In hindsight, it seems obvious.
Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), a well-known and often vilified opponent of Israel and member of the “Squad,” barely fended off her primary challenger on Aug. 9, beating former Minneapolis City Councilman Don Samuels by a mere 2,500 votes. Two years ago, Omar comfortably defeated her primary challenger by 35,000 votes.
Omar’s primary race two years ago generated significant interest from the pro-Israel community. In addition to meaningful contributions to the Antone Melton-Meaux campaign by individual pro-Israel donors from around the country, a pro-Israel PAC spent nearly $2.5 million to oppose Omar.
This time around, with even more ammunition concerning Omar’s record on Israel and other issues, the pro-Israel community stayed out of the race. Not a single pro-Israel PAC got involved, and pro-Israel donor involvement was very modest. By way of comparison, 72% of Melton-Meaux’s donations in 2020 came from individuals outside Minnesota; this year 11% of Samuels’ contributions came from out-of-state.
This begs the question: Was this a missed opportunity by the pro-Israel community, or was there a good reason to stay out? The answer seems to be a little of both — this was a missed opportunity, but the decision not to get involved was deliberate and for what appeared to be good reason.
The pro-Israel PAC successes in this cycle are impressive. Leading the charge is the AIPAC-affiliated super PAC called the United Democracy Project, which has spent more than $26 million thus far. Super PACs don’t work directly with campaigns and run independent ad and advocacy efforts to promote their views. AIPAC’s affiliated PAC, called the AIPAC PAC, which has raised close to $12 million, contributes directly to campaigns. AIPAC PAC has supported 212 candidates in elections around the country thus far, and has a whopping 98% success rate, with some 207 of its favored candidates prevailing.
So, why didn’t the pro-Israel community step in against the very high profile and overly confident Omar, who refused to debate her primary opponent and chose not to run ads in support of her campaign? Add to that Omar’s reputation for poor constituent service and voter anger over her efforts to defund the police — and the race seemed tailor-made for the kind of support pro-Israel super PACS had successfully provided in other races.
Neither AIPAC nor any of the other pro-Israel PACs are saying very much. Some have speculated that the pro-Israel community stayed out because they believed that nationalizing the race would raise Omar’s profile and help her draw national support. Or perhaps the fear was that if Omar prevailed again in the face of significant out-of-state support, she would have additional evidence to support her famous charge that “it’s all about the Benjamins.” Or maybe the hope was that Omar’s vulnerability on community issues alone would be enough for her to lose. But, of course, that was wrong.
This was a missed opportunity. It is unfortunate. While the misstep doesn’t diminish the many pro-Israel successes in 2022, it creates a footnote for what could have been.