WASHINGTON – The Democratic primaries in New York this week will feature several key races that will impact the balance of power between progressive and moderate Democrats ahead of the midterm elections in November – and could also influence the party’s internal battle over Israel.
In addition to Rep. Jerry Nadler’s battle for survival in the 12th Congressional District, Jewish and pro-Israel communities are closely monitoring three additional races in the state that reflect a greater national trend in the battle for the party’s direction.
This dynamic is perhaps most pronounced in New York’s 10th Congressional District, which now covers Lower Manhattan and parts of Brooklyn. The redistricting process led to a wide-open primary attracting more than 10 candidates (including, briefly, former New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio).
However, the competitive race is seen as being between New York City Council Member Carlina Rivera and New York Assemblymember Yuh-Line Niou – both progressives – and Dan Goldman, the former House Democratic counsel in Donald Trump’s first impeachment trial.
Goldman, one of four Jewish candidates in the race, is also heir to the Levi Strauss fortune and would be among the richest members of Congress should he be elected. He has invested at least $4 million of his estimated $253-million net worth to the campaign.
- Democrats target GOP candidates with ties to far-right and antisemitism
- Is New York about to lose its last remaining Jewish congressman?
- Holocaust comparisons, Soros conspiracies dominate U.S. Republican messaging
The 46-year-old attorney has highlighted that he is the only candidate in the race to have taken on Donald Trump and received the coveted New York Times endorsement, which immediately made him the candidate to beat.
While Rivera, 38, was seen as the progressive candidate of choice among the pack, even polling at the top of the field throughout much of the summer, Niou is the progressive candidate polling closest to Goldman as Election Day approaches on Tuesday.
Niou is among the progressives with the greatest national profile thanks to her work combating hate crimes against Asian New Yorkers, and is significantly endorsed by the influential Working Families Party.
The 39-year-old Niou, who would be the first member of Congress to be diagnosed with autism, has notably drawn the ire of the pro-Israel community over her unclear stance on the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement – particularly relevant given the district’s sizable Jewish population (one-fifth of the district is believed to be made up of Jewish constituents).
Niou first said she supported BDS, telling Jewish Insider she believed in “the right to protest as a fundamental tenet of Western democracy.” She further elaborated on that position in an interview with The New York Times, saying: “I support the freedom of speech. I think that that’s really my point here,” trying to put the focus of the conversation on protecting Israeli and Palestinian rights through a human rights lens.
She also told the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York, via questionnaire, that she would support Rep. Betty McCollum’s legislation on U.S. military aid to Israel, noting: “I do not support calls to oppose the BDS movement; at the same time, I do not agree with all of its demands nor do I embrace all of its tactics. No movement is perfect, just like no person is perfect.”
Critics have charged her with talking around the topic. The Nation’s Joan Walsh described Niou’s stance as “evasive,” while a newly formed New York-based super PAC, New York Progressive, has spent nearly $319,000 targeting her over the position and other allegedly hypocritical positions.
While the super PAC’s name nor its ads mention Israel, the group’s treasurer, Jeff Leb, helped found another super PAC in 2020 called Common Sense New Yorkers, which similarly attacked progressives – most recently helping eight of 10 incumbents in statewide primary races earlier this summer. Several of these ads focused on progressive candidates’ “pro-BDS” agendas.
As Goldman polls ahead of the field ahead of Tuesday’s vote, pressure is building among progressives for candidates to drop out and consolidate behind Niou – including progressive Rep. Mondaire Jones, who opted to stand in the redrafted district in lieu of contesting Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney in his current 17th district.
Maloney, who leads the House Democratic campaign arm, faced widespread criticism for seeking reelection in this district, which includes most of Jones’ pre-redistricting constituents, and pushing him over to the 10th district instead of running where most of his current constituents live.
Perhaps no one was more vocally critical of Maloney than Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who called on him to resign from his position at the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and endorsed his progressive challenger, State Senator Alessandra Biaggi.
Biaggi, who is among Ocasio-Cortez’s more notable allies in New York state politics, has worn her status as a progressive champion for causes such as Medicare for All and Green New Deal as a badge of honor.
The 36-year-old has, however, attempted to distance herself from progressives’ tough stance on Israel, noting that her support for Israel is rooted in her status as a progressive. This has not stopped Maloney from accusing her of “play[ing] footsie with people who would support BDS or undermine the security of Israel” – just one attack point in an increasingly contentious primary.
The Democratic Majority for Israel’s PAC spent over $53,000 on digital ads in support of Maloney, who continues to defend his decision on pushing Jones out. Prior to Jones’ decision to run in the 10th, many suspected he may be forced to run against Rep. Jamaal Bowman in the redrawn 16th Congressional District.
Bowman, who has quickly emerged as one of the most significant progressives in Congress after successfully ousting pro-Israel stalwart Eliot Engel in 2020, is facing a surprisingly competitive challenge from Westchester County legislator Vedat Gashi.
Gashi has repeatedly cited Bowman’s controversial positions on legislation linked to Israel’s normalization with the Arab world, which evolved following progressive criticism of Bowman’s visit to Israel on a J Street delegation last year.
Engel and Nita Lowey, another local pro-Israel mainstay who retired after a decades-long career, endorsed Gashi – both citing “shared values,” with Engel specifically mentioning Israel.
J Street’s Action Fund, meanwhile, put in a significant $100,000 investment in digital ads for Bowman, citing his ties to the local community and lauding his work on local safety, flood prevention and securing resources for schools. J Street also put in a similar amount in favor of Nadler, in the other highly contentious New York primary of interest.
“New York has a large pro-Israel, pro-peace community in both Jewish and Democratic circles, and it’s vital that our liberal values and nuanced, principled views around Israeli-Palestinian issues are reflected by our leaders,” said J Street Vice President of Public Affairs Kevin Rachlin.
The American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s United Democracy Project super PAC, meanwhile, has chosen not to involve itself in any of the primaries in question, despite AIPAC’s previous criticism of Bowman in particular.