April 16, 2024
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Midterm Takeaways for Israel, US Jews

While the results of the U.S. midterm elections are still being counted, there is no doubt that Tuesday was a shocking disappointment for the Republican Party. An all-but-assumed red wave never manifested, while GOP candidates embroiled in controversies touching upon antisemitism were defeated.

The following are five key highlights from Election Night with a strong Jewish/Israeli angle…

 

1. Zeldin Bid Fails

New York’s Democratic Gov. Kathy Hochul was projected to defeat Republican Rep. Lee Zeldin, who failed in his bid to become New York’s first Jewish Republican governor.

Zeldin, one of two Jewish Republicans in the outgoing U.S. House of Representatives, was seeking to represent the state with the largest Jewish population outside of Israel. He surged in the polls just ahead of the election, after aggressively attacking Hochul (who assumed power after Andrew Cuomo resigned in disgrace last year) over rising antisemitism.

One of Trump’s most vocal supporters—and perhaps his most notable Jewish political supporter—Zeldin is seen as the face of the GOP’s unqualified support for Israel. Jewish megadonor Ronald Lauder and his affiliated super PACs invested a reported $11 million in Zeldin’s campaign, though state officials are investigating whether Zeldin coordinated with the super PACs in violation of state law.

Zeldin had aimed to establish alliances with Orthodox Jewish community leaders hoping to secure blocs of votes from the incumbent. This was seemingly borne out in Rockland County, where over 30% of the electorate is Jewish, which Zeldin took by 12 percentage points.

 

2. Fetterman Defeats Oz in Key Senate Race

Democrat John Fetterman defeated Republican Mehmet Oz in perhaps the most significant national victory for Democrats in the midterm elections. Fetterman and a variety of U.S. Jewish organizations had sharply condemned Oz for standing by GOP gubernatorial candidate Doug Mastriano, despite the antisemitism that has been an ever-present factor in the latter’s campaign.

Jewish groups on both sides of the political aisle had spent unprecedented amounts to help their respective candidates emerge victorious. The spending only increased amid a growing focus on Fetterman’s recovery from a stroke that left him with an auditory processing disorder.

Fetterman told Haaretz last week that extreme leaders like Mastriano and “spineless” ones like Oz fan flames of antisemitism, and that Republicans should not be using support for Israel as a shield against charges of anti-Jewish sentiments.

 

3. Mastriano Loses to Shapiro

Pennsylvania’s gubernatorial race captured national attention due to the central role antisemitism and Jewish identity played in the campaign. Democrat Josh Shapiro, the state’s attorney general, highlighted his Jewish faith as central to his views on governing, and vowed to protect reproductive rights and election integrity.

Doug Mastriano, meanwhile, accused Shapiro of being out of touch with ordinary people, implicitly citing as evidence his active participation in the Jewish community and the fact that his children attend a private Jewish day school. Mastriano was repeatedly criticized for his associations with the far-right platform Gab and its CEO, Andrew Torba, after paying the platform a $5,000 consulting fee earlier this year and defending Torba’s $500 campaign donation. He reportedly took a busload of people to Washington on January 6 prior to the insurrection at the Capitol, compared gun control to 1930s Nazi policy and shared an image saying legal abortion was worse than the Holocaust.

 

4. AIPAC’s Top Democrat Loses in Virginia

Rep. Elaine Luria, the pro-Israel Democrat running in what the American Israel Public Affairs Committee identified as one of its most important races, is projected to lose to Republican challenger Jen Kiggans, in a race called by The Associated Press. The loss is a significant blow to the pro-Israel, national security-oriented wing of the Democratic Party.

Rep. Abigail Spanberger, meanwhile, eked out a narrow victory over Republican challenger Yesli Vega. A former federal law enforcement officer, Spanberger was among the most vocal Democratic critics of progressive talking points following the 2020 election, particularly defunding the police.

Republicans had identified Luria and Spanberger as key vulnerable incumbents to target in its efforts to win control of the House. The hotly contested races had the Democratic establishment concerned about a potential brain drain on the party’s more traditional wing.

 

5. Progressive Summer Lee Beats GOP and AIPAC

Democrat Summer Lee is projected to defeat Republican Mike Doyle in their battle for Pennsylvania’s 12th Congressional District, despite AIPAC spending over $1 million in recent days to defeat her. The pro-Israel group involved itself after the race proved closer than anticipated, seeing a second chance to defeat her after failing to do so in the Democratic primary.

The House Democratic campaign arm rallied behind Lee, and national Republicans, in turn, not only targeted Lee but attempted to connect her with neighboring Pennsylvania Democrats running competitive House races of their own. None of AIPAC’s ads mentioned Israel, however, raising questions regarding its political experiment.

By Ben Samuels

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