1. Home
  2. Politics
  3. world
  4. news
  5. How one 'Squad' member avoided an avalanche of pro-Israel money

How one 'Squad' member avoided an avalanche of pro-Israel money

Bryan Metzger   

How one 'Squad' member avoided an avalanche of pro-Israel money
  • When Summer Lee ran for Congress in 2022, she had to battle a wave of pro-Israel spending.
  • That didn't happen this year, despite her initially appearing to be a top target.

Going into this year, Rep. Summer Lee seemed likely to be a top target for pro-Israel groups.

The first-term "Squad" member won the 2022 Democratic primary for her Pittsburgh-area House seat by less than 1,000 votes after facing down millions of dollars in outside spending from a super PAC affiliated with the The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC).

But that level of spending didn't materialize again this year, and Lee handily defeated Democratic primary opponent Bhavini Patel on Tuesday.

Both AIPAC and another key pro-Israel group, Democratic Majority for Israel (DMFI), opted to stay out of the primary. But that doesn't mean other progressives will go unscathed.

"The national pro-Israel community did not engage in this race, which means it's not really a serious test," DMFI President Mark Mellman told the Washington Post. "But there will be tests yet to come."

Pro-Israel groups have become the biggest opponents of progressives in Democratic primaries

The rise of the progressive left — spurred by Sen. Bernie Sanders's presidential campaigns and accelerated by shock victories by politicians like Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez — has brought with it a cohort of Democratic politicians who are more critical of Israel and sympathetic toward Palestinians.

That's increasingly been a challenge for groups like AIPAC, who have long worked to maintain a bipartisan consensus around support for Israel through lobbying and political fundraising.

Those groups began fighting back in 2020 and 2022, drawing on the support of deep-pocketed donors — many of which Republicans — to try to block progressive candidates from winning Democratic primaries across the country.

One of those progressive candidates was Lee, who was elected to the Pennsylvania State House in 2018 with the backing of the Democratic Socialists of America. Pro-Israel groups spent money against Lee not just in the primary, but in the general election as well.

Why that didn't happen this year

Lee, who called for a cease-fire soon after the October 7 Hamas attacks, initially seemed vulnerable in part due to anger from the local Jewish community in Squirrel Hill, where the Tree of Life Synagogue mass shooting took place in 2018.

That congregation's rabbi, along with several others, signed two different letters to the congresswoman denouncing her rhetoric on Israel.

But the politics of Israel within the Democratic Party shifted significantly in the intervening months, in large part due to the brutality of Israel's war in Gaza, which has killed more than 30,000 Palestinians.

The progressive forces backing Lee also ended up being stronger than those hoping to defeat her.

Lee's opponent Patel did receive roughly $612,000 in outside spending from a super PAC bankrolled by GOP billionaire Jeff Yass, a significant investor in TikTok's parent company. But that only proved to be a boon for Lee and her allies, who blasted Patel for benefiting from a GOP megadonor's largesse.

Meanwhile, progressive groups supporting Lee spent nearly $710,000, and on Sunday, Ocasio-Cortez came to Pittsburgh to rally with Lee.

Lastly, Lee — despite being significantly to the left of President Joe Biden — aligned herself closely with the president's agenda, including running on over $1 billion in federal funding that she helped deliver to the district, much of which was originally allocated under the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.

That helped the congresswoman neutralize attacks from Patel, who sought to paint Lee as being insufficient loyal to Biden. The president even shouted out the congresswoman as one of the "folks who've had my back" during a recent visit to the city.

Popular Right Now