Michigan's Top Congresswoman Bemoans Israel 'Proxy War' in Democratic Primary

Rep. Debbie Dingell criticizes ugly nature of Tuesday’s race between Reps. Andy Levin and Haley Stevens, and the oversize influence of billionaires funding attack ads

Ben Samuels
Ben Samuels
West Bloomfield Township, Michigan
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Rep. Debbie Dingell of Michigan. “The race has become less about the two candidates and more a proxy fight between the two organizations."
Rep. Debbie Dingell of Michigan. “The race has become less about the two candidates and more a proxy fight between the two organizations."Credit: Carlos Osorio / AP
Ben Samuels
Ben Samuels
West Bloomfield Township, Michigan

WEST BLOOMFIELD TOWNSHIP, Mich. – Ahead of Michigan’s hotly contested Democratic primaries on Tuesday, the state's most prominent Democratic member of Congress has decried both the negative tone of the campaigns as well as the role of billionaire-funded super PACs.

Speaking at the Oakland County Democratic Party picnic on Sunday, Rep. Debbie Dingell said that she “loved” both Reps. Andy Levin and Haley Stevens, who are vying for the Democratic nomination in Michigan’s 11th Congressional District. She highlighted her and her late husband’s long-standing friendship with Levin’s family, as well as Stevens’ work as a woman making a difference in Washington.

“The race has become less about the two candidates and more a proxy fight between the two organizations,” she lamented, pointing to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s support of Stevens and rival group J Street’s support of Levin.

The battle for the district northwest of Detroit has become a referendum on the American-Jewish conversation on Israel, how the Democratic Party handles debates on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the spending power of pro-Israel groups aimed at swaying elections.

Both campaigns have turned increasingly negative in recent times: Levin has attacked Stevens for accepting AIPAC’s endorsement and AIPAC-bundled donations, while Stevens has deemed Levin hypocritical for previously accepting corporate PAC money.

“The race is uglier than I would have liked to have seen,” Dingell said. “Significant money has been spent on both sides, and I don’t like it.”

AIPAC’s United Democracy Project super PAC has spent $4.2 million so far on the race – the vast majority of which has funded pro-Stevens ads – while the J Street Action Fund invested $700,000 in ads attacking Stevens for accepting AIPAC’s endorsement alongside that of 109 Republicans who voted against certifying the 2020 presidential election results.

Democratic Rep. Andy Levin speaking on Capitol Hill in 2019.Credit: House Television / AP

Citizens United was a travesty. We need to see Congress do something to overturn this and put everyone on a level playing field,” Dingell said, referring to the 2010 Supreme Court decision that allows corporations and other outside groups to spend unlimited funds on elections.

“Look how much money the billionaires are putting in the races – millions of dollars,” she added. “It’s hard to compete with that. Democrats don’t have that volume.” In recent months, the likes of Haim Saban, Bernie Marcus and Paul Singer have each donated $1 million to the United Democracy Project super PAC. The latter two businessmen are better known as megadonors to the Republican Party.

Dingell said she sees the upcoming 2022 midterms and 2024 elections as “the most important elections of our lifetime.”

“You saw what happened on January 6,” she said. “People came to the Capitol prepared to kill people, and to overturn the legitimacy of the election. They’re trying to undermine people’s confidence in elections.”

Addressing the West Bloomfield Township rally, Levin said that his race is “about the soul of the Democratic Party,” pointing to AIPAC’s $4.2 million investment aimed at securing his defeat.

“Even though I’m Jewish, and I love Israel, and I’m a Zionist and I’m for all our aid to Israel, I will not yield on the simple proposition that the only way to have a peaceful and secure homeland for my people is to fully realize the political and human rights of the Palestinian people,” he said.

“No office is worth it, no position is worth it, no title is worth it – I won’t take money from organizations or companies backing insurrectionist Republicans, and even decided to forego corporate PAC donations altogether because you never know who they’ll give to,” Levin added.

Stevens also attended the event, but left to knock doors prior to Dingell and Levin’s remarks. Both Stevens and her campaign have declined to respond to repeated requests for comment.

Oakland County is one of Michigan’s wealthiest and most populous counties. Beyond the Levin-Stevens race, the county also houses Michigan’s 12th Congressional District, where Rep. Rashida Tlaib similarly faces challengers buoyed by super PAC funding largely bankrolled by pro-Israel donors.

The United Democracy Project has spent $24.2 million on Democratic primaries to date and currently holds a record of six victories and one defeat.

The one progressive candidate who managed to overcome the super PAC’s efforts – Summer Lee in Pennsylvania – urged her followers to support Levin ahead of Tuesday’s primary.

“AIPAC has made their mission targeting progressives for their right-wing corporate donors. They spent millions attacking me and are spending millions against Andy Levin in Michigan 11. Our movement must be united against corporate power,” she said, posting a link on Twitter for volunteers to help the Levin campaign with get-out-the-vote efforts in the final few hours before the vote.

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