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“Propaganda Machine”: NY Congressmember Jamaal Bowman on AIPAC’s $25 Million Campaign to Unseat Him

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We speak with Congressmember Jamaal Bowman of New York, one of the top targets for pro-Israel groups seeking to oust lawmakers who have led calls for a ceasefire in Gaza. Bowman is a former Bronx middle school principal who won his seat in 2020 before becoming a member of the so-called Squad of progressives in Congress. The powerful lobby group AIPAC, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, could spend as much as $25 million to support George Latimer, Bowman’s rival for the Democratic nomination in New York’s 16th District, which would make it the most expensive primary fight in U.S. history. “It’s unprecedented,” says Bowman, who calls it “despicable” for the group to target him for his antiwar stance. “They don’t want anyone to be critical of the state of Israel, even though an honest critique will lead to the ongoing safety and security of the people of Israel and hopefully get us a free Palestine.”

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

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!,, The War and Peace Report. I’m Goodman.

As the New York primary approaches, we end today’s show with the man New York magazine calls, quote, “the most endangered Democrat in America.” Jamaal Bowman represents New York’s 16th Congressional District, former Bronx middle school principal. His reelection bid is showing the powerful role of AIPAC, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, in Democratic primary politics. The pro-Israel lobby group reportedly plans to spend as much as $25 million to defeat Bowman, who was one of the first lawmakers to call for a permanent ceasefire after October 7th. AIPAC is backing Bowman’s challenger and helped to find and encourage him to run, George Latimer, the Westchester County executive.

On Tuesday, former progressive New York Congressmember Mondaire Jones shocked many when he also endorsed Latimer in order to, quote, “stand up for my Jewish constituents.” Jones and Bowman were both elected in 2020. Jones lost his seat and is now running again. Meanwhile, Bowman has held his seat since he defeated the 16-term incumbent Eliot Engel, who once bragged, quote, “I sit down with AIPAC on every piece of legislation” coming out of Foreign Affairs Committee. Jamaal Bowman is one of several Squad members to face an AIPAC-backed primary challenger this year, along with Congressmembers Cori Bush, Summer Lee and Ilhan Omar.

For more, Congressmember Bowman joins us from Yonkers.

Congressmember Bowman, welcome back to Democracy Now! The primary is coming up fast. I think June 15th begins early voting. Can you talk about, I mean, the kind of history that’s being made in this reelection bid for your seat?

REP. JAMAAL BOWMAN: Yes. It’s unprecedented. I believe AIPAC is spending more money in this race than they have ever spent before. You know, they are bombarding my constituents with ads, ironically, that have nothing to do with Israel, even though they are a lobby group for Israel.

And so, it’s been overwhelming for the district. The district is actually pretty tired of it and frustrated by it and angered by it, because they know my record. They know what I’ve done the last three years, bringing in over a billion dollars to the district, reducing gun violence, investing in mental health and substance abuse, investing in affordable housing, etc. But they also know my work for 10-and-a-half years in this district as a middle school principal. So, for AIPAC to come in and try to hurt my reputation and manipulate people with disinformation and, in some cases, outright lies is pretty despicable.

And it is mainly because I called for a permanent ceasefire back in October, and we have been consistent in calling what’s happening in Gaza right now an ongoing genocide. So, AIPAC cannot have that. They don’t want anyone to be critical of the state of Israel, even though an honest critique will lead to the ongoing safety and security of the people of Israel and, hopefully, get us a free Palestine, which is the objective, first and foremost.

AMY GOODMAN: AIPAC super PAC United Democracy Project has already spent over $10 million on commercials alone to target you. This is one of the TV ads.

UNITED DEMOCRACY PROJECT AD: Jamaal Bowman has his own agenda and refuses to compromise, even with President Biden. Bowman voted against the president’s Infrastructure Act, against rebuilding roads and bridges in New York, against replacing lead pipes. And Jamaal Bowman voted against President Biden’s debt limit deal, putting Social Security and Medicare payments at risk, along with our entire economy. Jamaal Bowman has his own agenda, and he’s hurting New York. UDP is responsible for the content of this ad.

AMY GOODMAN: Jamaal Bowman, if you can respond?

REP. JAMAAL BOWMAN: My agenda is the people’s agenda. My agenda is Medicare for All. My agenda is a Green New Deal. My agenda is assuring we put forward President Biden’s full agenda, which includes universal child care, universal pre-K, paid leave for the first time in U.S. history, historic investments in affordable housing. We have an affordable housing crisis right now, and President Biden, with Build Back Better, was trying to move forward on that issue. And we were working with him to move forward on affordable housing and all of Build Back Better, but it was stopped in the Senate by Senator Joe Manchin.

And my opponent, being a top recipient of AIPAC money and funded by racist MAGA Republican billionaires, is already bought and paid for and in the pocket of AIPAC. And just like Joe Manchin, he is going to serve his donors, not the people.

And so, the people of our district have to ask themselves, “Do I want another Joe Manchin in Congress serving donors, or do I want to continue to support Congressman Bowman, who has dedicated his entire life?” I have dedicated my entire life to serving children, to serving families, to uplifting education — I come from the working class — because I know that the only way our democracy works for everyone is if we really support those who have been least, lost, left behind, historically marginalized, historically neglected and left vulnerable. That is unacceptable. That is what we have to change.

AMY GOODMAN: Interestingly, I’m looking at Haaretz. They say, “Bowman has charged both AIPAC and Democratic Majority for Israel with weaponizing antisemitism and primarily targeting Democratic candidates who are women and people of color.” If you can talk about the major funders of AIPAC? I mean, this is historic, the amount of money they’re expected to spend in this election cycle, not only in your race, but around the country. It’s believed to be what? Over $100 million?

REP. JAMAAL BOWMAN: Yeah. Again, it blows you away, the sheer amount of money they’re looking to spend. And they have donors like Paul Singer and others like him who support Supreme Court justices who have supported the gutting of voting rights. Many of their donors support taking away a woman’s reproductive rights, taking away affirmative action. They support at least 109, I believe, election deniers, people who did not want to certify or members who did not want to certify the 2020 election results.

So, this is a right-wing organization. This is an extreme organization. This is a racist organization. And they’re the ones trying to come in and buy this seat from a majority-minority community with their first Black representative finally speaking up for justice, equality and our collective humanity. It’s really, really gross, when you think about the spending.

AMY GOODMAN: If you can talk about the Jewish groups that have rallied around you, Democratic Congressmember Bowman?

REP. JAMAAL BOWMAN: No, thank you for that, because just like the African American community, the Jewish community is not a monolith. So, we have tremendous support from organizations like Jewish Voices for Peace, Bend the Arc, Americans for Peace Now, IfNotNow, The Jewish Vote, the (c)(4) arm of JFREJ, and many others.

And so, yes, there are Jewish constituents who want me to have a different approach to Israel in general, and specifically a different approach to what’s happening in Gaza, but there are many Jewish organizations and many Jewish constituents who support the work I’m doing and understand very clearly that a pathway to peace forward has to include a free Palestine.

We can fight antisemitism and have a free Palestine at the same time. You can criticize Israel, you can criticize Zionism, and not be antisemitic. And it’s been very challenging having these conversations, because AIPAC and others, with their propaganda machine that’s been in place for many years, do not engage in these conversations. And the only way to create a better world and a better democracy and a better Israel and a free Palestine is through honest, open conversations that move us forward.

AMY GOODMAN: I’m looking at a piece in The Intercept that says, “As AIPAC has started to spend directly on elections, the group aligned itself with far-right Republicans. During the 2022 cycle, AIPAC endorsed more than 100 Republicans who voted to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election.” If you can talk about the latest news about the congressional invite to Benjamin Netanyahu, who the International Criminal Court prosecutor Karim Khan is now seeking indictments against for war crimes in Gaza, to address a joint session of Congress?

REP. JAMAAL BOWMAN: Yeah. I’m in complete disbelief. I’m horrified by that invitation. I can’t believe we are doing this. You know, when you think about and when I think about my Palestinian constituents, my Muslim constituents, my constituents who stand up for justice and humanity, who have been fighting to end this genocide in Gaza, what we see is the continued not just ignoring, but dehumanization of Palestinian people. By inviting Benjamin Netanyahu to address a joint session of Congress, we are stating to Palestinians that your lives do not matter. Your lives are less sacred, less precious and less valuable than other lives, particularly the lives of those Israeli lives. And it’s particularly disgusting because most of the people who have died in Gaza, been killed in Gaza, are women, children and babies. I can’t believe we’re inviting him here right now.

AMY GOODMAN: Democratic Congressmember Jamaal Bowman represents the 16th Congressional District in New York, which represents a number of parts of Westchester, including Mount Vernon and Yonkers. Congressmember Bowman. I’m Amy Goodman. Thanks so much for joining us.

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