Getting censured by Congress may not have been the most alarming part of Jamaal Bowman’s week.
Like his Democratic House colleague Rashida Tlaib, Bowman spends much of his time and energy complaining about the Jewish state and its supporters in the U.S. Unlike Tlaib, who promoted a genocidal call for the destruction of Israel, Bowman was not censured for anti-Semitism. He was punished for disrupting House business before a September vote by pulling the fire alarm, like a high school misfit seeking to delay an exam. He claimed it was an accident, that he was just trying to open the door. Then video emerged of him very deliberately and carefully and ultimately successfully trying to set off the fire alarm.
No, this week’s low moment for the New York progressive was the announcement that he would receive a legitimate primary challenge. Censure doesn’t take your congressional seat from you, but losing an election does.
So will he lose that seat? Well, he deserves to. Bowman’s last contribution to the Israeli-Palestinian debate was to claim that he was prevented from walking through a Jews-only checkpoint in the West Bank. (No such thing exists.) Bowman’s propagandistic Jew-baiting appears, on the surface, to be about par for what comes out of the Squad and their allies. But Bowman’s actually differs in a key way: He has always promised that he is trying to get worse, to become more hostile to his Jewish constituents than he currently is. Bowman is young, and he sees this as a learning experience: He can be so much more terrible if you just give him time.
In May of 2022, Jewish Insider got hold of a letter Bowman’s staffer had written to a private Democratic Socialists of America message board. The DSA had been upset with Bowman for not quite being anti-Israel enough. For example, Bowman had initially voted in favor of funding for Iron Dome, a purely defensive system that is objectionable only to those who think it gives Israeli kindergartners an unfair advantage over Hamas rockets.
But Bowman had seen the light, the staffer groveled. “I can promise that you will continue seeing results, although it’s going to be a process,” the advisor, Rajiv Sicora, wrote. “I can assure you that the next time we have something like a standalone Iron Dome vote, you will see Rep. Bowman vote no.”
Another sticking point was that originally, Bowman had supported the expansion of the Abraham Accords, in which Arab states normalized their relations with Israel and removed some policies that discriminated against Jews. On this, too, Bowman had a moment of clarity and changed his mind. Sicora reminded the DSA of his boss’s about-face: “The first step was de-cosponsoring the normalization bill.”
The DSA was hesitant to give Bowman full credit for his anti-Zionist turn, though. After all, he had only come around after redistricting had removed “a heavy Zionist constituency” from his district.
That was an argument Bowman’s allies had been making in his defense, though. Squad leader Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez had vouched for Bowman’s anti-Zionist bona fides by saying he was doing everything he could “given the community that he’s in.”
Bowman’s opponent will be Westchester County Executive George Latimer, an unapologetic supporter of Israel. Latimer would also, as AIPAC pointed out in a statement, represent a turn toward President Biden and enable the Democrats to more closely track with their party leader: “Rather than standing with President Biden and the overwhelming pro-Israel Democratic majority, Representative Bowman has aligned with the anti-Israel extremist fringe. Democrats in this district deserve a representative who stands by the mainstream view, which supports the US-Israel relationship.”
For his part, Latimer told City & State that the race isn’t about Israel, but that Israel is part of Bowman’s pursuit of national fame at the expense of his constituents. “To some extent, it’s not about Israel at all. It’s about (how Bowman) doesn’t vote for the infrastructure bill when we desperately need money for infrastructure to deal with backyard issues. It’s the question of how do you gear up your district office to really focus on the local needs of a community and are you more interested in the national profile that you’re creating for yourself?”
Bowman’s neglect of his own district isn’t surprising. The promises he tends to keep revolve around his disdain for the Jewish state. Perhaps Democrats are warming to the idea of challenging the crazies in their party.