives in front of the Supreme Court to say we don’t care about Sam Alito and this right-wing cabal that’s taken over the Supreme Court; we’re going to do whatever it takes to protect the autonomy of women and anybody who can have a baby over their own bodies and their own decisions.

And then it just happened that the next day, a long-planned civil disobedience occurred with UNITE HERE Local 23. And I’m, you know, like the shop steward of the Congress, having devoted my life to the labor movement, so I got arrested with them. Believe it or not, Amy, the Senate cafeteria and dining room workers joined UNITE HERE Local 23 almost a year ago. Not only don’t they have a first contract, a first contract isn’t really in sight. So, we just have to fix that and change that, and I’m going to be — stand with those workers until they get justice.

AMY GOODMAN: And finally, on the issue of Michigan and abortion rights, a proposed constitutional amendment would override a 90-year-old state law that makes abortion a felony, even in the case of rape or incest. Can you explain what this is about?

REP. ANDY LEVIN: Absolutely, and I’ve been a big backer of it, and I’m deeply involved in it. It’s called Michigan Reproductive Freedom for All. It got the most signatures in the history of ballot initiatives in Michigan, so hopefully it will be on the ballot on November 8th. It would put the right to abortion care in our Constitution, our state Constitution, and therefore, nothing but a federal ban, you know, could overcome that. And so, I feel really great about it. And we’re going to get it passed here, Amy, and we’re going to have the right to reproductive care in our state Constitution.

AMY GOODMAN: Andy Levin, Democrat representing Michigan’s 9th District, running for reelection this fall. His primary is on Tuesday.

Next up, President Biden is hailing a Senate bill to address the climate emergency, now that Senator Manchin has said he’ll support it. We’ll speak to a professor who advised the Senate Democrats. Stay with us.

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