The most expensive congressional primary election ever ended in Westchester County with the lopsided defeat of socialist incumbent Jamaal Bowman by George Latimer, who has held various local and state posts. The election, which got so contentious that it was hard to remember that it was a Democratic primary, garnered national attention because it appeared to be the first time a member of the congressional “Squad” would face defeat. 

Bowman, first elected in 2020, drew considerable attention and criticism, even from his socialist comrades, who briefly exiled him from the Squad in 2021 when he appeared soft on Israel after visiting the country and meeting with then-prime minister Naftali Bennett. In 2023, he was filmed in the Capitol rotunda hollering about how his Republican colleagues were “cowards” on the issue of guns. “Children are dying!” he screamed at Congressman Thomas Massie. Later that year, Capitol security cameras caught him pulling a fire alarm, evidently to delay the progress of a vote.

Even before his election in 2020, Bowman’s rhetoric on Israel was tendentious and ugly. “Just as the police force is a violent intimidating force in so many black communities,” Bowman wrote, echoing a common argument made by the police abolition movement, “I can connect to what it feels like for Palestinians to feel the presence of the military in their daily lives in the West Bank.” After the October 7 Hamas attack on Israel, Bowman emerged as one of the most dedicated opponents of Israel in mainstream American politics. At a rally in White Plains in November 2023, he proclaimed that “There was propaganda used at the beginning of the siege, and there is still no evidence of beheaded babies or raped women, but they still keep using that lie.” He continued to minimize Hamas atrocities until, confronted by UN reports offering evidence of their reality, he backed off his rape denial just before the election. 

The campaign came down to the question of “AIPAC money,” or campaign contributions from groups affiliated with the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee. Bowman and his surrogates harped on the influx of money from “AIPAC and their Republican billionaires.” At a rally in the Bronx a few days before the vote, Bowman’s fellow representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez swore to “take on AIPAC and kick some Wall Street ass!” The socialist stalwart continued, “these Wall Street people don’t give a damn about us. AIPAC doesn’t give a damn about us. AIPAC doesn’t give a damn about the Bronx. They don’t give a damn about Westchester.” Senator Bernie Sanders denounced the “billionaire class and their greed,” and Bowman repeated his new catchphrase: “It’s the many against the money!” 

Railing against money in politics is a quaint theme for Democrats these days. Decades ago, the Democratic Party regularly bemoaned the baleful influence of big money on elections, but we almost never hear about that anymore. It’s no mystery why: the Democrats became the party of big money. Almost every national election cycle sees Democrats outspend Republicans by hundreds of millions of dollars, and the “billionaire class” largely supported Hillary Clinton in 2016 and Joe Biden in 2020. Moreover, megadonors like Michael Bloomberg and George Soros have poured billions of dollars into building Left institutional power through groups such as the Open Society and Everytown, among others.

And that’s why the incessant emphasis on AIPAC has ugly overtones. AIPAC-related groups did indeed spend a great deal of money opposing Bowman’s reelection, but it doesn’t require paranoid hypersensitivity to note that constant repetition of “AIPAC money” in the current climate of rising anti-Semitism is more than just a “dog whistle” about Jewish wealth. It’s a howling siren. 

Bowman pushed his anti-Zionism well into anti-Semitism by criticizing Jewish clannishness. “In New York City we all live together,” Bowman told Politico. “[But] Westchester is segregated. There’s certain places where the Jews live and concentrate. Scarsdale, parts of White Plains, parts of New Rochelle, Riverdale. I’m sure they made a decision to do that for their own reasons . . . but this is why, in terms of fighting antisemitism, I always push—we’ve been separated and segregated and miseducated for so long. We need to live together, play together, go to school together, learn together, work together.”

The implication, that Jews ought to forgo their particularity and emphasis on community for the good of wider society sounds like something out of Marx’s “On the Jewish Question,” in which Bowman’s ideological grandfather argued, “In the final analysis, the emancipation of the Jews is the emancipation of mankind from Judaism. . . . The Jew is perpetually created by civil society from its own entrails.” Revolution demands the exorcism of the old gods, but for obscure reasons, it’s necessary that the Jews commit suicide first.

Jamaal Bowman will now exit elected office, but the schism within the Democratic Party that his defeat exemplifies will haunt the party. Support for Israel has become a bright line for both sides—the traditional liberal Democrats, who are pro, and the rising radical tide of new Democrats, who are not just anti, but fervently so. Palestine/Israel has emerged as the defining issue of the Democratic left wing.

Many have suggested that the 2024 Democratic National Convention to be held this summer in Chicago might resemble the famously contentious scene in 1968, when anti-Vietnam War protesters rioted in the streets and battled Mayor Richard J. Daley’s police. But in 1968, the protests occurred outside the convention hall. This year, we will see pro-Hamas AIPAC vilifiers inside the hall as credentialed delegates. Bowman vs. Latimer hasn’t seen its last round. It is the Democratic Party’s future.

Photo by Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images


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