DETROIT — The biggest political story playing out in Michigan on Tuesday is the battle between Democratic lawmakers Andy Levin and Haley Stevens in the state’s 11th district, which has become a proxy war between AIPAC and J Street and could have national implications on the Democratic party and Israel.
But in the nearby 13th district, where a redrawing of district lines has created an open race between several Democrats, AIPAC’s new political arm, The United Democracy Project, has surprised many observers by spending more than $4 million to support a relatively unknown state senator named Adam Hollier.
Hollier, 36, an army veteran who was elected to the state senate in 2018, was more surprised than anyone to find out that AIPAC’s recently created SuperPAC was putting millions into television ads to support him. In an interview with Haaretz this week, he said he was “super grateful” for the massive spending, despite being totally blindsided about it.
Hollier’s main rival in the primary is Shri Thanedar, a member of the Michigan House of Representatives and a successful businessman who has donated his own campaign millions of dollars in recent months. That money could have been enough to make him the favorite in the race, until UDP started spending heavily to support Hollier. “I’ve never seen in Detroit a congressional race having this kind of outside money,” Jonathan Kinloch, chair of the district’s Democratic Party, told The Detroit News.
Hollier told Haaretz how he found out that the pro-Israeli organization was supporting him: “I woke up one day and my TV-buy people were like ‘… hey,’" he recalls. “There was never an announcement from UDP — they just started spending money. You don’t know if it’s going to be for a few weeks or how much money they’ll spend or what they’re going to say. I went home and immediately started DVR’ing the news because I knew this was going to be impactful,” Hollier says.
Nearly $2.8 million of the UDP spending has been in support of Hollier, while more than $1.4 million has funded anti-Thanedar attack ads.
"Adam Hollier is an Army veteran who has a deep understanding of security issues in the Middle East and will be a pro-Israel member of Congress. Shri Thanedar sponsored some horrific anti-Israel legislation in the state legislature. The contrast is clear," UDP spokesperson Patrick Dorton says.
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AIPAC’s interest in defeating Thanadar is based off his May 2021 co-sponsored resolution in the Michigan house describing Israel as an “apartheid state” that committed “countless human rights violations,” and calling to halt U.S. military aid to Israel – positions that are similar to those of Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib, who is running in the nearby 12th Congressional district.
Thanedar, an Indian immigrant and successful entrepreneur, removed his co-sponsorship after announcing his candidacy and has since adopted more moderate positions on Israel. Thanedar unsuccessfully attempted to run for governor in 2018 after contributing $10.6 million of his own money to his campaign.
“Pro-Israel groups like AIPAC and UDP are supporting me because they don’t want to see my opponent win. It’s hard to manage this moment where the self-funder moves into the district and complains about outside money, while all his money is outside money,” Hollier says. “I’m working to do everything I can to compete in the district where I was raised. For folks to paint it like these outside entities are parachuting in is crazy to me,” he adds.
“I’ve raised more under $50, $100, $250 than anyone in this race. I’ve raised more in Michigan and in district. I just also happen to be the beneficiary of more extra support — but not more than Shri Thanedar,” he explains.
Despite UDP’s unexpected mass investment in his campaign, Hollier’s engagement with the pro-Israel community didn’t happen overnight.
“The Jewish community is very intertwined in the work I do in my community, it’s not like there was a moment I decided to flip a switch,” he says. Prominent pro-Israel in donors further consolidated behind Hollier once the Legacy Committee for Unified Leadership rallied around him as the consensus Black candidate.
Hollier also defends UDP from criticism that it is using Republican donations to sway the outcome of Democratic primaries. “Critics don’t call AIPAC or UDP a pro-Israel group, they call it a Republican group, but Republican groups don’t support Nancy Pelosi or Jim Clyburn or majority Congressional Black Caucus members,” he says.
Hollier is also aware of the criticism that much of UDP’s donations come from Republican megadonors such as Paul Singer and Bernard Marcus, as well as Ed Levy Jr. — perhaps the most impactful Republican donor in Michigan who donated $250,000.
“Ed Levy is a Republican donor, but all the money he spent in UDP goes to Democratic candidates — he doesn't get to say where they're going to spend it,” Hollier says. “That’s a guy who cares about pro-Israel candidates getting elected to Congress and understands it's important to have them on both sides of the aisle.”
Should he be successfully elected, Hollier doesn’t envision himself combatting Israel’s critics in Congress but instead wants to help bridge divides between different camps.
“We’ve agreed that expanding settlements is probably not helpful to finding a two-state solution, and it’s not productive to point fingers about who is a terrorist,” Hollier says. “It’s important to invest in Palestinian people in a way that bridges gaps in income opportunities in Israel and what will god willing one day be Palestine.”
Hollier, who is a U.S. Army reservist, pays particular attention to U.S.-Israel technological partnership aimed at minimizing collateral damage.
“Could Israel do better? Yes, but it’s my goal to help develop the technology, the training, the capacity and the relationships to do a better job,” he says, relaying how a supporter told him about his grandparents being killed by an Israeli bombing.
“There is no world where I have a role in chastising Rep. Tlaib about her lived experience. I need to elevate the discussion, so we can have the kinds of conversations that haven’t been had yet,” Hollier says.
Beyond UDP, Hollier has earned the backing from nearly every union offering endorsements as well as Detroit’s mayor, county executive and multifaith leaders. “Folks who you want on your side have been on my side,” he says, noting that he feels as good as one could hope ahead of Election Day.
“We’ve made 300,000 phone calls, we've knocked 40,000 doors and I raised over $1.1 million. We did the things that I was hoping to do. I think I've done everything I can do.”