J Street pulls Jamaal Bowman endorsement over anti-Israel rhetoric since October 7

Left-wing lobby group says Democratic New York Congressman, seeking reelection, has ‘crossed the line’ with his ‘framing and approach,’ including genocide accusation

Rep. Jamaal Bowman cries at a vigil outside the White House to demand that US President Joe Biden call for a permanent ceasefire in Gaza, November 29, 2023. (Nathan Howard/AP Photo)
Rep. Jamaal Bowman cries at a vigil outside the White House to demand that US President Joe Biden call for a permanent ceasefire in Gaza, November 29, 2023. (Nathan Howard/AP Photo)

WASHINGTON — J Street pulled its endorsement of New York Democratic Rep. Jamaal Bowman, citing his “framing and approach,” a sign of how alliances on the Jewish left are shifting after Hamas’s October 7 onslaught.

Bowman was one of the earliest and most outspoken members of Congress to call for a ceasefire following Palestinian terror group Hamas’s devastating attack and the ensuing war in the Gaza Strip. He has also described Israel’s military campaign in Gaza as “genocide.”

J Street, while critical of Israel’s wartime conduct, has not called for a ceasefire in the conflict. The liberal Israel lobby also adamantly rejects the use of “genocide” to describe Israel’s counterstrikes after October 7, and opposed South Africa’s bringing genocide charges against Israel in the International Court of Justice.

“We have been pleased to work with Congressman Bowman for over four years to promote a shared set of values and principles rooted in the pursuit of justice, equality, and peace,” said J Street’s statement, which was issued on Friday. “The past few months have, however, highlighted significant differences between us in framing and approach.”

The announcement comes as Bowman faces a primary challenge in his district, which encompasses parts of Westchester County and a slice of the Bronx. His rival George Latimer, the Westchester County executive, has earned the endorsement of the PAC run by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, or AIPAC.

Bowman is seen as the most vulnerable member of the “Squad,” the group of outspoken progressive Democrats that is critical of Israel and its conduct of the war.

Sen. George Latimer, Democrat-Port Chester, during a joint legislative budget hearing on education in Albany, New York, on January 28, 2014. (Mike Groll/AP)

On October 7 some 3,000 Hamas-led terrorists burst through the border with Gaza and rampaged murderously through southern Israel, killing around 1,200 people, mostly civilians. The terrorists also abducted 253 people of all ages who were taken as hostages in Gaza. Most remain in captivity.

Israel responded to the attack with a military offensive which it said aimed to destroy Hamas, remove it from power in Gaza, and release the hostages.

Latimer spoke Saturday night at the Westchester Jewish Council gala, where he received an enthusiastic reception.

“You are not alone,” he said, a message that has resonated with liberal Jewish New Yorkers, some of whom have felt alienated by progressive criticism of Israel.

Bowman’s campaign did not reply to requests for comment.

Rep. Cori Bush, middle, and Rep. Jamaal Bowman right, attend a vigil alongside state legislators and faith leaders currently on hunger strike outside the White House to demand that US President Joe Biden call for a permanent ceasefire in Gaza on Nov. 29, 2023. (AP Photo/Nathan Howard)

The announcement is also significant as J Street is vying to act as the voice of mainstream Democrats on Israel, as opposed to its rivals to the right, including AIPAC and a more centrist pro-Israel PAC, Democratic Majority for Israel.

J Street, along with other Jewish Democrats, has for years accommodated and at times endorsed tough criticism of Israel, including from Bowman. In its announcement on Friday, J Street pointed to Bowman’s support for a two-state solution, a signature issue for J Street. But since October 7, some Jewish progressives have felt rattled by the rhetoric they’ve heard on the left, including from those who have downplayed the attack or accused Israel of genocide.

J Street President Jeremy Ben-Ami addresses the liberal Zionist group’s annual conference in Washington, D.C. in October 2019 (Courtesy)

In an interview with The Forward, which first broke the news of J Street dropping Bowman, Jeremy Ben-Ami, the lobby’s president, said Bowman’s rhetoric was a step too far.

“When the rhetoric, the framing, and the approach go too far, that’s where we are going to hold our line,” Ben-Ami said. “And that’s when we felt that Bowman crossed the line here.”

Ben-Ami cited the use of the term “genocide,” which Bowman has used multiple times in the months since the war began, as a breaking point. “The rhetoric around genocide, the singling out of Israel, and at times Jewish people, that happens in some of these events — that needs to be called out in real-time,” he said.

Policy was previously J Street’s only red line; before this, it has withdrawn an endorsement just once, in 2018, when Michigan Democratic Rep. Rashida Tlaib made clear late in the election cycle that she favored a single, binational state in place of Israel.

Another Jewish group, the New York-based Jewish Vote, which is affiliated with Jews for Racial and Economic Justice, has endorsed Bowman. JFREJ has also called for a ceasefire and accused Israel of genocide.

“This is yet another in a series of poor decisions that J Street has made in recent months,” it said on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter.

The Hamas-run Gaza health ministry says at least 26,637 people have been killed in the Strip during the ongoing war, while 65,387 people have been wounded since October 7.

The death toll cannot be independently verified and is believed to include both civilians and Hamas members killed in Gaza, including as a consequence of terror groups’ own rocket misfires. The IDF says it has killed over 10,000 operatives in Gaza, in addition to some 1,000 terrorists inside Israel on October 7.

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