Candidates backed by AIPAC and J Street face off for first time

AIPAC-backed Don Davis beats J Street-backed Erica Smith in NC • The tables turn in PA

 A man fills out a ballot at a voting booth in Mt. Gilead, North Carolina, May 17, 2022.  (photo credit: SEAN RAYFORD/GETTY IMAGES)
A man fills out a ballot at a voting booth in Mt. Gilead, North Carolina, May 17, 2022.
(photo credit: SEAN RAYFORD/GETTY IMAGES)

WASHINGTON – Tuesday’s primaries in several key states marked the first time in which the American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s new political action committee went head-to-head against the J Street PAC in two House primaries: one in Pennsylvania and one in North Carolina.

In North Carolina, AIPAC-backed Don Davis beat J Street-backed Erica Smith, while in Pennsylvania, the J Street’s favored candidate, Summer Lee, declared victory over AIPAC’s preferred Steve Irwin, although as of this writing, the race was still too close to call.

In December, AIPAC surprised many people when it announced it would launch a PAC, moving to directly fund political campaigns. Thus, as the primaries are under way, the two groups find themselves for the first time contributing to hundreds of candidates across the country.

The primaries for North Carolina’s First Congressional District featured several candidates, with AIPAC backing Davis, a state senator representing the Fifth Senate District since 2013. J Street endorsed Smith, an engineer and politician who represented the North Carolina Senate District 3 from 2015 to 2021.

“J Street is proud to endorse Erica Smith in the race for #NC01,” the organization tweeted. “She’s exactly the kind of principled, passionate leader we need in Congress.”

Israel's Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz speaks at AIPAC in Washington, US, March 25, 2019. (credit: REUTERS/KEVIN LAMARQUE)Israel's Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz speaks at AIPAC in Washington, US, March 25, 2019. (credit: REUTERS/KEVIN LAMARQUE)

AIPAC sent a barb to J Street when it replied, “A natural J Street endorsement. Erica Smith is so ‘principled’ that she deleted her tweets on the 2021 Gaza war and voted against North Carolina’s bipartisan anti-BDS bill. Pro-Israel leaders stand with our Democratic ally and oppose the anti-Israel, anti-peace BDS campaign.”

The primaries in Pennsylvania’s 12th Congressional District featured five candidates. Progressive J Street-backed Lee and moderate, AIPAC-supported Irwin are still locked in a too-close-to-call race, as Lee led by 400 votes as of press time, and declared victory on Wednesday.

Pro-Israel groups sharply criticized Lee for tweets from May 2021 in which she wrote, “When I hear American pols use the refrain ‘Israel has the right to defend itself’ in response to undeniable atrocities on a marginalized ppl, I can’t help but think of how the west has always justified indiscriminate & disproportionate force & power on weakened & marginalized ppl.”

AIPAC said in a statement that the organization congratulates “three pro-Israel candidates who were victorious over their anti-Israel opponents in key House Democratic primary races. The winning pro-Israel candidates are Valerie Foushee in North Carolina’s Fourth District, Don Davis in North Carolina’s First District and Morgan McGarvey in Kentucky’s Third District.

“These results represent critical victories for candidates who are supporters of the US-Israel relationship and committed to strengthening the alliance. AIPAC’s PAC and AIPAC activists were deeply engaged in these campaigns because of the clear contrast between the candidates on issues of importance to the pro-Israel community.”

J Street president Jeremy Ben-Ami released a statement following Wednesday’s primary elections touting the “success of J Street-backed candidates in key states.” He noted, “AIPAC’s massive, unprecedented spending effort against principled progressive Summer Lee in PA-12 failed.

“On the other hand, AIPAC’s immense spending very clearly impacted two North Carolina districts, NC-01 and NC-04, where it spent well over $2 million in each race to defeat progressive Democratic candidates, dwarfing the money spent by the candidates themselves and other outside groups,” said Ben-Ami. “This kind of overwhelming outside spending – driven by a hawkish, right-wing foreign policy agenda that is completely out of touch with most Democratic voters – deeply challenges the underpinnings of America’s political system.”