WASHINGTON — A Democratic primary for a House seat in Illinois is pitting a J Street candidate against a longtime incumbent who’s been an ally of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, also known as AIPAC.
The progressive upstart Marie Newman is challenging Rep. Dan Lipinski in Illinois’s 3rd District. Lipinski, who’s held that seat for more than a decade, is known as a blue-dog Democrat who opposes abortion rights and who, in 2015, was one of the few members of his party to vote against the Iran nuclear deal.
The liberal Mideast advocacy J Street group has pounced on the opportunity to unseat Lipinksi, who represents a generally liberal enclave including parts of Chicago and its nearby southwestern suburbs.
It’s also the same district where a noted Holocaust denier and former head of the American Nazi Party, Arthur Jones, is poised to become the GOP nominee for the seat, with no one else in his party challenging him.
Whoever wins the Democratic nomination on March 20 is therefore all but guaranteed to clinch the general election.
But J Street is hoping that if Newman wins, it can be a referendum on US President Donald Trump’s overt machinations to abrogate the landmark accord.
In an email last week to its supporters titled “He’s with Trump on the Iran deal. She’s with us,” J Street said of Lipinksi, “If we can defeat him in the primary, it will send a strong message to other members as President Trump seeks Congress’ help in gutting the greatest diplomatic achievement in a generation.”
The missive came from the group’s political action committee, which endorses candidates who support a two-state peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians and the preferred use of diplomacy over force. It also allows its supporters to donate directly to the candidate through its website.
Other progressive groups and figures lining up behind Newman include Planned Parenthood, the pro-LGBT Human Rights Campaign and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders.
Lipinski is not expressly endorsed by AIPAC in the race, as the powerful pro-Israel lobby does not “endorse or support political candidates,” an official with the group told The Times of Israel.
But he is backed by other PACS and individuals closely associated with AIPAC, which has often included him on its lists of members of Congress who supported Israel during times of crisis.
Robert Asher, a Chicago resident, was part of AIPAC’s famous board, known as “Gang of Four,” that transformed the organization in the 1970s and ’80s. He recently sent out an email to friends disparaging Newman and urging them to vote for Lipinski, whom he described as a “staunch supporter of Israel.”
Asher further lauded him for opposing the Iran deal and supporting the Israel Anti-Boycott Act, legislation that would ban Americans from joining boycotts against companies that do business in Israel.
He termed Newman “a woman who is running to the far left of [Lipinski],” and said she was “catering to the anti-Israel population in the District.”
The email included a Newman campaign video aimed at Arab voters that includes Palestinian constituents complaining about Lipinski supporting the anti-BDS bill. “She doesn’t pander to special interest groups like AIPAC,” one woman says in the video.
Moments later, Newman vows to “protect and advance the rights of Arab and Muslim Americans.”
Illinois’s 3rd Congressional District has one of the largest Arab-American populations in the country. The town of Bridgeview is often referred to as Little Palestine, for its sizable Palestinian community.
Lipinski and Newman are neck-and-neck in the polls. A recent survey conducted by Public Policy Polling shows Lipinksi with 43 percent of the vote, only two points ahead of Newman, which is within the margin of error.
The poll was commissioned by NARAL Pro-Choice America, a group that supports abortion rights and has endorsed Newman.