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Tuesday News Bulletin 8/2/22

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Welcome to the Tuesday News Bulletin! Jewish Currents is constantly getting quotes and scooplets from our network of sources, and every Tuesday, we release small stories exclusive to our newsletter subscribers in emails like this one. In addition to original reporting, the Tuesday News Bulletin serves as a forum for aggregating stories Jewish Currents staffers are tracking, with plenty of links to other publications so you can keep up with everything happening on our beats.

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New York Rep. Jerry Nadler, Attorney General Letitia James, Gov. Kathy Hochul, Grand Marshal Harley Lippman, and Rep. Carolyn Maloney march along Fifth Avenue during the Celebrate Israel Parade in New York City, May 22nd, 2022.

Ron Adar/SOPA Images/Sipa USA

August 2nd, 2022

In May, The New York Times revealed that a new Israel-advocacy group, the New York Solidarity Network (NYSN), was intervening in Democratic primaries in New York State to prevent left-wing candidates from winning. Its focus, according to NYSN Senior Adviser Tyler Deaton, was on recruiting “pro-Israel candidates” and combating the rise of the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), which has endorsed the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement. The Times noted that Deaton is a Republican political strategist; Daniel Loeb, a hedge fund manager who was reported to be a NYSN backer, also has ties to the GOP.

Now, a closer look at the organization has revealed that three other members of NYSN’s leadership team have worked for multiple Republican members of Congress. (After Jewish Currents inquired about the group’s leadership team, the webpage listing their names was deleted, though a copy remains accessible through the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine.) “It’s a predominantly Democratic group. There are Republicans in there,” said Stu Loeser, a spokesman for NYSN. “We focus on Democratic races because that’s where action is needed” on Israel. Loeser claimed that the Democratic Party was becoming hospitable to candidates who are “willing to buck the mainstream Jewish community” on Israel, arguing that such politicians receive “an extraordinary amount of support”—though the Democratic Party leadership remains dominated by supporters of Israel, both nationally and in New York. By contrast, Loeser said, NYSN is “here to incentivize a left-of-center, but not as far-left, view.”

In reality, the group purportedly incentivizing “left-of-center” views is a coalition of Republicans and centrist Democrats. One of the GOP-tied figures working for the network is Kate Possehl, who used to work for the National Republican Congressional Committee and for Rep. Sean Duffy, who was elected as part of the Tea Party wave in 2010. Deaton is a Republican strategist most known for pushing the GOP to become a more welcoming party for LGBTQ people. Amanda Cernik, listed as the group’s membership coordinator, has done political consulting for GOP Reps. John Katko, Tom Reed, Chris Jacobs, and Andrew Garbarino, all of whom are New York Republicans. Tiffany Howard, NYSN’s political coordinator, has been employed by several House Republicans. Deaton, Howard, and Possehl all work for Allegiance Strategies, a Washington firm that has lobbied on behalf of the American Unity Fund, a conservative LGBTQ group, and the National Immigration Law Center, which works on behalf of low-income immigrants. In addition to these GOP-tied figures, other NYSN leadership listed on the website include Corey Johnson, a Democrat and the former Speaker for the New York City Council; Hindy Poupko, the deputy chief planning officer for the UJA-Federation of New York; and Jessica Haller, the executive director of an organization that works to elect more women to the New York City Council. At least two of NYSN’s events have featured Democratic Rep. Ritchie Torres, who frequently inveighs against the left’s criticisms of Israeli apartheid.

NYSN’s GOP ties are the latest example of a national trend that has upended Democratic Party primaries around the country: Republicans working with Democrats to squash criticism of Israel emanating from the progressive wing of the Democratic Party. Even at a time of increasing partisan polarization between Democratic and Republican voters, support for Israel remains a thoroughly bipartisan cause among party elites and donors.

The most prominent example of the trend is AIPAC’s Super PAC, the United Democracy Project. Its third- and fourth-largest donors are Republicans Paul Singer and Bernard Marcus, each of whom gave the Super PAC $1 million. But the United Democracy Project has only spent in Democratic primaries, targeting left-wing and progressive candidates who stray from AIPAC’s hawkish line on Israel, and backing their more conservative challengers. AIPAC’s TV ads “imply to voters that these [AIPAC-backed] candidates are going to be good Democrats,” said Logan Bayroff, a spokesperson for J Street, a progressive organization that supports a two-state solution and that has backed candidates on the receiving end of AIPAC’s attacks. “But the money buying these ads is from people who don’t care about Democrats at all, and are instead motivated by wanting candidates to toe a right-wing foreign policy line on Israel.”

In Missouri, a Republican operative is working with a political action committee trying to dislodge leftist Rep. Cori Bush. In Michigan, Loeb, a billionaire who has donated millions to the GOP, is also funding a group trying to take out Rep. Rashida Tlaib, who has been critical of Israel’s human rights abuses, in favor of a centrist Democrat who told Jewish Insider she believes it’s important to support Israel, “the one ally that we have in the Middle East.”

NYSN members are not spending as much money as AIPAC has—AIPAC’s Super PAC has spent $26 million this election cycle—though it’s unclear exactly how much money NYSN members are donating to their preferred candidates because NYSN is not a political action committee, and thus isn’t required to disclose information about its giving. Unlike the Israel-focused political action committees, or PACs, that are spending millions in primaries around the country by collecting donations and spending en masse on behalf of candidates, NYSN requires new supporters to pledge to individually donate at least $1,000 to the group itself and $5,000 to candidates, causes, or projects aligned with its agenda of support for Israel. Jewish Currents has found that figures who either work for NYSN, have hosted fundraisers for them, or have been identified as NYSN backers in the press have donated about $45,000 to state senate and assembly candidates nationwide this election cycle. Loeb, who The New York Times reported was backing NYSN in addition to his involvement in the Michigan race, has donated about $26,000 to New York candidates since the network’s launch, the most of any donor tied to the network. In this year’s New York primaries, his money has benefited Inez Dickens, an assemblywoman who, in a June primary, defeated Delsenia Glover, a housing activist supported by the Working Families Party (WFP) and The Jewish Vote, two progressive groups; Eddie Gibbs, an assemblyman who won against the WFP-backed Wilfredo Lopez; Denny Salas, who ran against a DSA-backed candidate for the 65th Assembly District but who lost to a third candidate; and Miguelina Camilo, who is challenging the WFP and Jewish Vote-endorsed Gustavo Rivera, a state senator.

Three candidates supported by figures tied to NYSN—Assembly Members Kevin Cahill, Erik Dilan and Nikki Lucas—ran against candidates endorsed by the DSA; Cahill lost to DSA member Sarahana Shrestha, while Dilan and Lucas won their races.

These races are for local seats that have little bearing on US foreign policy, and Israel is not a prominent issue any of these candidates have fought over. But NYSN is concerned that an “increasing number of anti-Israel candidates have won seats in local New York elections,” according to an email obtained by Jewish Currents. While it’s unclear exactly who counts as “anti-Israel candidate,” NYSN’s definition seems to encompass anyone who has the backing of a left-wing organization that is critical of Israel. Such groups have grown in strength and number in recent years: They include the New York City chapter of DSA, which has endorsed the BDS movement, and The Jewish Vote, the electoral project of Jews for Racial and Economic Justice (JFREJ) whose “endorsement principles” state that candidates they endorse should commit to work to end Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian territories.

In 2018, DSA helped Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez defeat staunch Israel ally Joe Crowley, at the time the fourth-most powerful Democrat in the House, and supported DSA member Julia Salazar, an Israel critic, in her successful bid for the State Senate. The same year, The Jewish Vote, in coalition with other progressive organizations, helped dislodge the Independent Democratic Conference, a group of Democrats that worked with Republicans to control the state legislative agenda in Albany. In 2020, NYC-DSA helped elect four members to the New York State Senate and Assembly.

Zohran Mamdani, who represents the Queens neighborhood of Astoria in the Assembly and is a member of DSA, said Israel advocates are concerned about the proliferation of city- and state-level pro-Palestinian electeds for symbolic reasons, and because even such local officials command attention. “They’re terrified that we have these platforms where we can talk to our constituents about the reality in Palestine. They don’t want any threat to the ways Israel has been spoken about in the past,” said Mamdani. “It’s hard to sustain the myth that you can’t be a pro-Palestinian elected official when you have candidates questioning US support for Israel.”

This year, however, the left has had much less success. Nationally, AIPAC’s onslaught of spending has so far helped six centrist Congressional Democrats defeat their more progressive primary opponents. In New York’s June primaries for the state Assembly, the DSA lost all but one of the five races in which it had endorsed candidates running against incumbents or in open seats, though the organization did successfully defend four socialist incumbent Assembly members. Later this month, DSA and other progressive groups will test their power again, as they back candidates running in August’s primaries for state senate against centrist Democrats, some of whom have the support of NYSN backers.

“There’s an electoral left that is surging. It’s taken the establishment a few years to catch up,” said Sophie Ellman-Golan, director of strategic communications for JFREJ. “Now they’re going to get more strategic about how to fight back against us.”

Here’s what else we’re tracking:
  • Breaking the Silence, the anti-occupation group composed of Israeli army veterans, has published a new report highlighting the bureaucratic power Israeli soldiers hold over Palestinians. The report focuses on the testimonies of soldiers who did their military service in three bodies: The Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories, the Gaza District Coordination and Liaison Office, and the Civil Administration. These three bodies have the power to grant or deny Palestinians permits to work, travel, or receive medical care, and also control the import and export of goods from the occupied Palestinian territories, among other powers. “You don’t have time or energy to think of Palestinians as people. They are just numbers on a computer, and you click ‘yes’ or ‘no’ on their travel permit applications,” one Israeli veteran told The Guardian. Other testimonies reveal how Israeli soldiers denied visitation permits for the families of Palestinian prisoners in order to break Palestinian hunger strikes.

  • A 16-year-old Palestinian was killed by Israeli soldiers during a protest Friday against settler violence in the occupied West Bank, Palestinian officials told Reuters, though human rights group Defense for Children International-Palestine reported that “it remains unclear if an Israeli soldier or settler fired the fatal round.” The teen, Amjad Nashat Abu Alya, was killed in the Palestinian village of Al-Mughayyer, near the city of Ramallah. In addition to armed Israeli soldiers shooting at Palestinian demonstrators, the demonstration also drew Israeli settlers armed with guns who opened fire. An Israeli military spokesperson said the soldiers reacted to Palestinians throwing stones and burning tires, and that they had acted to “restore order” after Palestinians and Israeli settlers threw stones at each other. Settler violence targeting Palestinians in the form of stone-throwing, uprooted olive trees, and physical assaults has long bedeviled Palestinians in villages surrounded by settlements. Last year, settler violence rose to a five-year high, as Israeli settlers injured 170 Palestinians and killed five. In July, the Palestinian news agency Wafa reported that Israeli settlers assaulted and injured a man in Al-Mughayyer, sending him to the hospital.

  • The family of Shireen Abu Akleh, the Palestinian American journalist killed by an Israeli soldier in May, held a press conference last week in Washington alongside members of Congress to press their demand that the US independently investigate the killing and press for accountability. “Shireen and her family deserve to be treated the same way that any other American would be in this situation. An American journalist was killed abroad by a foreign army, by a sniper. This situation demands a thorough and objective investigation,” said Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. On the same day as the press conference, Democrats in the House and Senate introduced new legislative measures that would require the Biden administration to further look into the killing. Rep. Andre Carson introduced the “Justice for Shireen Act,” which would require a report on her death conducted by the State Department and the FBI, while Sens. Chris Van Hollen and Patrick Leahy introduced legislative text that would require the Secretary of State to submit a report to Congress “on steps taken to facilitate and support an independent, credible, and transparent investigation” into Abu Akleh’s killing.

  • Talks between Ben & Jerry’s and parent company Unilever over the ice cream company’s refusal to sell products to West Bank settlements have broken down, according to Reuters. The talks were an attempt to settle a dispute over Ben & Jerry’s anti-settlement position out-of-court, without the intervention of a federal judge. But now, the clash heads back to a courtroom, as Ben & Jerry’s presses their lawsuit against Unilever over the latter’s sale of Ben & Jerry’s Israel to an Israeli company that has pledged to sell Ben & Jerry’s ice cream in the occupied West Bank. Ben & Jerry’s says the move violates its 2000 acquisition agreement with Unilever, which pledged to give the Ben & Jerry’s board decision-making power on matters related to its social mission and brand integrity.

  • The Anti-Defamation League last week attacked JFREJ as “out of touch,” the New York Jewish Week reported. The ADL spokesman’s criticism of JFREJ came after the Jewish Week inquired about ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt’s retweet of a Twitter thread by a congressional candidate that claimed JFREJ “pretends to be liberal and pro-Jewish when they are consistently against both mainstream Jewish values and interests.” An ADL spokesperson told Jewish Week reporter Jacob Henry that “we need to have an honest conversation about JFREJ, their support for BDS, and how out of touch they are with the majority of the Jewish community.” (JFREJ, in fact, takes no position on BDS.) But, as Henry wrote, “in some ways, JFREJ’s outlook does map to that of the broader Jewish community, including in New York City. According to a survey from the Jewish Electorate Institute, a non-partisan think tank dedicated to understanding American Jewry, 70% of American Jewish voters lean Democratic and favor issues such as climate change, voting rights, jobs and health care — all issues that are part of JFREJ’s activism.”