AIPAC vs J Street: Pro-Israel Lobby Loses Ally as Progressives Score Win in Illinois

Marie Newman - who was supported by Sanders, Warren and AOC - managed to oust incumbent Dan Lipinski and supports conditioning aid to Israel

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A member of the audience looks on wearing a United States-Israel themed custom suit during the AIPAC convention at the Washington Convention Center in Washington, U.S., March 2, 2020.
A member of the audience looks on wearing a United States-Israel themed custom suit during the AIPAC convention at the Washington Convention Center in Washington, U.S., March 2, 2020.Credit: TOM BRENNER/ REUTERS

Mainstream pro-Israel organizations were celebrating the results of Tuesday’s primaries, with former Vice President Joe Biden effectively clinching the Democratic nomination over the candidate they least wanted running against President Donald Trump - Senator Bernie Sanders. 

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But in the state primary in Illinois, a key congressional primary upset took place and groups like AIPAC lost a reliable vote. Rep. Dan Lipinski, one of the most conservative Democrats in Congress, lost his seat representing Illinois’s 3rd congressional district to Marie Newman, a progressive challenger who was enthusiastically supported by the progressive pro-Sanders camp. 

Newman, like Sanders, has spoken in support of basing military and economic aid to Israel on changes in its treatment of the Palestinians. 

The activist anti-occupation group IfNotNow cheered Newman’s victory over “one of AIPAC’s loyal Democrats,” tweeting that her win represented “an enormous win for those of us working towards a future where all people, including Palestinians and Israelis, can thrive.” Newman, the group said, “will be a welcome change” from Lipinski. 

J Street also enthusiastically endorsed and supported Marie Newman, telling its members that Lipinski has “shown time and again that his views are out of step with the pro-Israel, pro-peace movement.”

The two progressive advocacy groups were part of a coalition of pro-choice, environment, and pro-immigration groups that threw their support behind Newman, and featured political stars like Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Sen. Elizabeth Warren. Newman’s win was a morale-booster for the progressive wing of the party in the shadow of Sanders’ showing and the complications of campaigning in the midst of the coronavirus crisis. The vote was close, with Newman defeating Lipinski with 47 percent of the vote to her rival’s 45 percent. When she challenged him two years ago, in 2018, Newman lost to the veteran congressman by a similar margin. 

Though portrayed as a darling of the moderate wing of the party by IfNotNow, Lipinski was a problematic candidate for some of the more traditional pro-Israel Democrats, despite his voting record on their key issue. Mark Mellman, CEO of the Democratic Majority for Israel, told Jewish Insider that because of Lipinski’s views on social issues - particularly his pro-life stand, that his group did “not believe the incumbent represents the values of the Democratic Party.”

On the other side of the aisle, the Republican Jewish Coalition tweeted after Tuesday’s results were in that the Democrats “voted out a pro-Israel, conservative Democrat from Illinois to replace him with a far-left, anti-Israel candidate who wants to condition military aid to Israel”

During the campaign, former AIPAC president Bob Asher urged support for Lipinski, asserting that his “opponent is catering to the anti-Israel population in the district.”

Lipinski has been representing the district located in the western suburbs of Chicago since 2004, replacing his father, who served as its representative since 1983. He is only one of two pro-life Democrats currently in Congress, and was one of the few Democrats to vote against Obama’s Affordable Care Act and to oppose the Iran nuclear deal

In the 2018 general election, Lipinski faced off again former American Nazi party leader and Holocaust denier Arthur Jones, who was the Republican nominee. At the time, Jones was the only Republican candidate to stand for election in the primary in the heavily Democratic district - which contains very few Jewish voters, but a growing Arab-American community. Jones faced challengers this time around and lost his primary race on Tuesday, coming in third place with only 10% of the vote. 

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