Jewish Democratic group endorses primary challenger to NY Rep. Jamaal Bowman

Jewish Democratic Council of America and AIPAC have both endorsed bid by George Latimer, as incumbent walks back remarks that claims of Hamas sex abuse were ‘propaganda’

Luke Tress is a JTA reporter and a former editor and reporter in New York for The Times of Israel.

Sen. George Latimer during a joint legislative budget hearing on education on Jan. 28, 2014, in Albany, New York (AP Photo/Mike Groll)
Sen. George Latimer during a joint legislative budget hearing on education on Jan. 28, 2014, in Albany, New York (AP Photo/Mike Groll)

New York Jewish Week, via JTA — The Jewish Democratic Council of America, the leading Jewish organization affiliated with the Democratic Party, endorsed George Latimer in his bid to unseat New York Rep. Jamaal Bowman in the upcoming primary.

It also endorsed Wesley Bell in his campaign to unseat Rep. Cori Bush in Missouri, marking the first time that the Jewish Democrats have endorsed primary challengers to Democratic incumbents.

Both incumbents have been vocal critics of Israel. In New York’s 16th district, which covers southern Westchester County and a sliver of the northern Bronx and is home to a sizable Jewish community, the Israel-Hamas war has become a focal point of the closely watched campaign.

Latimer, a centrist who serves as Westchester County executive, has been firmly supportive of Israel since Hamas’s October 7 attack, when terrorists murdered close to 1,200 people, mostly civilians, across southern Israel, and kidnapped 253. Bowman, who is a member of the Squad, the group of progressive Democratic members of Congress, has been harshly critical of the Israeli military campaign in Gaza, accusing Israel of “genocide.”

The Jewish Democratic Council of America announced its endorsement of Latimer on Thursday alongside 21 other candidates, including New Yorkers Mondaire Jones in the 17th district and Josh Riley in the 19th district.

In a statement, the council’s chair-elect, Susie Stern, called Latimer an ally to Jewish New Yorkers who “resolutely stands behind our community when challenging moments arise, including the current one.”

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)

Latimer hailed the council’s endorsement as well as the group’s support for causes including supporting Israel, fighting antisemitism, combating gun violence and protecting abortion rights.

“As we continue to build our grassroots campaign, their support will be vital for making sure every voice is heard in this critical election,” Latimer said in a statement.

Latimer entered the race in December after months of speculation that he would mount a challenge to Bowman, who was first elected in 2020 and after receiving encouragement from Jewish supporters. He has also nabbed an endorsement from the pro-Israel lobby AIPAC. The Democratic Majority for Israel, an advocacy group, applauded his entry into the race.

Latimer has taken a more pro-Israel stance in line with more centrist Democrats. He visited Israel in November on a trip organized by the Westchester Jewish Council. He said earlier this month that he supports a temporary ceasefire that would lead to the release of the hostages, in line with the Democratic party leadership.

Both candidates raised around $1.4 million in the last quarter of 2023.

In February, Latimer accused Bowman of taking money from Hamas while speaking at a campaign event. Bowman threatened a defamation lawsuit in response.

Rev. Emanuel Cleaver II, left, of Kansas City, talks with St. Louis County prosecutor Wesley Bell before the memorial service for former U.S. Sen. Jean Carnahan in St. Louis on February 10, 2024. (Robert Cohen, Pool Photo via AP)

Bowman, a former middle school principal, unseated longtime incumbent Eliot Engel, who is Jewish, in 2020. His ties with many Jewish constituents had frayed before October 7 due to his criticism of Israel. He angered Jewish voters early in the war by urging a ceasefire on October 16 in a statement that did not mention Hamas, terrorism or Israeli hostages.

The liberal Israel lobby J Street rescinded its endorsement of Bowman in January over his rhetoric on the war. Bowman has aimed his fire at AIPAC and publicly feuded with it online.

Bowman’s remarks on Israel have continued to dog him. This week, footage surfaced by Politico showed Bowman at a November rally expressing doubt that Israeli women had been raped on October 7, calling the allegations “propaganda.” In a statement to Politico this week, Bowman walked back those comments.

“The UN confirmed that Hamas committed rape and sexual violence, a reprehensible fact that I condemn entirely,” the statement said, noting that Bowman voted for a resolution condemning rape and sexual violence by Hamas. “So let me be clear, and ensure my words are not twisted: I always stand against sexual violence in all forms and stand for peace for all.”

In November, Bowman held a meeting with Jewish constituents focused on antisemitism. There was a small protest ahead of the event, though two participants told the New York Jewish Week at the time that the meeting was productive and Bowman appeared attentive to their concerns. Ahead of the meeting, two prominent rabbis in the area said most of the community would decline to attend the event.

Separate from the war in Gaza, the congressman has faced other controversies in recent months. In January, the Daily Beast reported that Bowman had promoted 9/11 conspiracy theories on his personal blog in 2011. The House formally censured Bowman in December for pulling a fire alarm at the US Capitol, which he said was an accident.

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