Not just Bowman and Congress: Israel-Hamas war also impacting NYC local races

Progressive candidates standing in Democratic primaries across the city’s 5 boroughs link criticism of Israel to local issues, from police brutality to state tax law

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

Anti-Israel and pro-Palestinian protestors demonstrate at a rally for Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-NY) at St. Mary's Park on June 22, 2024 in the Bronx borough of New York City. (David Dee Delgado/GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA/Getty Images via AFP)
Anti-Israel and pro-Palestinian protestors demonstrate at a rally for Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-NY) at St. Mary's Park on June 22, 2024 in the Bronx borough of New York City. (David Dee Delgado/GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA/Getty Images via AFP)

New York Jewish Week via JTA — The primary election between Rep. Jamaal Bowman and George Latimer has become one of the nation’s most closely watched votes due to its focus on Israel.

But the international issue has also become a factor in down-ballot Democratic primaries across the five boroughs of New York City, as progressive candidates for State Assembly have linked their criticism of Israel to a range of local issues, from police brutality to state tax law.

Some of those races involve the Democratic Socialists of America, the progressive group that is backing Bowman and has long levied harsh criticism on Israel. The group drew heavy fire from Democrats, including some of its own members, for an anti-Israel rally that was announced in the midst of Hamas’ October 7 terror onslaught.

The party’s website places the Israel-Hamas war front-and-center and targets the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), the pro-Israel lobby that Bowman and his allies have repeatedly attacked due to its millions in funding for Latimer.

“Palestine is on the Ballot,” the homepage says. “AIPAC and its allies are teaming up with Republicans to attack democratic socialists opposing genocide. Volunteer with one of our endorsed campaigns for Ceasefire candidates.”

In New York State’s Assembly District 56 in Bedford-Stuyvesant and Crown Heights, incumbent Stefani Zinerman is facing a challenge from the DSA’s Eon Huntley.

Huntley has sent out campaign fliers echoing the party’s focus on the war and calling out funding for Zinerman, who is reportedly backed by the pro-Israel Solidarity PAC, which funds pro-Israel candidates on the state level. (Zinerman condemned Hamas’ attack but does not appear to have been vocal on the issue.)

“Eon Tyrell Huntley is calling for a permanent and immediate ceasefire in Gaza and an end to US aid for Israel’s military war crimes in Palestine,” a Huntley mailer said. “He will always speak out against violent oppression of working people, whether it’s US-funded genocide in Palestine or police brutality right here in New York.”

Democratic candidate for New York’s 16th District George Latimer speaks during a press conference at the Mount Vernon Democratic headquarters on June 24, 2024 in Mount Vernon, New York. (Michael M. Santiago/GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA/Getty Images via AFP)

Two other New York City races pit anti-Israel DSA candidates against politicians reportedly endorsed by Solidarity PAC.

In the state’s 82nd District in the Bronx, two-decade incumbent Michael Benedetto is facing off against the DSA’s Jonathan Soto. The war has not been a major issue in the race, but Soto has referred to his opponent as “pro-war” and mocked Israeli democracy. He supports a bill that would remove tax benefits from, in the words of its backers, organizations that “fund war crimes waged by Israeli military units devastating Gaza.”

“Right-wing forces want to drown out the will of my Bronx neighbors who want a CEASEFIRE NOW!” Soto said in March. Benedetto hasn’t spoken out much on the issue but wrote on social media last month, referring to Soto, about the “out-of-district fringe forces that fund his campaign.”

Queens’ District 37 Assemblymember Juan Ardila is running for reelection, despite facing criticism for sexual assault allegations, against challengers Claire Valdez of the DSA and moderate Johanna Carmona, who is backed by Solidarity.

Valdez has made the war into a campaign issue, claiming she left her vote blank in the presidential primary in protest. She accused Israel of “genocide” on October 19, before Israel’s ground counter-offensive in Gaza had begun.

“We know our fates and our struggles from Gaza to Queens are interconnected,” she said earlier this month.

Rep. Jamaal Bowman at a campaign rally in the Bronx, June 22, 2024. (Luke Tress via JTA)

In a recent candidate forum, Carmona sought to stake out a position expressing sympathy for Palestinians and Israelis. She referenced sexual violence committed by Hamas on and after October 7.

“What’s happening in Palestine is horrific. What happened on October 7 was horrific,” she said, according to local publication QNS. “I think that seeing senseless deaths is so painful for all of us here in this community to watch. But in addition to that, to also see what happened on October 7, and something like sexual violence, I will never stand for the use of a weapon, especially as a special victims prosecutor.”

In northern Brooklyn’s District 50, the DSA’s Emily Gallagher, who has been critical of Israel and of outside funding for Bowman, is running against challenger Anathea Simpkins, who won an endorsement from Solidarity PAC.

“I stand with our Jewish and Palestinian brothers and sisters here and abroad,” Simpkins said, according to local publication The City. “I am for a ceasefire and for bringing the hostages home.”

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