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JUNE 9, 2022
Will AIPAC Crush One of Congress’s Most Prominent Jewish Democrats?
Former union organizer and synagogue president Andy Levin is being challenged by AIPAC and other pro-Israel groups, largely over his progressive views.
In the early weeks of the 2022 Democratic primary cycle, no development has been more consequential than the rise of richly funded pro-Israel groups spending millions of dollars in House races to crush progressives and boost moderates, especially in open seats. Their record so far has been largely successful—candidates backed by Democratic Majority for Israel PAC and AIPAC’s United Democracy Project have won high-priced contests in North Carolina and Ohio, and barely fell short of taking out Summer Lee in Pennsylvania in a race she was winning by 30 points at one stage.

The same groups have unleashed attack ads against progressive Rep. Marie Newman in her incumbent-on-incumbent race against pro–climate change moderate Rep. Sean Casten in Illinois. But maybe the most fascinating race pro-Israel groups look set to train their considerable money on is Michigan’s 11th District, another of the small handful of incumbent-on-incumbent Democratic races brought by redistricting. Rep. Andy Levin has lived in the newly drawn 11th District for most of his life; Rep. Haley Stevens, who has represented the old 11th District, moved there in November 2021.

Already, Democratic Majority for Israel, AIPAC, and Pro-Israel America, another bipartisan pro-Israel group, have endorsed Stevens, and AIPAC has raised substantial money on her behalf. In March, the group had contributed about $2,900 to Stevens’s campaign directly and bundled $280,000 in individual contributions earmarked for her campaign, making her a top Democratic recipient of AIPAC money. The group’s political action arm has also raised money for a slate of politicians that includes a number of Michigan Republicans, and has endorsed over 100 GOP members who voted against certifying the 2020 presidential election results.

Another fundraiser of Jewish supporters, including some AIPAC affiliates, raised another $380,000 on Stevens’s behalf.

What makes those endorsements and fundraising so stunning is not the dollar value; it’s the fact that Levin, the candidate they are opposing, is Jewish, while Stevens, whom they support, is not. And Levin is not merely of Jewish heritage. He’s a prominent Jewish leader in the community, and a member of one of the most prominent Jewish families in Michigan Democratic politics. Levin’s father Sander Levin, whom Andy succeeded in the House in 2019, represented the Jewish community north of Detroit from the early 1980s. His uncle, the late Carl Levin, served as a Michigan senator between 1979 and 2015.

Until his election to Congress in 2018, Andy Levin was the president of his synagogue, Congregation T’chiyah in the Detroit suburbs, as well as chair of the steering committee of Detroit Jews for Justice.

So far in the Democratic primary cycle, pro-Israel groups have spent millions of dollars to boost moderate candidates and hobble progressive ones, often in races where Israel played little to no role in the campaign. In certain instances, those PACs have spent lavishly to elevate moderate Jewish candidates: In Pennsylvania’s 12th District, United Democracy Project, AIPAC’s newest super PAC, spent over $4 million to boost the moderate Steve Irwin, who is Jewish, over Black progressive Summer Lee, in a race that Lee eked out. In other races, those groups have spent to boost moderates where neither candidate is Jewish. But Michigan’s 11th District marks the first instance this year where these deep-pocketed pro-Israel groups have targeted a Jewish politician in favor of a non-Jewish one.

It’s not the first time that pro-Israel groups have put Jewish candidates in their crosshairs. Democratic Majority for Israel PAC opposed Bernie Sanders in the 2020 Democratic presidential primary, and even unsuccessfully opposed Rep. Sara Jacobs, a Jew, in favor of non-Jewish candidate Georgette Gómez in the 2020 primary in California’s 53rd District.

But Sanders has famously spoken little of his Jewish heritage during his political career. Not so for Levin, who on top of his involvement with his synagogue, sports broad support amongst Jewish groups. Over 100 Jewish leaders, activists, and rabbis published a letter in support of Levin attesting to that fact: Levin’s “connection to Jewish identity and community have served as a touchstone for him,” the letter states. “We believe Andy is well equipped to lead in the fight against antisemitism, white nationalism and other forms of bigotry and hate wherever they arise.”

Levin is likely being targeted by AIPAC and others not merely for his progressive bona fides and sponsorship of Medicare for All, but for authoring the Two-State Solution Act, a bill that would prohibit the use of American military aid for the demolition of Palestinian homes or the further Israeli annexation of the West Bank or Gaza, and reverses a handful of Trump administration decisions to sever diplomatic ties with Palestine. It also funds peace-building initiatives in the region. Attacking a Jewish pro-peace congressmember, in this case, just happens to dovetail with supporting a moderate over a progressive.

The race looks likely to bring in the Congressional Black Caucus as well, another group that has taken interest in races where progressives might be vulnerable to being knocked off. Rep. Joyce Beatty, chair of the CBC, has endorsed Stevens in the race. Stevens is also not Black.

Stevens and Levin were roped together into Michigan’s 11th thanks to redistricting, and some moderate Democrats criticized Levin in the press for not vacating the new district, which is safely Democratic and consists entirely of Oakland County, and running in a more Republican neighboring region like MI-10. But it’s Stevens who sports a record that’s thoroughly out of step with the liberal base in MI-11, a district she just moved to a handful of months ago (moving, in fact, from MI-10).

Stevens was a vocal advocate of President Trump’s signature trade deal, the USMCA, and then touted the support of lobbying groups and business alliances who cheered her for supporting its passage, including the Livonia Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers, the lobbying group credited with pushing the 2018 Trump tax cuts across the finish line. She received $2 million worth of support from Michael Bloomberg in 2018 that helped her eke out her win against Republican Dave Trott; no surprise, she was an enthusiastic endorser of Bloomberg in the 2020 presidential primary.

Stevens’s spotty record on workers and wages goes beyond that. As The Intercept reported, Stevens teamed up with Republicans to weaken House Democrats’ $15-minimum-wage bill in 2019, acting as “the only Democrat on the Education and Labor Committee who joined Republicans in voting for two controversial amendments: one which would have exempted millions of workers employed by small businesses from the wage increase, and another which threatened to nullify the legislation altogether if a Government Accountability Office report found that the wage increases would contribute significantly to job automation.” The bill never became law. Before she got to Congress, she worked as disgraced financier Steve Rattner’s chief of staff, helping institute the two-tier wage and benefit system as part of the auto bailout that resulted in union autoworkers still being worse off in terms of income in 2018 than they were before the Great Recession.

Levin, meanwhile, has been at the forefront of a handful of unionization efforts. He spearheaded the successful effort to allow congressional staffers to unionize, which passed the House in May, and traveled to Bessemer, Alabama, in support of the Amazon union drive last March, which kicked off a wave of union activity in the country that President Biden has endorsed. Stevens, on the other hand, has received a maximum donation from Amazon’s corporate PAC.

With just under eight weeks until the election, it’s likely that there is big money on the way in the form of independent expenditures from United Democracy PAC and DMFI PAC. Already AIPAC has been tweeting at Levin regularly, impugning his record in a way that leaders of other Jewish groups have called untrue. Specifically, AIPAC has said that Levin wants to “divide Jerusalem.” Even the Jewish Democratic Council of America, which is supporting Stevens in the race, called that a lie that was “needlessly divisive, counterproductive & blatantly false.”

Thanks in part to the bundling help from AIPAC, Stevens holds a sizable fundraising advantage, raising $1.1 million in the year’s first quarter compared to $767,268 for Levin. She has $2.8 million on hand; Levin has just $1.5 million. It’s very likely that there will soon be millions of dollars in independent expenditures put toward blanketing TV, digital, and radio with anti-Levin messaging as well. Progressive Jewish groups like J Street, which has endorsed Levin, will have to spend considerably to offset the coming impact.

Losing Levin, one of the most vocally pro-union Democrats, at a moment when union activity is at a high and the Democratic president has called himself “the most pro-union president leading the most pro-union administration in American history,” would be a disastrous look for the party, especially in a crucial, union-dense swing state like Michigan. It would also mark the most consequential triumph for those pro-Israel super PACs in the cycle so far, using millions in ad buys and fundraising to take out a member closely allied with the White House in a district with solidly liberal leanings. It would be the strongest proof yet of the efficacy of unlimited spending in politics, and its ability to deliver political outcomes.

Will today’s unions invest big-time in the young workers now beginning to rebuild American labor? Or will they remain AWOL and ensure the movement’s continued decline? BY STEVEN GREENHOUSE, HAROLD MEYERSON
Biden's New Favorite Industrial-Policy Tool Isn't Funded
The DPA has become the president’s pet executive authority, and could kick-start American energy manufacturing. But funding is scant and largely controlled by the Pentagon. BY LEE HARRIS
Can Democrats Keep Georgia Blue?
Stacey Abrams, Raphael Warnock, and Black Lives Matter activists are teaming up to consolidate Biden’s 2020 victory. BY ELI DAY
Greg Casar Superstar?
The organizer, groundbreaking Austin policymaker, and congressional nominee plans to be the House’s ‘most pro-labor’ member. BY GUS BOVA
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