New super PAC aims to elect pro-Israel black Democrats
(JTA) — A new super PAC led by “black and Jewish” leaders has endorsed five black Democrats who hold pro-AIPAC stances, the latest sign that pro-Israel donors are determined to stem the erosion of support to Israel among African Americans.
In its May 27 launch statement, first reported by Politico, the Urban Empowerment Action PAC does not mention Israel, instead stating that it “will support pragmatic, solution-oriented congressional candidates dedicated to empowerment of education and the economic development of black communities”. He says his “supporters include a broad coalition of black and Jewish business, political and civic leaders.”
But Bakari Sellers, a political commentator who appears in PAC literature as a spokesperson, told Politico that Israel was “definitely top of the list” in the super PAC’s decision to endorse Janice Winfrey, the Detroit city clerk challenging incumbent Rep. Democrat Rashida Tlaib. Tlaib is Israel’s most vocal critic in Congress and the only one to say openly that it should not exist as a Jewish state.
“That’s not the primary focus,” said Sellers, a former South Carolina state representative, referring to Israel. Nonetheless, Urban Empowerment Action’s inception document alludes to the fraying of Black-Jewish ties, once resilient in the civil rights era. Meanwhile, Winfrey and the four other candidates he has backed are known to hold Israeli positions close to those favored by the US Israel Public Affairs Committee.
Sellers and PAC did not return requests for comment.
The PAC comes after years of tension between the center-right pro-Israel community and black Democratic lawmakers, spurred in part by antagonism between former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Barack Obama, the first black president. Black lawmakers were particularly furious with Netanyahu for accepting an invitation from Republicans to speak in Congress in 2015 to attack Obama’s Iran policy; it was seen as a sign of disrespect.
Since Netanyahu’s electoral defeat last year, the Israeli government has been committed to restoring ties with Democrats, and the mainstream pro-Israel movement has made cultivating black political leadership a priority. A number of pro-Israel PACs have in recent months thrown strong support for black candidates in the face of progressives skeptical of the depth of the US-Israel relationship. Pro-Israel donors have had successes with, among others, Representative Shontel Brown in Ohio, and with two primary candidates in North Carolina, Don Davis and Valerie Foushee.
Urban Empowerment Action has pledged to spend $1 million on Winfrey; by contrast, the only other expense was for Rep. Nikema Williams in Georgia, an Atlanta-area starter who didn’t face a serious challenge in the primary this month and won’t. faced in November.
“This joint effort builds on the strong relationship between African American and Jewish leaders to uplift all communities,” Sellers reportedly said in the launch document. “Instead of allowing our communities to be divided, history teaches us that when Black and Jewish communities come together to fight for our common ideals, we create positive change in society.”
The PAC’s only disclosed donor is Third Point LLC, a New York-based hedge fund run by Daniel Loeb, who is Jewish and gives primarily to Republicans. Third Point donated $76,355 to Urban Empowerment Action. Loeb’s wife, Margaret, mostly donates to Democrats. Super PACs can solicit and spend unlimited amounts as long as they don’t coordinate directly with a campaign.
AIPAC PAC, the lobby’s new political action committee, backs Williams. Another pro-Israel PAC, Pro-Israel America, founded by two former senior AIPAC executives, backs Winfrey.
The Democratic Majority for Israel-affiliated PAC, which holds to traditional pro-Israel positions, backs two candidates backed by Urban Empowerment Action: Randolph Bracy, who is running for the seat vacated by Florida Representative Val Demings, who is running for the US Senate; and Sydney Kamlager, who is running in a Los Angeles-area neighborhood that is being evacuated by Rep. Karen Bass, who is running for mayor of Los Angeles.
Another Urban Empowerment Action endorser, Nykea Pippion-McGriff, is in a crowded primary race to replace Rep. Bobby Rush, a retiring Chicago-area Democrat.
Tlaib, in particular, is the only incumbent that the new PAC seeks to overthrow. She immediately framed Urban Empowerment Action’s decision to target her as an outside attempt to remove her for her pro-Palestinian outlook. Tlaib is Palestinian American.
“We will work harder than those who don’t want to see someone like me serve in the US Congress,” she said on Twitter. “No one will intimidate me and stop me from telling the truth.”
Tlaib and a number of other progressives, led by Sen. Bernie Sanders, the Jewish lawmaker from Vermont who has twice run for the Democratic presidential nomination, have asked Democrats to pledge not to accept the super PAC money.
These progressives have argued that super PACs, including the AIPAC-affiliated United Democracy Project, are distorting democracy through unlimited spending, and that the AIPAC PAC has endorsed dozens of Republicans who refused to certify the election. of Joe Biden for president. AIPAC notes that its PAC has backed a number of progressives, as well as moderate Democrats and Republicans.
For years, Sellers has been close to the pro-Israel community and has attended AIPAC conferences. In his Politico interview, he said Urban Empowerment’s focus is on maintaining the black presence in Congress, in part by ensuring that black incumbents who leave the House are replaced by blacks.
Tlaib replaced a longtime black congressman, John Conyers, who resigned in a scandal. Representative Brenda Lawrence, the state’s only black congresswoman, is retiring, and the state with one of the nation’s largest African-American communities may soon be without a black representative in Congress, Sellers noted. .
“We want people elected to Congress who focus on and understand the plight of African Americans and its upliftment,” Sellers said.