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Democratic divisions over Israel spark left vs. left fight for House seats

this St. Louis County Prosecutor The challenge to Missouri Rep. Cory Busch for his House seat begins Thursday with an interview with a prominent black radio personality in St. Louis.

Prosecutor Wesley Bell later taught sociology classes at St. Louis Community College, where he had taught criminal justice, and had lunch at a soul-food restaurant in Ferguson, where peace reigned nearly a decade later. Protests there actually sparked the Black Lives Matter movement move.

That afternoon, he met with unions and attended a Lunar New Year celebration in the Vietnamese community, ending late at night at the North County Democratic Club in suburban Hazelwood.

“If you call me, I’ll answer the call,” Mr. Bell, 49, assured members of the Laborers’ International Union of North America, whose leader has backed Ms. Bush and now her challenger, Mr. Bell. “If you want me to show up, I will show up.”

Fueled by the fervor surrounding the Oct. 7 massacre of Israelis and the subsequent war in Gaza, pro-Israel groups are funding a series of primary challenges in heavily Democratic districts aimed at ousting outspoken Israel critics on the political left.

The deadly war has divided centrist Democrats and progressives like Ms. Bush, who has denounced Israel’s response, seeking to suspend aid amid a growing death toll in Gaza while urging a ceasefire. Late last month, Rashida Tlaib, the only Palestinian American in the House of Representatives, was the lone opponent of a resolution banning Hamas members and those involved in the Oct. 7 attacks on Israel from entering the United States. .

But unlike many primaries pushed by various groups — such as the American Israel Political Affairs Committee, its political affiliate the United Democracy Project and the Independent Democratic Majority for Israel — the Bush-Bell battle in Missouri’s 1st District is progressive The showdown between the Pies and the Bell Pies. Progressive, everyone has quite a record to run, but has little to do with Israel.

Despite being fueled by funding from pro-Israel groups and staunch critics of Israel, the fight over Missouri’s deep-blue 1st District may barely mention the Middle East. Instead, it will be a fight over representation and what that should look like for people who are struggling. St. Louis.

“I was targeted by AIPAC not only because I believe Palestinians should live free and peacefully like Israelis, but because I want to protect our democracy from Republican extremism,” Ms. Bush said on Monday. Meaningful gun violence prevention legislation, I want to raise taxes on billionaires — all of which AIPAC, their Republican donors, and the insurgents they support oppose. “

Ms. Bush is an icon on the left, an activist on the streets of the Ferguson protests who brought her voice to the halls of Congress. But Mr. Bell was also on those streets, mediating between demonstrators and police before being elected to the Ferguson City Council.

he is a key figure progressive prosecutor movementIt took nearly a decade to try to redirect low-level offenders from incarceration to mental health and drug treatment programs, release outright wrongfully convicted people from St. Louis jails, and increase scrutiny of officer misconduct in law enforcement and prosecutions.

The primary is expected to draw national attention because of the broader discussion of Israel and the Democratic Party’s willingness to embrace the Jewish state’s harshest critics, such as Ms. Bush. But in the city of St. Louis and surrounding counties, the race, as its name suggests, is likely to revolve around the limits of activism and personality in a region desperate for practical help.

Ms. Bush entered the campaign as a lightning rod.her Pro-Palestinian Activism putting her in the spotlight of pro-Israel groups.she admits Federal criminal investigation into campaign use She had enough funds to pay for her husband’s security work. Her over-the-top personality also irked some in Democratic leadership.

But to Mr Bell and his supporters, her transgressions were more endemic.First and foremost, she Vote against bipartisan infrastructure Clinton McBride, director of government affairs for Labor International Local 110, said the bill is a slap in the face to the unions that support her. Worse, she never met with them to explain her vote.

“Communication is good,” he said, “even when there’s no communication, it says a lot.”

Ms Bush denied she knew anything about the union and claimed her team had been in contact before, during and after the vote.

There are many voters in St. Louis who like Ms. Bush’s brand of activism and lament having to choose between the two progressives.Ken Hughes, a retired member of Labor Party Local 42, reflects on 2021 Ms. Bush camped out on Capitol steps The vigil, complete with orange sleeping bags and lawn chairs, forced an extension of the pandemic moratorium on evictions.

“She’s a people’s fighter, and I love that,” said Mr. Hughes, 60, who has yet to decide how to vote in the Aug. 6 primary.

His friend, Greg Lomax, 54, had been hesitant at the start of Thursday’s labor meeting. But then, he said, “I just learned today that she voted against the infrastructure bill.”

Mr. Lomax agreed with her belief, adding in a frustrated tone, “But you know, she was very resistant.”

Megan Green, chairwoman of the St. Louis Board of Aldermen, said Ms. Busch has adapted to the city’s needs. She said Ms. Busch has raised nearly $2 billion for St. Louis community health care facilities, public schools and nonprofit organizations.

“For those of us who live here, when Corey says your congresswoman loves you, our community feels it,” Ms. Green said.

The pro-Israel group has not officially weighed in on the primary, but an AIPAC official said on Monday that the group had endorsed Mr. Bell and that other groups were expected to do so soon. Since Hamas’s attack on Israel on October 7 and the resulting war in Gaza, the activities of these groups have been alarming.

By the end of 2023, the United Democracy Project had announced more than $44 million in revenue, with nearly $41 million still sitting in its war chest. Among its donors are prominent pro-Trump Republicans, such as Home co-founder Bernard Marcus, who gave $1 million to the PAC.

Israel’s Democratic majority has $1.7 million left to spend by the end of the year.

The groups are targeting a number of incumbent Democrats this cycle, including Representative Li Xia In Pittsburgh, Ilhan Omar in Minneapolis, Jamal Bowman in new york and Ms. Tlaib in Detroit.

“Defeating a sitting member of Congress is the hardest thing in politics; it’s just a statistical fact that she’s not an unpopular politician,” said Mark Mailman, a veteran Democratic operative and founder of the Democratic Party for Israel political action committee.

But, he added, “She can be defeated.”

Marcy Kornfield and Richard Kornfield, The co-chairs of the St. Louis AIPAC board of directors have given Mr. Bell the maximum amount, as have financiers Tony DavisTimothy Drury is a scion of a Republican hotelier family. maximized his contribution So does Mr. Bell. Reid HoffmanLinkedIn founder and Democratic megadonor.

Usamah Andrabi, a centrist for Justice Democrats, a left-wing political action committee that supports Bush’s rise, said Bell had considered running against Republican Josh Hawley, Missouri’s senior senator. Senator, but then reconsidered it, is telling. Will support her again this year.

“Wesley Bell went from running against a true right-wing insurrectionist, Josh Hawley, to taking away from the donors of Josh Hawley, Donald Trump, and nearly the entire Missouri Republican delegation,” he said. Thousands of dollars to run against Missouri’s first black congresswoman.”

To Ms. Bush and liberal activists locally and nationally, the contributors were unqualified for a candidate who insisted he was a progressive advocate for local issues.

“I don’t think Wesley Bell is a progressive,” said Hannah Rosenthal, a Bush ally and co-founder of Progressive Jews of St. Louis. “His loyalty to AIPAC supporters is a good one. example.”

Activist Ohun Ashe met Ms. Bush during street protests in Ferguson in 2014 after the killing of Michael Brown. He said the impending intervention by national pro-Israel groups was part of a pattern of gestures by Mr. Bell.

Mr. Bell helped mediate between protesters and Ferguson police during the riots, then In 2018, he defeated the longtime county attorneyRobert McCulloch has pledged to re-launch charges against the police officer who shot Mr Brown, Darren Wilson.

He kept his promise and then In 2020, he said he was unable to fully charge the officer.his predecessor and the Justice Department came to the same conclusion.

Even Mr. Bell’s supporters say the sting remains.

“Some of the people who made him a prosecutor may not support him against Cori Bush,” said Ferguson’s current mayor and first black mayor, Ella Jones, who did support him. “They’re still upset.”

Mr. Bell said in an interview that Ms. Bush and her supporters questioned whether the main challenge was to be backed by external funding. since Ms. Bush This is what I did in 2020, Defeated 10-term incumbent William Lacy Clay Jr.whose last name is actually synonymous with Missouri’s 1st congressional district.

Mr. Bell readily made arguments that appealed to pro-Israel donors, saying Israel had a right to defend itself and criticizing some of Ms. Bush’s votes, particularly her opposition to U.S. investment in Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system. He called it crucial to preventing wider war in the Middle East.

But his campaign centered on his record: 2,200 low-level, non-violent defendants diverted to health care, job training and counseling programs, a recidivism rate of 5.9 percent; the creation of a unit to investigate claims of wrongful imprisonment and official crimes credible charges; and ending the county’s capital prosecutions—all in one Nationwide strong opposition Oppose such efforts.

“This is a big deal in Missouri,” said Jessica Brandfounder of the Wren Collective, which urges less punitive approach “It’s hard to commit to this sport long-term because they’re coming for you.”

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