Will Squad Member Jamaal Bowman Go Out In a Blaze of $22 Million?

Lucas Jackson/Reuters
Lucas Jackson/Reuters

Sunday found embattled Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-NY) at a thunderous rally in the Bronx along with Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and Sen. Bernie Sanders.

The hoarse, sweating Bowman looked to be feeling the heat, not just from the seething crowd and feverish June afternoon, but from a recent poll showing him 17 points behind his Democratic primary rival. And he scarcely shied away from what has become the defining issue of the race, the brutal Israeli military campaign in Gaza, and the independent organization spending big to unseat him.

“We are going to show fucking AIPAC the motherfucking power of the South Bronx,” the former high school principal cried, using the common acronym for the American-Israeli Public Affairs Committee. “We are not going to stand silent while U.S. tax dollars kills babies and women and children. My opponent supports genocide. My opponent and AIPAC are the ones destroying our democracy.”

The fiery rhetoric, and the decision to hold the rally outside of Bowman’s actual district—which does not include the South Bronx, but the northernmost fringes of New York City and much of suburban Westchester County—drew swift criticism on Twitter.

It’s also become typical in a race where the candidates’ indiscretions have provoked bitter character attacks. In January, The Daily Beast discovered Bowman had promoted 9/11 conspiracy theories during his pre-congressional career—then, in May, found that while in Congress he had followed an array of unhinged YouTube accounts that promoted everything from flat-earth content to claims about aliens and time travel to Chinese and Russian disinformation.

Meanwhile, his fierce criticism of Israel and AIPAC, culminating in a recent endorsement of the boycott, divestment, and sanctions movement—as well as remarks about several communities in his district where “the Jews live and concentrate”—have provoked allegations of anti-Semitism. The most visible and voluble of these have come from a political action committee AIPAC established, which has dumped more $14 million into the contest, making it the most expensive intra-party fight in U.S. history, with total spending topping $22 million across both camps and their supporters.

Bowman’s opponent, Westchester County Executive George Latimer, has hardly distinguished himself as an emblem of eloquence when discussing the awkward optics of being an older, white male challenger attempting to unseat a Black incumbent in a majority-minority district.

“Does he have an obvious ethnic benefit? Yes,” Latimer told Punchbowl News about Bowman in a recent interview.

When discussing his own support from some Black leaders in the area, Latimer asserted “I have major African Americans in positions of great importance”—and he inflamed some prominent Muslim-Americans when he attacked Bowman’s out-of-district fundraising and public appearances by asserting “your constituency is Dearborn, Michigan, your constituency is San Francisco, California.” The first community is home to a large Arab-American population.

Latimer has rejected Bowman’s characterization of Israel’s hugely destructive counter-attack on Hamas as a “genocide,” but also sought to steer the discussion away from foreign policy toward more mundane matters. But one of his key assertions, that Bowman’s rhetoric and left-wing stances—particularly his vote against President Joe Biden’s signature infrastructure bill for being insufficiently expansive—has provided an opening for Bowman to again accuse him of racism.

“The angry Black man! The angry Black man!” Bowman declared in a May forum. “It’s the Southern strategy in the North.”

The Latimer-Bowman contest, and the Israeli-Palestinian contest, are just the latest clash in the battle between the Democratic Party’s moderate and progressive elements that dates back to at least 2016. Fellow Squad Rep. Summer Lee (D-PA) crushed her primary opponent in April, while Rep. Cori Bush (D-MO) faces an AIPAC-supported challenge from prosecutor Wesley Bell in August.

As if to pull the roots of the long-running tensions to the surface, Hillary Clinton endorsed Latimer just a few weeks after Sanders formally backed Bowman.

Read more at The Daily Beast.

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