Pro-Israel Democrat Engel Set to Lose to Challenger Bowman in N.Y. Primary

Incumbent Eliot Engel seems likely to lose to his progressive challenger Jamaal Bowman, who has garnered the endorsements from the likes of Sanders, AOC and Warren, as 92 percent of precincts report results

Danielle Ziri
Danielle Ziri
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Jamaal Bowman speaks at a watch party as he takes an early lead in the democratic primary for New York's 16th Congressional District in Yonkers, New York, U.S., June 23, 2020.
Jamaal Bowman speaks at a watch party as he takes an early lead in the democratic primary for New York's 16th Congressional District in Yonkers, New York, U.S., June 23, 2020. Credit: REUTERS/Lucas Jackson
Danielle Ziri
Danielle Ziri

Long-time Pro-Israel Congressman Eliot Engel is likely to lose the seat for New York's 16th Congressional District to his progressive challenger Jamaal Bowman, partial results from Tuesday’s Democratic primary show. 

"Our movement is designed to restore that faith, to restore that hope, to bring back the belief in what is possible, to root our values in everything we do," said Bowman while addressing his supporters after his lead was announced. 

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With 92 percent of the voting precincts reporting their results, as of 2 A.M. EST on Wednesday, Bowman had close to 69 percent of the counted vote while Engel had some 36 percent.

These numbers, however, only include in-person voting from Election Day, as well as from the early voting period held from June 13 to 21. Absentee ballots have not yet been counted, and according to the state’s Board of Elections, New York voters have requested such ballots in record numbers over the past weeks amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Jamaal Bowman campaigns for congress at a polling place in Mt. Vernon, New York, U.S., June 23, 2020.
Jamaal Bowman campaigns for congress at a polling place in Mt. Vernon, New York, U.S., June 23, 2020. Credit: REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

According to a survey of county boards of elections, there have been over one million absentee ballots requested for the Democratic Primary in New York, compared to only 157,885 in 2016. Definitive results of Tuesday’s vote may take some time as voters could still postmark their absentee ballot on Tuesday, which must be received by June 30, and they will only be counted in the beginning of July. 

Over the past few weeks Bowman, Engel’s challenger for the 16th Congressional District, received wide public support. The race between the two has garnered national media attention as many drew comparisons between Bowman and now-Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who famously unseated incumbent Joe Crowley in New York’s 14th congressional district in 2018. 

Bowman – whose platform includes Medicare for all, immigrant rights, support for the Green New Deal and a section on combating antisemitism – had gained the endorsements of prominent democratic socialists like former presidential candidates Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, as well as Rep. Ocasio-Cortez herself.

U.S. Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY) votes with his wife Patricia at a school on June 23, 2020 in the Riverdale neighborhood of the Bronx borough of New York City.
U.S. Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY) votes with his wife Patricia at a school on June 23, 2020 in the Riverdale neighborhood of the Bronx borough of New York City.Credit: Spencer Platt/Getty Images/AFP

A moderate Democrat, Engel serves as chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and is a leading pro-Israel voice in Congress, voting against the Iran nuclear deal in 2015. While Israel policy does not feature in the primary, many pro-Israel voters worry that his ouster would be a triumph for progressives who want the party to adopt a more critical position on Israel.  

Bowman, a political newcomer, clarified his position on the Middle East in an op-ed to the Riverdale Press this week in which he wrote: “I personally oppose the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement” but added he “can connect to what it feels like for Palestinians to feel the presence of the military in their daily lives in the West Bank.”

“I believe firmly in the right of Israelis to live in safety and peace, free from the fear of violence and terrorism from Hamas and other extremists, and support continued U.S. aid to help Israel confront these security challenges,” Bowman added. “I also believe that Palestinians are entitled to the same human rights, safety from violence and self-determination in a state of their own.”

The left-wing anti-occupation IfNotNow Movement, which had endorsed Bowman, said in a statement on Wednesday that the unofficial results are “encouraging.”  

"Jamaal led his campaign with love, heart and wisdom and it was an honor to work alongside him as he thoughtfully delved into issues important to our community,” the group’s political director, Emily Mayer, said.