How Jamaal Bowman Blew Up His Own Coalition

Jamaal Bowman has decided to close out his race for the Democratic nomination in New York’s 16th Congressional District by running as if his opponent is named “AIPAC.” At a weekend rally, he shouted, “We’re going to show fucking AIPAC the power of the motherfucking South Bronx” (which is where the rally was held, but it’s not part of his district).

One explanation for this peculiar strategic choice is that Bowman is trying to boost his base by heightening its ideological and socioeconomic fault lines to the point that it would propel him outside its geographic boundaries. Another is that Bowman, who was found in the last poll to be trailing by 17 points, grasps his imminent defeat and is already positioning himself for a job at a professional protest organization by branding AIPAC as the author of his defeat.

But the theory that makes the most sense to me is Bowman has simply gotten so carried away with the logic of progressive-movement politics that he’s lost all sight of the practical opportunities to build an electoral coalition rooted in the liberal side of the intra-Jewish debate. (This is also the broad theory of the case suggested by Daniel Marans in his outstanding reported analysis of the race.)

The role of AIPAC, a pro-Israel lobbying organization, has dominated coverage of the race between Bowman and current Westchester county executive George Latimer. And it is true that AIPAC has ploughed a fortune into the race in hopes of defeating Bowman, who has staked out increasingly hostile positions since October 7.

But AIPAC also spent heavily against Bowman when he first ran and won, unseating longtime Israel champion Elliot Engel in 2020. The same reason Bowman overcame the impact of AIPAC spending four years ago, but faces an uphill struggle to do so now, is that he has moved significantly to the left on Israel. As a result of that continued shift, he drew an attractive challenger, Latimer, into the race, compounding his challenge.

The easiest way to measure the change is that in 2020, Bowman had J Street’s endorsement. J Street is a liberal pro-Israel group that has a fraction of AIPAC’s budget and also lacks its decades of institutional ties to the Jewish community. But J Street, which believes in the two-state solution and assigns Israel’s government a large share of the blame for its failure to materialize, represents a significant and growing share of Jewish opinion.

This year, J Street withdrew its endorsement of Bowman. That devastating move followed a series of comments Bowman had made that aligned himself with left-wing protesters rather than with liberal Zionists. The final straw was Bowman’s appearance with Norman Finkelstein, a hyperbolic critic of Israel and author of The Holocaust Industry: Reflections on the Exploitation of Jewish Suffering. That episode, which Bowman did apologize for, followed a long string of comments, including a podcast where he stated, “The money to Israel is part of supporting another settler colonial project, which Israel is.” The phrase “settler colonial project” evokes an antisemitic left-wing theory.

The tragedy of Bowman’s alienation from liberal Jewish opinion is that he squandered what was once a viable opportunity to recast the community’s political orientation.

Despite its budget, AIPAC’s claim to represent Jewish opinion is truly vulnerable. Many American Jews, like a vocal minority of Israel Jews, consider Benjamin Netanyahu’s one-state project a threat to Israel’s long-term survival. AIPAC supports the position of whatever government is in power in Israel, a method that definitionally excludes the possibility that Israel’s own government might pose a threat to itself. In the past, when Labor and Likud regularly traded power in Israel, AIPAC’s ecumenical stance made it somewhat agnostic on whether Israel should pursue peace with the Palestinians. The right’s grip on the Israeli electorate over the past 15 years has turned AIPAC into a functionally conservative organization.

The political opportunity Bowman seized four years ago, and has now squandered, was to position himself as an advocate of J Street–style liberal Zionism. That is a viable niche in the Jewish community. But running against AIPAC and J Street is a formula for giving up on the Jewish vote.

One rough comparison would be how Black voters approach affirmative action. The community’s opinion is more splintered than one might think based on the position of advocacy organizations — slightly more than half of Black Americans approved of the Supreme Court ruling striking down racial preferences in admissions. A Democrat who opposed racial preferences could probably compete for Black votes if they had other ties to the community to fall back on. A candidate who was obsessed with the evils of affirmative action, and tried to turn the race into a referendum on quotas, probably couldn’t. Liberal Jews who disagree with AIPAC are going to suspect that somebody who treats AIPAC as the greatest force for evil in the world is harboring deeper levels of hostility toward their community.

Bowman is a flawed candidate who’s made a series of weird statements and infamously pulled a fire alarm in Congress for reasons he’s struggled to explain but that appeared to be a ham-handed attempt to delay a vote. But Latimer, for all his polish, has hardly run a perfect race. His awkward characterizations of Bowman’s identity politics (“Does he have an obvious ethnic benefit? Yes.”) sound dated.

Latimer also committed what would in ordinary circumstances be a deadly gaffe when he came out against any tax increase on the rich. Here Latimer adopted a stance that is unpopular not just with Democratic-primary voters but the entire electorate. But despite making some efforts to exploit this wedge in their debate, Bowman has chosen instead to focus on AIPAC.

Bowman seems almost to crave political martyrdom. But if he does lose, it would be more accurate to attribute his demise to political suicide.

Source link

Related Articles

Do you run a company that want to build a new website and are looking for a web agency in Sweden that can do the job? At Partna you can get connected to experienced web agencies that are interested in helping you with your website development. Partna is an online service where you simply post your web development needs in order to get business offers from skilled web agencies in Sweden. Instead of reaching out to hundreds of agencies by yourself, let up to 5 web agencies come to you via Partna.
Back to top button