JTA — Next week’s Democratic primary in Michigan’s newly redesigned 11th district could end a four-decade Jewish political dynasty — and spending by the nation’s largest pro-Israel lobby plays a big part.
Due to the redistricting, the race pits two incumbent Democrats against each other: Rep. Andy Levin, a Jewish Democrat who favors conditional aid to Israel and counts some of Israel’s most vocal critics in Congress among his friends, and Rep. Haley Stevens , a non-Jewish centrist. which Israel undertakes primarily to ensure its military security.
Stevens has received millions of dollars in outside funding from the United Democracy Project, the political action committee launched last year by AIPAC, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. She is more than 20 points ahead of Levin.
AIPAC broke with 70 years of studious avoidance of electoral politics when it launched the PAC, a sign that the group no longer believed its traditional activities were enough to ensure that its vision of supporting Israel would prevail in Congress.
Now the group is testing its theory in several primaries where progressive candidates are seen as vulnerable. Through Sunday, AIPAC’s PAC had spent $3,178,469 supporting Stevens’ candidacy and an additional $174,437 opposing Levin’s, according to federal election data collected by Open Secrets, a website that tracks political spending. AIPAC donations accounted for nearly 60% of outside spending on Stevens’ behalf, according to federal data.
Supporting Stevens was the United Democracy Project’s second largest spending item, after the $4 million spent on Donna Edwards, a Maryland progressive backed by the more liberal pro-Israel lobby J Street and who lost her primary to Glenn Ivey the last week. . (In this race, United Democracy Project also spent $1.7 million to support Ivey).
AIPAC’s PAC has spent nearly $22.5 million in total so far this election cycle, all in the Democratic primaries, making it the second-largest donor overall.
Levin criticized AIPAC’s involvement during a Sunday night appearance on MSNBC on the show hosted by Mehdi Hasan. He argued that by spending to defeat him, the lobby was opposing a “truly Jewish candidate” whose Israeli positions represent the mainstream.
“I’m not just Jewish, Mehdi, I’m one of two former synagogue presidents in Congress, along with Senator Jackie Rosen. I have mezuzot on all my doors. I’m really Jewish,” Levin said. “But AIPAC does not support the idea that I am the clearest and loudest Jewish voice in Congress, advocating for a simple proposition: that there is no way to have a secure democratic homeland for the Jewish people unless we get the political and human rights of the Palestinian people.”
He added, “Last time I checked, that was the policy of every Democratic and Republican administration before Trump in this country. But AIPAC has completely gone off the rails and they’re trying to end my career because I won’t fit their view of what it means to be pro-Israel.
Progressives outside of Michigan are rallying to Levin’s side after a poll last week showed Stevens a decisive lead in the Aug. 2 primary. Other major Democratic figures, including Hillary Clinton, support Stevens.
If Levin loses, Congress would be without Levin for the first time since 1982, when Andy Levin’s father, Sander Levin, was elected; the son replaced his father in 2019. Additionally, Sander Levin’s brother Carl, who died last year, served as a senator representing Michigan from 1979 to 2015. He was a longtime AIPAC ally who broke with the lobby during his last year in office over the best strategy to contain the threat posed by Iran.