AIPAC Spent Millions to Defeat Andy Levin, but Not Rashida Tlaib Next Door

The pro-Israel lobbying group has shifted its focus away from the only Palestinian-American serving in Congress, who is slated to retain her seat comfortably

Ben Samuels
Ben Samuels
Auburn Hills, Michigan
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The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) policy conference, in 2019.
The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) policy conference, in 2019.Credit: Jose Luis Magana / AP
Ben Samuels
Ben Samuels
Auburn Hills, Michigan

AUBURN HILLS, Mich. – Perhaps no member of Congress is more antithetical to the mission of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee than Rep. Rashida Tlaib, who faces a primary on Tuesday in Michigan’s redrawn 12th Congressional District.

Tlaib, the only Palestinian-American serving in Congress, is a proponent of the BDS movement, supports conditioning military aid to Israel and has described Israel as an apartheid state.

It seems surprising, therefore, that the United Democracy Project — AIPAC’s SuperPAC which has spent nearly $24.3 million on Democratic primary races so far — has not involved itself in Tlaib’s primary battle.

Tlaib is facing off against Detroit City Clerk Janice Winfey for the seat, formerly occupied by retiring pro-Israel Rep. Brenda Lawrence. While UDP is spending millions next door in the state’s 11th district to defeat Rep. Andy Levin, it has stayed out of Tlaib’s contest. AIPAC’s lack of spending against Tlaib stands in stark contrast to the money spent aimed at defeating Levin, who has openly highlighted his opposition to BDS and affirmed his support for U.S. military aid to Israel.

Rep. Rashida Tlaib and her son Adam attend a rally in favor of canceling student debt, in Washington, last week.Credit: Andrew Harnik / AP

That hasn’t stopped other pro-Israeli donors from getting involved via super PACs. The newly founded Urban Empowerment Action PAC, created under the guise of “dedication to the educational empowerment and economic uplift of Black communities,” is heavily bankrolled by billionaire hedge fund manager Daniel Loeb, and has spent nearly $678,500 in the past month in hopes of supporting Winfrey, who has cited Tlaib’s positions on Israel as a main reason for her running.

“These SuperPACs involve a double deception. They don’t say where the money is coming from — much of it is from Republican billionaires that are completely hostile to everything Democrats stand for — and then they don’t talk about the issue that they’re giving money for,” says Rep. Levin, who has faced $4.2 million in UDP funds aimed at his defeat.

A senior staffer for a U.S. lawmaker who has also faced attacks from similar SuperPACs noted the similarities between UDP and the smaller SuperPACs taking on progressive candidates.

“People have no idea who's funding these PACs or what they're about. They sound like every generic PAC, and voters are just seeing these attacks constantly,” the staffer says. “It becomes part of the campaign; you have to play defense. You can scream until you’re blue in the face, but you’re still forced to reckon with the attacks in the ads becoming a dominant message of the campaign.”

Representative Andy Levin (D-MI) speaks to the press while detained for his part in an abortion rights protest outside of the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, D.C., U.S., July 19, 2022. REUTERS/Sarah SilbigerCredit: Sarah Silbiger / REUTERS

“It’s corrosive to our democracy. Democrats need to have a serious family discussion about letting our candidates take millions of Republican dark money,” Levin notes. “Today it may be right-wing on Israel, tomorrow it could be Exxon Mobil or tobacco or big pharma, and we will lose control of our party's values if we don't stop this.”

Tlaib told a crowd of supporters last week that “out-of-state billionaires and dark-money Super PACs are pumping obscene amounts of money into our districts. They're trying to come here and tell us what to think,” accusing them of “running misleading ads, mailers full of lies and nasty social media ads. It just makes me want to work harder.”

“There have been multiple votes where I’ve voted differently than Rashida on Israel-Palestine,” Levin says, noting it serves as an indication that AIPAC expects Tlaib to win re-election.

Emily Kaplan, legislative and electoral grassroots organizer for JVP Action, says the decision to attack Levin and not Tlaib showcases a shifting of goalposts when it comes to taking on Israel’s critics. "Even if you support a two-state solution and occupy a certain lane of advocating for Palestinian human rights, they want to attack him more than the member of Congress furthest to the left," she says.

Tlaib currently holds a significant fundraising advantage over her opponent, on top of having the name-brand recognition of incumbency in her favor.

“She’s in a very strong position — 60 percent of the 12th district consists of her current district, she’s a hard campaigner, she raises a lot of money, she’s effective at constituent services — all the things that will help you win,” Levin notes.

Denzel McCampbell, Tlaib’s communications director, noted that the campaign has knocked on over 25,000 doors and made more than 120,000 phone calls.

"We hold conversations on the issues that voters care about: the need to take on gun violence and protect the right to a safe, legal abortion,” he says. “That's what voters want to talk about, and people are frustrated about the dark money attacks. Voters just are not buying it.”

When asked for comment about its lack of involvement in Tlaib’s election, UDP spokesperson Patrick Dorton said: “There are other groups involved in the race.”

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