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AIPAC vs. Jamaal Bowman: Rep. Ayanna Pressley on Pro-Israel Lobby Push to Defeat Pro-Ceasefire Lawmaker

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Tuesday is the culmination of the most expensive primary race in U.S. history in New York’s 16th Congressional District. Democratic Congressmember Jamaal Bowman, a former Bronx middle school principal and one of the first to call for a ceasefire in Gaza in October, is being challenged by a former corporate executive, George Latimer, who was encouraged to run by the Democratic Majority for Israel PAC. Outside spending in the race has topped $23 million, much of it from pro-Israel groups like AIPAC. Bowman, a recent guest on Democracy Now!, is a member of the progressive “Squad” in Congress, a coalition of congressional representatives that includes New York’s Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who campaigned for Bowman at a reelection rally in New York City Saturday, and Massachusetts’s Ayanna Pressley. Bowman “needs to be decisively returned” to Congress, says Pressley, who joins Democracy Now! to discuss the final push to get out the vote for Bowman and characterizes him as the “pro-peace, pro-humanity, pro-justice candidate.”

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

AMY GOODMAN: As temperatures soared this weekend, a hotly contested election drew people to a get-out-the-vote rally in the Bronx for Democratic Congressmember Jamaal Bowman, who’s facing the most expensive primary race in U.S. history in New York’s 16th Congressional District. The primary is Tuesday.

The race is making clear the powerful role of AIPAC, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, in Democratic primary politics. The group’s super PAC is spending up to $17,000 an hour in its attempt to crush Bowman and be the first to unseat a member of the progressive Squad in Congress.

Congressmember Bowman is a former Bronx middle school principal, one of the first to call for a ceasefire in Gaza in Congress in October. His challenger is former corporate executive George Latimer, who was encouraged to run by the Democratic Majority for Israel PAC.

Outside spending in the race has topped $23 million, much of it from pro-Israel groups like AIPAC and its super PAC called the United Democracy Project, which has spent $14.5 million alone on this race so far.

Squad member and fellow New York Congressmember Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was among the headliners supporting Bowman on Saturday at a rally in the Bronx.

REP. ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ: And I want to tell you why he’s under attack.

AUDIENCE MEMBER: We’ve got his back!

REP. ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ: We do have his back, don’t we? He is under absolute attack, not just from these big lobbies and not just from big money, but from the underlying forces that have been trying to decimate our community for decades. For decades. He is being primaried by racism. He is being primaried by greed. He is being primaried by corruption of our politics. And we cannot let them win.

AMY GOODMAN: That was New York Congressmember Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, speaking at Saturday’s get-out-the-vote rally for her fellow Squad member, as they’re called, Jamaal Bowman, congressmember from Westchester. She was joined by independent Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS: District 16, Bronx, New York, most important in American history? Really? Yes, really. Because this election is not about Jamaal versus Mr. Latimer. This election is about whether or not the billionaire class and the oligarchs will control the United States government. And our view is, no, they won’t.

AMY GOODMAN: Saturday’s rally drew a counterprotest from the pro-Palestinian group Within Our Lifetime against Senator Sanders and Congressmember Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez for their endorsement, they said, of President Biden and his ongoing support for Israel’s war on Gaza.

During the rally, Congressmember Bowman did not back down from support for a permanent ceasefire in Gaza.

REP. JAMAAL BOWMAN: AIPAC is scared to death. That is why they are spending record amounts of money in this race, because they are afraid. They have already lost, because the district, the American people and the world are with us. They are in this race because we call for a permanent ceasefire in Gaza. And we’re going to keep calling for a permanent ceasefire. Ceasefire now! Ceasefire now! Ceasefire now! Ceasefire now! Ceasefire now! Ceasefire now!

AMY GOODMAN: Congressmember Bowman is running against Westchester County Executive George Latimer.

For more, we’re joined by Bowman’s colleague, Congressmember Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts, who’s in New York to campaign in Bowman’s district ahead of the primary election tomorrow.

Welcome back to Democracy Now!, Congressmember Pressley. If you can talk about this history-making race? Every record is being shattered by AIPAC and other allied groups, their super PACs. Up to $17,000 an hour is being spent in this single primary race. Can you talk about what’s happening?

REP. AYANNA PRESSLEY: Well, honestly, I think it is a testament to the impact of Jamaal Bowman and the impact and the growing power and influence of a multigenerational, multiracial, progressive movement in this country. So, this is a backlash. Jamaal Bowman has taken many strong progressive stances, informed by his morals, informed by his belief that we are one human family and that our destinies are truly tied. Our destinies are tied from Massachusetts to New York, from Gaza to Haiti. Jamaal Bowman is an incredible educator, advocate, an effective legislator, a valued member of our Democratic caucus.

And, you know, I’m here because a organized people always beats organized money. And we are not new. I mean, look at the victory that we made possible in Pennsylvania. Organized people always beats organized money. And this effort to attempt to buy this seat and to silence Jamaal Bowman and this broader progressive movement of which he is a leader in, we won’t stand for it.

And I’ve been here since yesterday. I was in faith houses, festivals, small businesses. I was very heartened by the momentum and the number of people that I met, who are very clear about what’s at stake here. Many of them had already voted early. They know that Jamaal Bowman is the pro-peace, pro-humanity, pro-justice candidate. They know that Jamaal Bowman is the only one advocating and doing the work of peace from New York 16th all the way to Palestine and understands the trauma of state-sanctioned violence by militarized police force here and wants to make sure that families impacted by the public health crisis and epidemic that is gun violence, that they get the trauma supports and the healing that they need, that our young people have trauma-informed learning communities and access to school nurses and social workers and guidance counselors, restorative justice to disrupt the school-to-prison pipeline.

This is who I went to when there was a shortage of baby formula. As a father, as a family man, Jamaal sees every child — every child — as his own. He sees every family, every person, as a member of his family, because he understands that we are one human family and our freedoms and our destinies are tied. We’ve worked together in fighting for paid leave for rail workers, you know, sick time leave for rail workers. He has proven for workers’ rights, for climate justice, you know, for clean air, for drinkable water.

So, this backlash, this is commiserate to the impact that this unapologetic Black man, this truth teller, this educator, this advocate, this effective legislator — this is a testament to the impact that he’s had, and is in response to the principled stances that he has taken, which, by the way, are in alignment with New York 16. So, on the ground, I am seeing that people are very clear about what is at stake. Yesterday we did a Squad phone bank with hundreds of people from around the country. All eyes are on New York 16.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to read you something from The New York Times, Congressmember Pressley. They say, “Mr. Bowman accused Mr. Latimer of racism after Mr. Latimer claimed that Mr. Bowman does not 'mention people who are not Black or brown' and suggested that Mr. Bowman was more interested in representing San Francisco or Dearborn, Mich., a predominantly Arab American city, than his own district. Mr. Bowman called the remark an 'Islamophobic dog whistle.'” Your response, Congressmember Pressley?

REP. AYANNA PRESSLEY: Well, these are predictable plays from old handbooks. You know, what can I — again, it’s deeply offensive. These are not just dog whistles, they’re bullhorns. But it’s nothing new. You know, these are predictable plays from an old handbook.

And we just have our head down. Just we’re going to continue to organize, continue to make the case and to remind people that Jamaal Bowman was decisively sent to Congress with a mandate by the people, and he has simply made good on that mandate.

Jamaal Bowman fights for all of the people. And I’ll just say this, as someone who also is a congressional first, the first person of color to represent the Commonwealth of Massachusetts in the House of Representatives: They only put charges of identity politics on women and candidates of color. Jamaal Bowman is fighting for everyone. Yes, does he bring his lived experience as a Black man in America, as an educator, as a parent to this work? Of course. He represents multiple identities, and he fights for everyone.

I believe the people closest to the pain should be the closest to the power, driving and informing the policymaking. Jamaal Bowman has been proximate to the pain, and he has brought that pain and that perspective and that of everyone in New York 16 with him to Washington and served and kept his word, with the mandate that this district sent him to. So, he has been decisively and duly elected. We’re going to do everything to ensure that we send him back. Again, his voice is sorely needed.

And what I love about Jamaal is, you know, in the process of legislating and governing, it is very easy to forget the plot. The plot is the people. Jamaal Bowman has never forgotten the people. And when I was on the ground yesterday, you heard that everywhere. You heard that everywhere. They are grateful for his visibility. They are grateful for his truth telling. They are grateful for the responsiveness with constituent needs from his district office.

So, we’re just going to keep organizing and just keep working and organizing and mobilizing and voting as if lives depend on it, because they do. Because, Amy, you know that the votes determine who’s elected, who’s elected determines the policies, and the policies determine everything. The policies determine who lives, who dies, who survives, who thrives.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to go back —

REP. AYANNA PRESSLEY: And we need Jamaal Bowman.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to go back to Saturday’s get-out-the-vote rally for Congressmember Bowman. This is independent Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS: And Jamaal also understands that what’s going on in Gaza today is totally unacceptable. Israel had the right to defend itself against a terrorist attack, but it does not have the right to go to war against the entire Palestinian people. It does not have the right to destroy or damage 70% of the housing in Gaza, virtually the entire healthcare system. Today in Gaza, [inaudible] have no electricity. And what’s going on right now because of the blockage of humanitarian aid, thousands and thousands of children are dealing with malnutrition and face starvation. That is not what the American people want. That is not what Democrats want. There has got to be a ceasefire now. There has got to be humanitarian aid coming in. Hostages must be freed. And we need peace in that area, a two-state solution.

AMY GOODMAN: Congressmember Ayanna Pressley, your comments? And also the fact that although it’s AIPAC that is funding — their super PAC — this massive money campaign against Jamaal Bowman, they are not, in their ads, largely raising the issue of Israel-Palestine at all. They’re more focused on domestic issues here.

REP. AYANNA PRESSLEY: Well, again, Jamaal Bowman is, I guess, audacious enough to call for peace and to recognize that we need a permanent ceasefire because we cannot bomb our way to peace. And again, he sees every child as his own. And as a parent, when you think about the reporting that you offered earlier about the devastating numbers of children — children, thousands of children, innocent children — who have been murdered, it is devastating. The fact that they have, you know, wounded children, no surviving family, is, in and of itself, an abomination. Our destinies are tied. Jamaal Bowman is recognizing that and committed to peace, committed to our collective humanity, our shared liberation and our justice.

But I do want to say this. I think that has gotten enough oxygen. I’m not focused on how much money anybody is spending. I’m focused on what Jamaal Bowman is focused on, which is how many people don’t have enough money to pay their bills, how many people can’t afford housing, how many parents worry about if their child will have access to an equitable and quality education, if they’ll be safe at school, if they can grow up one day and purchase a home in the community that they were raised in. You know, these are the things that Jamaal Bowman is focused on. And he recognizes, again, that our destinies are tied, from Gaza to Haiti, from Massachusetts to New York. So he is doing the work, leading with love and centering the people, our shared humanity and our collective freedoms, because our destinies are truly tied.

AMY GOODMAN: Which brings us —

REP. AYANNA PRESSLEY: He needs to be decisively returned.

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