Pro-Israel Groups Celebrate Victory in Crucial Massachusetts Primary

Race between Richard Neal and progressive Alex Morse reflected divide between centrist and left-wing Democrats, including on Israel policy

Alexander Griffing
Alexander Griffing
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From left, Democratic Representatives Dwight Evan, Richard Neal, Nancy Pelosi, and Dan Kildee leave a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, July 24, 2020,
From left, Democratic Representatives Dwight Evan, Richard Neal, Nancy Pelosi, and Dan Kildee leave a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, July 24, 2020,Credit: AP Photo/Andrew Harnik
Alexander Griffing
Alexander Griffing

U.S. Rep. Richard Neal of Massachusetts, the powerful chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, held off Democratic challenger Alex Morse in Tuesday’s primary.

The 71-year-old Neal — the longest-serving member of the state’s all-Democratic congressional delegation — defeated 31-year-old Morse, seen as a political rising star after becoming one of Massachusetts’ youngest and only openly gay mayors since becoming chief executive of Holyoke in 2011 at age 22.

Both had collected high-profile endorsements in the last days of the campaign: Neal from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Morse from U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York. Neal was leading Morse by a walloping 20 points as of late Tuesday night.

Read more: Massachusetts primary pits pro-Israel incumbent against progressive challenger – but this one could have a twist

Neal was endorsed by Democratic Majority for Israel (DMFI), an organization that’s trying to strengthen support for Israel within the party, that placed a six-figure ad buy in the district to support the incumbent.  

DMFI congratulated Neal on his victory in a statement, saying, "Chairman Neal earned our support in this race by consistently advocating for Democratic values, including support for a strong U.S.-Israel relationship." 

The pro-Israel PAC also spent heavily in an unsuccessful bid to salvage New York Congressman Eliot Engel’s campaign against  Jamaal Bowman. The group added “are pleased that in Massachusetts’ Fourth District, a candidate who is openly hostile to the U.S.-Israel relationship, Ihssane Leckey, was also defeated."

Pro-Israel America, another political action committee supporting Neal, also congratulated the congressman: "We look forward to continuing our work with congressman Neal to help further strengthen the U.S.-Israel relationship towards a safer and more secure future for both of our great nations." 

Neal first was elected to the U.S. House in 1988 to represent the state’s 1st congressional district, which encompasses the western portion of the state, including Pittsfield, Springfield, Lenox, North Adams and Stockbridge.

Neal will run unopposed in the November general election after Republicans failed to field a candidate.

The primary race was representative of the broader tensions between centrist and left-wing Democrats, and, like many other primary races this year, also shows a clear divide between the candidates with regard to Israel.

Morse, who is Jewish, was endorsed by IfNotNow – an organization of young American Jews that’s trying to push the Democratic Party more to the left and to adopt more critical views toward Israeli policies. The group’s political director, Emily Mayer, told Haaretz in a statement: “Alex is like us: a young progressive American Jew who wants a government that will combat the climate crisis, make health care affordable for all Americans, defund the police, and work to end the Israeli occupation.”

In one of the other hallmark races of the day, U.S. Sen. Edward Markey of Massachusetts defeated U.S. Rep. Joe Kennedy III in Tuesday’s hard-fought Democratic primary, harnessing support from progressive leaders to overcome a challenge from a younger rival who is a member of America’s most famous political family.

It was the first time a Kennedy has lost a race for Congress in Massachusetts.

The Associated Press contributed to this report

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