Why are Black Democrats taking money from AIPAC?

OPINION: The pro-Israel lobbying group has endorsed over 100 Jan. 6 insurrectionists for office while spending millions to defeat progressive Black Democrat candidates for Congress.

Members of IfNotNow hand out information at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee annual conference
Members of IfNotNow hand out information to people attending the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) annual conference outside the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in Washington, D.C. on March, 01, 2020. (Photo by Marvin Joseph/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

Editor’s note: The following article is an op-ed, and the views expressed are the author’s own. Read more opinions on theGrio.

Black lawmakers should read the room and stop accepting money from American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), the pro-Israel lobbying group that has supported 109 Jan. 6 insurrectionists for public office and has spent millions to defeat progressive Black Democratic candidates for Congress.

House Democratic leader Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., is receiving blowback for allegedly caping for the ultranationalist and ultrareligious government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and attending an AIPAC-funded trip to Israel with a delegation of 24 Democratic lawmakers. Netanyahu is gutting his country’s Supreme Court, removing the court’s check on government power in making appointments and cabinet decisions and allowing far-right settlers to take control of the government. 

Like his fellow would-be dictator friend Donald Trump, Netanyahu was indicted for corruption and is moving for a judicial overhaul that will neuter the power of the Israeli court, cement authoritarian control by the most extremist Israeli government ever and help him skirt justice.    

The judicial overhaul plan — “largely an American production,” according to the New York Times, with support from right-wing Jewish American billionaires who underwrite Israeli right-wing extremism — has caused a governance crisis in Israel, with a threat to the rights of Israeli citizens, particularly women, minority groups and LGBTQ+ people. This, in a country where Palestinian citizens are second- or third-class citizens, and Palestinians living under military occupation have few rights, as the military killings, vigilante violence, legal violence and home demolitions against them have increased.

In recent months, thousands of Israelis have marched in the streets across the country in protest against the judicial overhaul. Over 1,600 academics and public figures from Israel, the U.S. and around the world have signed a letter titled “The Elephant in the Room.” (In the interest of full disclosure, I have signed that letter.) This letter makes the link between the attacks on the Israeli judiciary and the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians.

“Without equal rights for all, whether in one state, two states, or in some other political framework, there is always a danger of dictatorship,” says the letter. “There cannot be democracy for Jews in Israel as long as Palestinians live under a regime of apartheid, as Israeli legal experts have described it.” 

The letter calls for North American Jewish leaders to support the Israeli protest movement, support pro-Palestinian human rights groups, overhaul Jewish education to provide an honest assessment of Israel’s history and present, and demand that American politicians help end the occupation and restrict U.S. military aid from being used in the Palestinian territories.

Meanwhile, Black recipients of AIPAC support would tell you there is nothing to see here, as they fail to see any sense of urgency with the protests over recent events in Israel. Rather, they seem content to prop up the government of Netanyahu, who once called African migrants in his country “infiltrators” and a “flood” worse than “severe attacks by Sinai terrorists.”

Rep. Jeffries, who met with Netanyahu on the Democratic delegation trip, said the judicial overhaul would not impact military aid to Israel, even if the court system is weakened. “At the end of the day, the two things that bind our countries together relate both to our shared democratic values and our shared strategic interests,” Jeffries said. “The Democratic Party in the House of Representatives will continue to stand with Israel and lift up the special relationship between our two countries and in support of Israel’s right to exist as a homeland for the Jewish people, and as a Jewish democratic state, period, full stop,” he added.

During 2021-2022, Jeffries received $439,790 from pro-Israel PACs such as AIPAC and the AIPAC affiliate Pro-Israel America — his second largest campaign funding source after securities and investment.  

Rep. Ritchie Torres, D-N.Y., another Black member of Congress, is a strong supporter of Israel who calls the nation a multiracial democracy with a story of “progress rather than perfection” and where everyone enjoys equal protection under the law. “I, for one, am skeptical that the hyperbolic and hysterical hatred for Israel, reinforced by decades of demonization, would magically disappear with the end of U.S. foreign aid,” Torres said. In the 2021-2022 period, AIPAC was Torres’ highest contributor at $141,008.

As some Congressional Black Caucus members accept AIPAC contributions, AIPAC spends millions to bring down Black candidates in primary and general elections, particularly progressive women of color who could align with “the Squad.” This is happening even in predominantly Black districts where Israel is not an issue. AIPAC ally Democratic Majority for Israel (DMFI) has been weaponized by Democratic centrists to beat back progressives and prevent a progressive surge in the party, as The Intercept reported.

In the 2021 race for Ohio’s 11th Congressional District, AIPAC, Republican Party donors and cryptocurrency bros poured money into Shontel Brown’s campaign to beat Nina Turner. Most recently, AIPAC and its affiliates are funding challengers to unseat Minnesota Rep. Ilhan Omar, a Somali-American Muslim woman who has been critical of Israeli human rights.  

The pro-Israel group came for former Rep. Donna Edwards of Maryland during her recent attempted comeback to reclaim her seat in Congress. AIPAC attacked Edwards in the primaries for not being pro-Israel enough, never mentioning Israel but criticizing her for poor constituent services. Even House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, an AIPAC beneficiary, came to her defense.

And AIPAC spent over $1 million in an attempt to stop Summer Lee, a Democratic Socialist and the first Black woman in Congress from Pennsylvania. AIPAC — which painted Lee as a bad and disloyal Democrat, even as it supported GOP politicians who refused to certify Joe Biden as president — continues to attack Lee for boycotting the speech by Israeli President Isaac Herzog before a joint session of Congress. AIPAC also attacked Lee for receiving support from the liberal pro-Israel group J Street.

If AIPAC does not support the Black community or Black interests, supports insurrectionists, arguably does not support democracy in America or in Israel and derails progressive Black candidates who fight for Black lives at home and human rights abroad, why are Black politicians still taking their money?

Correction, Aug. 21, 2023, 4:22 p.m. ET: Democratic Majority for Israel (DMFI) is a separate pro-Israel advocacy group. The story has been updated.

David A. Love is a journalist and commentator who writes investigative stories and op-eds on a variety of issues, including politics, social justice, human rights, race, criminal justice and inequality. Love is also an instructor at the Rutgers School of Communication and Information, where he trains students in a social justice journalism lab. In addition to his journalism career, Love has worked as an advocate and leader in the nonprofit sector, served as a legislative aide, and as a law clerk to two federal judges. He holds a B.A. in East Asian Studies from Harvard University and a J.D. from the University of Pennsylvania Law School. He also completed the Joint Programme in International Human Rights Law at the University of Oxford. His portfolio website is davidalove.com.