Sanders declares “war” on GOP-backing billionaire-funded group pouring dark money into Dem primaries

"They are doing everything they can to destroy the progressive movement in this country," Sanders warns

Published May 24, 2022 5:00AM (EDT)

Sen. Bernie Sanders (Win McNamee/Getty Images)
Sen. Bernie Sanders (Win McNamee/Getty Images)

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Sen. Bernie Sanders doubled down on his criticism of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee and its newly created super PAC on Friday, telling "The New York Times" that the powerful anti-Palestinian rights lobbying group's foray into Democratic primary politics is threatening the future of the party and of U.S. democracy.

As "Common Dreams" reported last week, AIPAC's super PAC, United Democracy Project (UDP), is spending heavily in several Democratic primary races to defeat progressives who support Palestinian rights and are critical of the billions of dollars in U.S. funding that goes to the Israeli military annually.

AIPAC's spending in key races in North Carolina, Texas, Pennsylvania, and other states is in service of the group's goal "to create a two-party system, Democrats and Republicans, in which both parties are responsive to the needs of corporate America and the billionaire class," Sanders told the "Times".

"This is a war for the future of the Democratic Party," the Vermont independent senator added. "They are doing everything they can to destroy the progressive movement in this country."

UDP has focused much of its spending this primary season on the race between progressive Pennsylvania state Rep. Summer Lee and former Republican attorney Steve Irwin—pouring $2.3 million into ad campaigns including one which accused Lee of being disloyal to the Democratic Party, only to have Lee narrowly defeat her opponent.

That attack ad garnered outrage from progressives including Sanders, who pointed out that the group has also donated to dozens of Republicans who objected to certifying the 2020 presidential election results.

"Why would an organization go around criticizing someone like Summer Lee for not being a strong enough Democrat when they themselves have endorsed extreme right-wing Republicans?" Sanders said to the "Times".

UDP also spent $2 million helping North Carolina state Sen. Valerie Foushee defeat Nida Allam, a former organizer for Sanders, and is currently spending $1.8 million to help right-wing Democratic Rep. Henry Cuellar keep his seat in Texas' 28th District.

Cuellar is the only Democrat in the House who supports forcing Americans to continue unwanted pregnancies and is a staunch opponent of the Green New Deal, while his challenger, immigration attorney Jessica Cisneros, supports abortion rights, climate action, and Palestinian rights.

At "The Nation" on Friday, Sunrise Movement organizer Ezra Oliff-Lieberman wrote that as UDP works to defeat progressive Democrats, "the damage to our democracy that they are willing to accept along the way is shameful—and revealing."

"This isn't just about Israel—everything is at stake in these elections," wrote Oliff-Lieberman. "The future of our democracy, abortion rights, and our ability to avert climate catastrophe are all on the line this year."

AIPAC and its allies are playing an "extremely dangerous game," added historian Jacob Remes, by "using Republican money to buy Democratic primaries for candidates who oppose reproductive freedom, clean energy, and universal healthcare, all to 'support Israel.'"

Remes added that critics like Sanders, who is Jewish, threaten AIPAC and other pro-Israel groups because they "actually represent the majority of U.S. Jews (especially U.S. Jewish Democrats), so they expose AIPAC as actually representing Republicans and Christian zionists."

The Progressive Congressional Campaign Committee (PCCC) applauded Sanders for speaking out against AIPAC and UDP's efforts to misinform voters about progressive candidates.

"It's time for Democratic leadership to speak up and condemn this," said the PCCC.

By Julia Conley

Julia Conley is a staff writer for Common Dreams.

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