J Street calls for Democratic group to take down Sanders attack ad

Liberal Mideast advocacy organization slams Democratic Majority for Israel for prioritizing ‘targeting progressives over Israel policy’ over trying to beat Trump

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, Independent-Vermont., arrives to speak to supporters at a primary night election rally in Manchester, New Hampshire, February 11, 2020. (Matt Rourke/AP)
Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, Independent-Vermont., arrives to speak to supporters at a primary night election rally in Manchester, New Hampshire, February 11, 2020. (Matt Rourke/AP)

WASHINGTON — The liberal Zionist organization J Street called on Saturday for a pro-Israel Democratic group to take down an ad attacking presidential candidate Bernie Sanders.

Ahead of the February 22 Nevada caucuses, the Democratic Majority for Israel (DMFI) was unleashing TV ads in the Silver State blasting the Vermont senator on the idea that he’s not electable, Mediaite reported.

“DMFI in reality represents a minority of pro-Israel Democrats who seem more concerned with targeting progressives over Israel policy than with confronting the destructive agenda of Donald Trump,” said J Street president Jeremy Ben-Ami.

“Like their partner organization AIPAC – which recently ran vitriolic attack ads echoing Republican smears against progressive Democrats – DMFI’s right-leaning positions on Israel and US foreign policy are completely out of touch with the vast majority of Democrats and American Jews, who are both supportive of Israel and strongly critical of the policies of the Netanyahu government and of Donald Trump,” he added.

DMFI has no formal relationship with the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). It was founded by Mark Mellman, who had ties to AIPAC when he worked for a consultancy that did business with the lobby in two separate iterations — one five years ago and another thirty years ago, he told The Times of Israel.

On Sunday, DMFI pushed back on J Street’s censure, and the notion that it is affiliated with AIPAC.

“DMFI is independent of any other organizations and its leadership has spent lifetimes in the trenches helping Democrats,” Mellman said in a statement. “Like many other Democrats, we believe that Senator Sanders will not be able to defeat Trump, and his nomination would put Democratic candidates at risk up and down the ballot and across the country.”

He added, “If J Street really cared about the Democratic Party, the US-Israel relationship or combatting antisemitism, they would join us, instead of protecting Senator Sanders and lying about DMFI’s positions and so-called partnerships.

AIPAC denied that it helps funnel money into the organization’s coffers after an article from the left-leaning website The Intercept reported that the powerful pro-Israel lobby was channeling benefits to the group’s donors.

Rachel Rosen, a spokeswoman for Democratic Majority for Israel, which was founded in 2019, told the Associated Press the organization was “completely independent” from “any other organization.”

In this July 15, 2019, photo, US Rep. Ilhan Omar, a Minnesota Democrat, right, speaks as US Rep. Rashida Tlaib, a Michigan Democrat, listens during a news conference at the Capitol in Washington. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)

Last month, AIPAC apologized for and removed Facebook ads that castigated freshman Muslim congresswomen Rashida Tlaib of Michigan and Ilhan Omar of Minnesota as “radicals” who posed a threat “maybe more sinister” than Islamic State and other terror groups.

An alliance of liberal advocacy groups, including MoveOn and Indivisible, is leading an effort to dissuade 2020 Democratic presidential hopefuls from attending AIPAC’s annual policy conference next month after mounting a similar effort last year.

The anti-Sanders ads come after the candidate won the New Hampshire primary and is surging in the national polls.

DMFI also ran similar ads in Iowa, leading up to its caucuses two weeks ago, where Sanders came in second behind former South Bend mayor Pete Buttigieg.

J Street noted that the ads don’t refer to Sanders’s Israel policy, which has been far more aggressively sympathetic to the Palestinians than his Democratic rivals.

J Street Executive Director Jeremy Ben-Ami addressing the group’s conference in Washington, March 21, 2015. (Courtesy JTA/J Street)

“The ads themselves have nothing to do with Israel and don’t even mention Senator Sanders’ views on Israel or foreign policy,” Ben-Ami said. “If the funders and activists behind DMFI want to attack the Senator’s politics and candidacy, they should find another banner to rally under that leaves Israel out.”

Sanders has openly considered cutting American aid to Israel to pressure the nation to roll back its settlement enterprise, enter peace talks with the Palestinians and improve the humanitarian crisis in Gaza.

He has also spoken of his support for Israel’s right to exist and live in safety, but has called for a more “evenhanded” US approach to Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking.

Ben-Ami criticized DMFI for taking sides in the Democratic primary, and said other US Jewish groups should also demand the ads be taken off the air.

“We urge other leaders and organizations in the American Jewish community to join our call to remove these harmful ads and we call on AIPAC to join us in condemning these ads and to sever ties with the group,” he said.

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