ATLANTA — Presenting itself as empowering the Black community, a new political action committee (PAC) with corporate and pro-Israel ties hopes to spend millions to defeat progressives.
In announcing its launch late last month, the Urban Empowerment Action (UEA) PAC endorsed five Black Democrats with Israel-lobby-friendly positions: Georgia Rep. Nikema Williams, California state Sen. Sydney Kamlager, Florida state Sen. Randolph Bracy, Nykea Pippion-McGriff in Illinois, and Janice Winfrey in Michigan.
The Super PAC’s key race is against Democratic Michigan Rep. Rashida Tlaib. The group said it aims to spend $1 million in advertising to bolster her opponent, Winfrey, emphasizing Winfrey’s campaign to “support the Biden-Harris agenda.”
“Outside Super PAC ads do not win elections; direct voter contact does,” Denzel McCampbell, a spokesperson for Tlaib’s reelection campaign, told Politico, adding: “If our opponent truly does care about our democracy, I hope that she will immediately disavow and condemn this type of Big Money attack on our democracy that only seeks to mislead voters and distort reality.”
Tlaib has been a fervent critic of President Joe Biden. She voted “no” on his infrastructure bill and has lambasted Biden for his lack of climate protection legislation. She has also spoken out against Israel’s occupation of Palestine. The only Palestinian-American in Congress, Tlaib has denounced Israel’s possible inclusion in the United States’ Visa Waiver Program and recently introduced legislation recognizing the Nakba – meaning “catastrophe” in Arabic – and referencing the Zionist ethnic cleansing of Palestine before and during Israel’s establishment.
“With Islamophobia on the rise, it is disgraceful to single out the only Palestinian member of Congress, who is a civil rights lawyer and represents one of the most Arab-American districts,” Waleed Shahid, the spokesperson for Justice Democrats, a PAC focused on electing progressive Democrats, said in a tweet.
In an interview with Politico, television pundit and former Democratic politician Bakari Sellers, who has endorsed and is fundraising for the UEA PAC, said Tlaib’s comments on Israel are not the PAC’s “primary focus” but “[i]t’s definitely high up on the list.” Sellers did not respond to MintPress News’ request for an interview.
UEA’s political agenda
Tlaib responded to the PAC’s exorbitant spending on Twitter, noting its strong Wall Street backing. “Yet another Wall Street billionaire-funded Super PAC running interference in local races, spending millions to peddle lies and distortions, pushing a pro-corporate agenda on a district that has consistently stood against the corporate greed hurting our families,” she said in a tweet.
UEA PAC says its “supporters include a broad coalition of Black and Jewish business, political and civic leaders” and its mission is to “ultimately help eliminate the wealth, income and opportunity gap between Black and white Americans by electing solutions-oriented leaders to Congress.”
But the group’s disclosed donor list appears contradictory to its objectives. UEA PAC has raised a little over $152,000, with the highest amount — $76,355.60 — coming from New York-based hedge fund Third Point LLC, which was founded by multi-billionaire investor Daniel S. Loeb, who regularly conducts business in Israel.
The PAC has also received $15,000 from a Google executive and a Google attorney. Striving for a Better New York – a PAC established by Rev. Alfred Cockfield II, whose goal is to elect moderate candidates in state elections – gave UEA PAC $10,000. Striving for a Better New York’s filings reveal significant backing from Republicans, business owners, and supporters of Donald Trump.
UEA PAC did not respond to requests for an interview.
According to campaign data tracker OpenSecrets, the PAC’s main contributor, Loeb, has donated to mostly Republican candidates and committees, including Republican Congress members Mike Garcia, Kevin McCarthy and Burgess Owens, all of whom voted to overturn the 2020 election results.
Loeb, who is Jewish, has also given $125,000 to the pro-Israel PAC Democratic Majority for Israel (DMFI), and backed the New York Solidarity Network, a political action group supporting pro-Israel candidates in state and local elections. His foundation has made grants to several pro-Israel groups, including the Anti-Defamation League, Birthright Israel Foundation, Passages America Israel, Friends of Israel Defense Forces, the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, and Friends of Ir David, which supports the Israeli settler organization Elad.
Sellers, as well, is deeply allied with the Israel lobby. He has attended several conferences hosted by the lobby’s flagship group, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), and was friends with late American billionaire Sheldon Adelson, who was known for his pro-Israel donations. He also describes himself as a Zionist.
During his work as a state representative, Sellers was integral in passing the so-called Standing with Israel resolution in South Carolina in 2011. The legislation certifies the Zionist claim that the land of Palestine was “God-given” to the Jewish people and “recogniz[es] that Israel is neither an attacking force nor an occupier of the lands of others.”
Stifling support for Palestine?
UEA PAC’s launch statement doesn’t mention Israel but media analysts have postulated that the group is another Israel lobby affiliate set on squashing support for Palestinian rights among the Black community. UEA PAC’s endorsed candidates hold positions aligned with those of Israel’s advocates. As an example, in a position paper sent to the Jewish Insider, Winfrey outlined her support for Israel, writing, “America’s support to Israel should be unwavering.”
Winfrey advocates for the U.S. to continue providing military aid to Israel and condemns the United Nations, International Criminal Court and the Palestinian-led Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement as terrorist organizations, writing:
[T]heir efforts are intended to weaken and delegitimize the Jewish State. The United States has an obligation to continue to cut off funding and support for these terrorist organizations and ensure that the world continues to recognize them as terrorist organizations.”
Other candidates share similar views. Williams traveled to Israel in 2018 on an AIPAC-affiliated tour. Sen. Kamlager told Jewish Insider that she would vote to continue funding Israel’s Iron Dome missile-defense system and that she rejects the BDS movement. And Sen. Bracy received an endorsement from pro-Israel PAC DMFI in January. Bracy thanked the organization on Twitter, writing: “The U.S.-Israel relationship is more important than ever. I look forward to going to Congress to work to strengthen the partnership between the U.S. and Israel.”
Solidarity between Palestinians and Black Americans has a long history that has waxed and waned over the decades. The Black community first championed Zionism and the creation of the Israeli state, seeing these events as an oppressed minority finally acquiring self-determination after near extermination. American Jewish involvement in the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s deepend Black Americans’ validation of Zionism.
This changed, however, after Israel occupied East Jerusalem, the West Bank, and Gaza in 1967. With this development, many Black activists empathized with Palestinians. This grassroots solidarity softened by the 1980s, as the revolutionary spirit of the previous decade dwindled. Today, there’s a renewed sense of solidarity between the two peoples with the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement. This reenergized connection between Black and Palestinian liberation could be what groups like UEA PAC are intent on suppressing.
“It speaks to the weakness of Black politics,” Margaret Kimberly, co-founder and executive editor of Black Agenda Report told MintPress News. “It’s part of a larger problem of money diminishing Black politics.”
Kimberly explained that the Israel lobby isn’t targeting the average Black voter but rather the elected officials to make sure they toe the line.
“They don’t care about how the individual Black voter feels about Israel. They just want to use their money to get people in place who maintain the status quo,” Kimberley said. “And if they can target someone prominent like the [Tlaib] all the better.”
The Israel lobby in this year’s midterms
Israel has always been a key talking point in American elections — sometimes without even uttering the state’s name. The upcoming congressional midterm elections stand as an example of this campaign tactic, with AIPAC’s new super-PAC, the United Democracy Project, spending millions on attack ads without referencing Israel.
As with the UEA PAC, Israel isn’t, as Sellers said, “the primary focus.” Front-facing, Israel is wiped from the campaign trail because — as previously reported by MintPress News — it just isn’t popular. Israel lobby experts surmise human rights organizations’ recent labeling of Israel as an apartheid state has made it even less favorable in the limelight. So with this criticism of Israel increasing in the Democratic Party, the Israel lobby is finding new ways to stay relevant.
With the emergence of pro-Israel PACs like DMFI, AIPAC’s entities, and now UEA, Israel nationalists in the U.S. are countering the pushback simply by pumping money into elections. Only November will reveal whether Wall Street-bankrolled campaigns are enough to change public opinion.
Feature photo | MintPress News | Associated Press
Jessica Buxbaum is a Jerusalem-based journalist for MintPress News covering Palestine, Israel, and Syria. Her work has been featured in Middle East Eye, The New Arab and Gulf News.