In Illinois, a J Street favorite beats an AIPAC darling

Progressive challenger Marie Newman ousts conservative Democrat Dan Lipinski in Chicago House district after a hard-fought victory

Democrat Marie Newman smiles as she campaigns in the Archer Heights neighborhood of Chicago on March 9, 2020. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)
Democrat Marie Newman smiles as she campaigns in the Archer Heights neighborhood of Chicago on March 9, 2020. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

WASHINGTON — A progressive congressional candidate endorsed by the liberal Mideast advocacy group J Street beat a Democratic incumbent on Tuesday who has long been close to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) and was backed by much of the pro-Israel establishment.

Marie Newman, a liberal insurgent, edged out a hard-fought victory against Dan Lipinski for an Illinois House seat that encompasses Chicago’s northern suburbs. Newman, who was also backed by progressive superstars Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren and  New York Representative Alexandria Ocasi-Cortez, won by two percentage points.

Lipinski, who has held that seat since 2005, has been at odds with mainstream Democrats on some key domestic issues. His opposition to abortion rights and the Affordable Care Act, former US president Barack Obama’s signature legislative accomplishment, made him a pariah in his own party.

But the candidates also diverged on US policy toward Israel.

Newman, whose husband is Jewish, used to back the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) campaign, but then she reversed that position, saying she “supports the aspirations of both the Israeli and Palestinian people” and a two-state solution.

“I believe the United States should play an even-handed and unbiased role in the resolution of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict,” she said in a campaign memo.

Newman has also indicated a willingness to examine US assistance to Israel — an issue that came up in the Democratic primary for president, as both Vermont Senator and former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg said they would consider leveraging America’s $3.8 billion in annual aid to get Jerusalem to change its policies

“The U.S. has a responsibility to examine how aid to Israel is used and that we should ensure that this aid is not used to support actions and policies that undercut our values,” she said. American assistance, she added, should not “support the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and the Israeli blockade of Gaza.”

She does, however, oppose legislative efforts to penalize BDS supporters, such as the Israel Anti-Boycott Act, which would make it illegal under federal statute to boycott the Jewish state.

Rep. Dan Lipinski, D-Illinois, speaks on Capitol Hill in Washington, April 14, 2016. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais File)

Lipinski voted for the bill, which was strongly opposed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and J Street on the grounds that it would quash the First Amendment rights of BDS supporters and impose a chilling effect on speech that was critical of Israel.

Pro-Israel America, a non-partisan group that seeks to help congressional candidates supportive of Israel, endorsed Lipinski. The organization put out a guide last month on the incumbents it considered most endanger of losing in 2020. It criticized her for not supporting anti-BDS legislation.

“She used to support the BDS movement, but no longer does even though she continues to oppose legislation that would outlaw this anti-Israel movement,” the group said. “Newman also believes that a Palestinian right of return must be part of a two-state solution, which would, ultimately, undermine the existence of a Jewish state in Israel.”

The right of return for Palestinian refugees refers to the Palestinian demand that all refugees who were displaced between 1947 and 1948 — well as their descendants — be allowed to return to modern-day Israel following a final peace accord. Israel argues that an influx of millions of Palestinians into Israel would spell the end of the county as a Jewish state.

“I believe that Palestinian refugees and Palestinians living in the diaspora whose homes in Israel and the Palestinian territories were lost as a result of the conflict have the right to reside in Israel or Palestine and that the resolution of the conflict should include a fair and just resolution of the rights and aspirations of Palestinian refugees and Palestinians in the diaspora in accordance with UN Security Council resolutions,” Newman said in her campaign platform.

Tuesday’s election was the second time the two had faced off. In 2018, Lipinski narrowly beat Newman by fewer than 2,000 votes.

The left-wing Jewish group IIfNotNow celebrated Newman’s victory over Lipinski, calling it an “enormous win for those of us working towards a future where all people, including Palestinians and Israelis, can thrive.”

Newman was also supported by a number of other progressive groups, including Emily’s List, Planned Parenthood and Justice Democrats.

Also on the ballot in Illinois’ Third Congressional District was Arthur Jones, a neo-Nazi and Holocaust denier who got the GOP nomination in 2018 simply because no other Republican entered the race in the heavily Democratic area.

This time, he had two other challengers. Jones lost the election but still earned roughly 10 percent of the vote.

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