AIPAC spent millions to achieve a pyrrhic victory

AIPAC spent millions to achieve a pyrrhic victory

Ben Davis writes:

Sometimes, a major electoral victory is a sign of a movement in retreat and a crumbling consensus. Take California’s gay marriage ban in 2008, at the time seen as a major defeat for gay rights advocates. But the victory of Prop 8 hid the underlying shift: the very fact that gay rights, unthinkable even a few years prior, was a polarized electoral issue showed that anti-gay rights forces were losing in the long term. The same is true here and now, about Israel and Palestine.

The fundamentals of this race were poor for the left. New York’s suburban 16th congressional district would never be a progressive target in a vacuum, containing some of the nation’s wealthiest communities. Redistricting cleaved many of the working-class communities of color that powered Bowman’s 2020 primary win, and even that was in large part due to incumbent Eliot Engel’s chronic absenteeism from the district. Beyond that, Bowman had several compounding low-level mistakes and scandals that could easily be hammered home to voters, like pulling the fire alarm at the Capitol or his controversial hip-hop lyrics. Beyond that, Latimer is a popular politician who has represented most of the district’s voters for years. Add in more money than any group has ever spent on a congressional primary by an enormous margin, and you have the conditions for a win.

But the fact that this win, and this amount of spending, was even necessary should give advocates of Israel serious pause. The election represents Aipac’s attempt to rebuild a dam that has already broken. The water is out.

The linchpin of their strategy for decades was to make support for Israel a third rail. By successfully building up universal support for Israel beyond the divides of partisan politics, Aipac and Israel’s other supporters in the US were able to successfully create a political culture with hard boundaries on the limits of acceptable speech. In the halls of Congress, discourse around Israel fell within these limits, represented by liberal groups like J Street, where a degree of sympathy for Palestinian people and criticism of rightwing figures of the Israeli state were acceptable for progressive Democrats, but questioning the basic logic undergirding the status quo was outside the bounds of permissible speech, and met with moral opprobrium.

This universal consensus undergirded Aipac’s strategy in the US for decades. That is no longer the case. Before 2018, zero members of Congress could plausibly be considered actively pro-Palestine, and that didn’t seem like it would change. But the dam burst, and starting with the elections of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, and, in particular, Rashida Tlaib, there were for the first time critics of Israel that brought a perspective outside of the established consensus, and to the left of J Street. While once a fringe position, support for Palestine and criticism of Israel is now mainstream among the American public. It will continue to exist in Congress, no matter how much money is spent. There are now millions of Americans who have heard this perspective and agree with it. The era of complete Aipac consensus is over for good. [Continue reading…]

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