Westchester’s Pro-Israel Community Is Livid With J Street

On August 2nd, shortly after J Street-endorsed candidate Rep. Andy Levin (D-MI) lost in the Democratic primary, J Street lambasted AIPAC and Democratic Majority For Israel for supporting Rep. Haley Stevens. The progressive group took particular aim at the two groups’ “aggressive outside spending…[which] is harmful to American foreign policy, to the Democratic Party and ultimately to the State of Israel. (J Street’s emphasis)

It was obvious sour grapes coming from a group that had endorsed and funded a campaign just like AIPAC and DMFI, but lost.

Not three weeks later, J Street has entered the race of New York’s 16th Congressional District, in lower Westchester County. And in a very hypocritical and disgusting fashion.

Neither the bipartisan group AIPAC nor the centrist Democratic DMFI spent one dollar on the NY-16 race. Neither group even endorsed any of the three candidates running. While both groups strongly dislike the anti-Israel Rep. Jamaal Bowman who is the incumbent, they have refrained from engaging in the race as the odds of defeating him are low, so have opted to focus elsewhere.

J Street endorsed Bowman early but did not put in any money into the race. Until now.

Wealthy and Poor Voters Split

After witnessing the near loss of another anti-Israel incumbent member of “the Squad”, Ilhan Omar (D-MN) on August 9th, J Street became nervous. Omar won her Democratic primary by 2,400 votes out of 110,000 cast. Omar won the poorer, densely populated city area of Minneapolis but lost the wealthy suburbs. If AIPAC and DMFI had put resources into the race, Omar would likely have been defeated.

There are potential lessons for the NY-16 race, where Omar’s close colleague Bowman is the far-left incumbent.

J Street endorsed Bowman in January 2022 when NY-16 included a large section of the Bronx section of New York City. In May, the district was redrawn, removing almost the entirety of the Bronx which had been in the district, and replacing it with wealthier suburbs of lower Westchester. This dynamic could theoretically swap the rank-and-file reliable liberal voters of the Bronx with more moderate ones, threatening a far-left incumbent like Bowman.

A review of the 2020 presidential voting offers some color on how the new NY-16 towns of Westchester (many of which were in NY-17 previously), vote compared to the sections of the Bronx (now in NY-15) which were replaced.

Candidateold ny16 bronxold ny17 westchesterdifference
Buttigieg0.6%1.3%0.7%
Kloubachar0.5%0.6%0.1%
Biden75.7%69.3%-6.4%
Gabbard0.3%0.3%0.0%
Sanders11.7%10.8%-0.8%
Bloomberg2.7%1.4%-1.3%
Steyer0.1%0.1%0.0%
Bennet0.3%0.1%-0.2%
Warren3.0%4.0%1.0%
Yang0.8%0.9%0.0%
Patrick0.1%0.1%0.0%
Blank4.2%11.1%6.9%
Void0.0%0.0%0.0%
Voting in 2020 Democratic Presidential Primary from New York State Board of Elections June 23, 2020

There are a couple of takeaways from the voting patterns of the poorer sections of the Bronx which were removed from NY-16 relative to the wealthier sections of Westchester which were added. The biggest one is that Westchester was much more content to put in “protest” votes in leaving the choice blank (+6.9%), rather than follow the front-runner, Joe Biden (-6.4%).

The second is that the wealthier towns of Westchester, a county which is roughly 20% Jewish, did not rally to Michael Bloomberg. This observation should be discounted by the Bronx having him as mayor for three terms while Westchester did not.

Lastly, Westchester and the Bronx voted in a similar pattern for the far-left. While Westchester backed Warren more than the Bronx did (+1.0%), the Bronx voted in a similar percentage favoring Bernie Sanders (-0.8%).

The political strategists at J Street know these things: that Westchester is just as likely to vote liberal BUT is also likely to stay away and not support the frontrunner incumbent, especially in an off-cycle end of summer primary. The lower voter turnout and Westchester’s challenge to the frontrunner could spell the end of Bowman’s political career.

Westchester Jewish Community Rallying For Vedat Gashi

There are specific reasons for Bowman to be concerned beyond macro trend lines, which brought J Street into the action.

Bowman’s positions are very unpopular in lower Westchester. Those include:

  • Call to “Defund the police”
  • “Abolish ICE”, the immigration and customs enforcement department, and a call for “open borders”
  • Push for teaching “Critical Race Theory” in schools
  • Voting against the Infrastructure Bill, and then lying to constituents that he supported it
  • Sponsoring a bill that called the founding of Israel a catastrophe
  • Not signing a bipartisan letter to fight anti-Semitism on campuses
  • Not supporting the Abraham Accords which set peace and normalization agreements between Israel and four Muslim countries
  • His vote to condition aid to Israel, in contrast to President Biden’s pledge not to do so
  • Bowman’s being one of the least bipartisan members of congress, going into a session that will likely see a split in Democratic and Republican control

The vast majority of the Westchester Jewish community is against these policies. Further, reading of Bowman’s tight relationship with the noxiously anti-Israel group IfNotNow where he said “I couldn’t be more grateful that IfNotNow Movement has had my back in Congress this year and I know that our partnership is just beginning,” made people search for an alternative.

J Street wasn’t initially concerned by the anger of the Jewish community, as there were three candidates running against Bowman. His victory was a near certainty as people were likely to split the vote. With AIPAC and DMFI concluding the same and staying out of the race, J Street opted to place its money bets on other races.

However, over the last few weeks, Jewish grass roots efforts led to coalescing behind Vedat Gashi, a secular Muslim immigrant from Kosovo. The Jewish community was pulled in by his powerful story, his pledge for “commonsense” policies which would NOT defund the police, which would support investments in infrastructure and would support Israel. Gashi lawn signs began dotting the suburban landscape. The easy Bowman victory was now hotly contested.

So J Street came in to fight the local Jews.

J Street Pours Money Into Campaign Against The Local Jewish Community

With primaries scheduled for August 23rd, J Street announced on August 17 that it would pour $200,000 into the races of Rep. Jerry Nadler and Rep. Jamaal Bowman. The hypocrisy of funding Bowman in a race without any PAC involvement after slamming “aggressive outside spending” is just the beginning.

J Street’s flood of money in the final days of the race is not only going against the desires of the local Jewish community; it is trying to get the non-Jewish community out to vote. Its press release states that its “Bowman ad running across streaming platforms including ESPN, Vevo, MLB, NBC, CBS, ABC and BET.” BET is predominantly watched by the non-Jewish African-American community.

The Westchester Jewish community is rightfully outraged.

J Street is attempting to undermine the local Jewish community’s desire for a moderate pro-Israel candidate to represent them in congress, by spending tons of money to get the non-Jewish community to vote for a far-left anti-Israel candidate. It’s appalling, and the ramifications will likely last well beyond this immediate election.

Member of the far-left anti-Israel “Squad”, Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-MN), Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) and Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-NY)(Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Related articles:

Vedat Gashi, Running To Unseat Jamaal Bowman in Congress, Talks to The Jewish Community

J Street Proves Again It’s Progressive, Not Pro-Israel

Westchester’s Orthodox Jewish Community Rallies To Vedat Gashi

The race to represent New York’s newly redrawn 16th district – now one of the most Jewish congressional districts in the United States – has had a number of inconsistencies and consistencies this election cycle. The common refrain from lower Westchester was a strong dislike for far-left wing “Squad” member Rep. Jamaal Bowman to represent the district. What remained unclear, was whether the community would rally behind a single candidate to defeat Bowman, or split the vote to enable Bowman to coast to victory.

For the past two months, members of the Jewish community divided their support between Vedat Gashi and Catherine Parker. Gashi, who entered the race early, received a significant amount of support from everyone. When the district lines were redrawn in May, Parker entered the race and gathered support from local constituents and people who wanted to see a woman take the congressional seat, much as Nita Lowey had for decades.

Over this past week, realizing that dividing the vote between two candidates was a certain path to victory for Bowman, the Orthodox community opted to put its support behind Gashi as providing the best path to defeating the congressman who voted for policies like “Defund the Police“, “Abolish ICE“, calling the founding of Israel a “catastrophe”, and against the Infrastructure Bill.

Critical to the Orthodox community’s decision was the significant endorsements Gashi has – and continues – to accumulate, including from Mike Spano, the mayor of Yonkers, the largest city in the district and home to a significant base of Bowman support. Spano and Tom Meier, Chair of the Yonkers Democratic Committee will be hosting an event for Gashi on August 16.

Other endorsements this week came from former Rep. Nita Lowey on August 3rd as well as former Rep. Eliot Engel, whom Bowman defeated two years ago. Members of the Orthodox community in White Plains decided to back Gashi on August 2nd, and from New Rochelle on August 4th. The Orthodox community from Scarsdale has been behind Gashi from the start, supporting his moderate, common sense approach to legislation and support for Israel.

Other reasons for picking Gashi include his solid organizational infrastructure set up for the final weeks of the race, with several more months and significantly more money to campaign than Parker, who entered only recently.

Gashi for Congress flyer laying out clear reasons to support Gashi over Bowman, including supporting: the fight against crime; the president; Israel and US infrastructure. All are issues where Bowman was horribly deficient in his only term in office.

It’s never easy to defeat an incumbent, even one with a horrible track record like Bowman. Yet there is a path.

It remains to be seen if the broader Jewish community will get behind Gashi the way the Orthodox community joined in common cause this week. If they do, it might encourage Parker to drop from the race, thereby winning support from the community for her to pursue another political run in the future, and pave a clearer path to defeat a member of the far-left “Squad” on August 23rd.

Related articles:

Vedat Gashi, Running To Unseat Jamaal Bowman in Congress, Talks to The Jewish Community

You Must Register To Vote

J Street Proves Again It’s Progressive, Not Pro-Israel

Lower Westchester Is Engaged In Huge Fights For Congress – Of Which Many Are Unaware

New York State redrew its district lines for congress late in May because of the 2020 census, causing a delay in the congressional primaries in the state. Many people are unaware of the ramifications of this action.

Surprise! You’re in NY-16, not NY-17

The first surprise is that people in lower Westchester are now in NY congressional district number 16, not 17. The new district lines run roughly from the border of New York City up to a few miles north of Interstate-287, and includes the Wakefield section of the Bronx.

New York’s 16th Congressional District has been redrawn as of May 20, 2022. It covers a small section of the Bronx and then all of lower Westchester County. Many residents used to be part of NY-17 and are unaware that their congressional district and representative has changed.

This district is roughly 42% White, 27% Hispanic and 21% Black, with a small percentage of Asians and others. The Black community is principally in the southern part of the district, closer to New York City.

Surprise! Rep. Jamaal Bowman is your congressman

Rep. Jamaal Bowman is the incumbent in NY-16 but much of the district is new for him. While he continues to have a base of support from his 2020 run, located in the Bronx, Yonkers and Mount Vernon, the northern portion of the new NY-16 was previously in NY-17 and represented by Rep. Mondaire Jones.

Because Bowman does not have a built-in base in the district which would normally benefit an incumbent, a couple of local politicians have entered the race to unseat him.

Surprise! Democratic primaries are on August 23rd
with early voting beginning August 13

While many people in New York think they already voted in primaries several weeks ago, the congressional primary is on a separate date to afford the congressional candidates time to assemble a campaign. The date chosen for the primary is deep in the summer, when many people are on vacations and others are running off to university. Primary day is likely to have a very low voter turn-out, meaning that every vote counts that much more. People can change / register to vote in the primary by using this form by July 29.

Fight One – Bowman versus Others

Bowman’s policies are deeply unpopular in much of the district. His calls to ‘Defund the Police’, ‘Abolish I.C.E.’, Open Borders and teaching Critical Race Theory in schools are all echoes of his fellow far-left Squad comrades. Further, voting against the Infrastructure Bill – and then subsequently lying to his constituents that he voted for it – left a bad taste for many. His bad track record providing constituent services adds to his weak candidacy.

Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-MN), Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) and Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-NY), members of the Socialist Squad. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Catherine Parker is one of the Democrats challenging Bowman. She has been a member of the Westchester Board of Legislators since 2013, and has consistently voiced her disapproval with Bowman’s votes on numerous issues, such as the infrastructure bill, saying Bowman’s “protest vote spoke more of his unwillingness to accept compromise than actually accomplishing anything.”

Parker believes that her nine years of experience in Westchester not only give her a solid base of support and track record of serving her constituents, but are likely critical in ultimately working across the aisle in congress, as Democrats are likely to lose a large number of seats during November elections.

Vedat Gashi is also running in the Democratic primary to unseat Bowman, having jumped in many months ago. He was able to get a number of endorsements and raise a significant amount of funds as people in Westchester were eager to retire Bowman. Unfortunately, both he and his base have fallen outside of the final district lines, making his path to victory more complicated.

Fight Two – Parker versus Gashi

While much of Westchester despises the thought of being represented by a member of the Socialist Squad, the pro-Israel community is fighting amongst themselves regarding supporting the two contenders.

Bowman has a terrible track record on Israel. He co-sponsored legislation calling the founding of Israel a ‘Nakba”, a catastrophe. He voted against supporting the Abraham Accords in which Israel made peace with four new countries. He voted against supplying Israel with weapons amidst a wave of attacks from a foreign designated terrorist group. And he has almost the identical voting record as two of the most alt-left anti-Semitic members of congress, Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) and Ilhan Omar (D-MN).

In sharp contrast, both Gashi and Parker have made statements which are pro-Israel and against anti-Semitism. Parker said clearly that she would take money from AIPAC, as her views on Israel are in line with the pro-Israel organization.

Gashi supporters point to his endorsements and more money raised than Parker as demonstrating a higher probability of winning. Parker’s supporters note that Gashi’s advantages are principally because he’s been in the race twice as long as Parker but she is catching up. With an established base in the district and more women traditionally voting in primaries, Parker may have the better path to defeating Bowman.

But it is all beside the point. The only likely path to defeating Bowman would require one of the two to drop out, making it a head-to-head race. Supporters of Gashi are lobbying Parker to drop out and Parker supporters are urging the same of Gashi. While everyone seems to like both candidates, they are simultaneously angry at both for effectively paving a pathway for Bowman’s victory.

Likely Result

Neither Gashi nor Parker will likely drop out. They will both ask their supporters for funds in a cause they know is doomed, as each candidate benefits from enhanced name recognition and the ability to bank the extra funds for another race in the future. Bowman will win a district that hates him.

Another result is that the Jewish community will turn on itself, pointing fingers at supporters of the opposing candidate for not getting their candidate to back down. They will scream at AIPAC and DMFI (Democratic Majority For Israel) for not stepping forward to endorse one of the candidates to galvanize support for a shot at the difficult road to victory, since the groups don’t want to offend potential wealthy donors from Westchester to their PACs.

What is NOT likely, but should, happen is a focused game plan for 2024. The community needs to build alliances with moderate Democratic politicians who will be willing to run against Bowman in the next cycle. Community leaders need to assemble a NY16PAC which will rally behind a single candidate next time. The process cannot be fought in the last months of the race, but over the next two years.

Members of the community should also keep Bowman’s email and office numbers – (202) 225-2464 and (914) 371-9220 – handy to constantly inform him of their views on important topics. People in Congress must know that people are watching and are holding them accountable.

There will probably be no surprises in two years, and hopefully only a single fight to defeat the alt-left extremist who is poised to become your voice in congress.

Related Articles:

Vedat Gashi, Running To Unseat Jamaal Bowman in Congress, Talks to The Jewish Community

Catherine Parker Is Coming For Rep. Jamaal Bowman’s Congressional Seat

Why Does Rep. Jamaal Bowman Lie to Constituents?

Vedat Gashi, Running To Unseat Jamaal Bowman in Congress, Talks to The Jewish Community

New York’s 16th Congressional district has been reshaped by the latest census, and now includes more of Westchester than it had earlier, and drops sections of the Bronx which are now in NY-15 held by Rep. Ritchie Torres. The current congressman for NY-16 is Rep. Jamaal Bowman, who is facing a number of challengers in the Democratic primaries to be held on August 23rd (early voting begins August 13).

According to the non-partisan website fivethirtyeight, the newly redrawn NY-16 leans heavily towards the Democratic Party, voting for Joe Biden over Donald Trump in the 2020 presidential election by a margin of +40. That means that the Democratic primary is truly the election for this congressional seat.

One of the Democratic contenders, Vedat Gashi, spoke with me about issues of particular concern to the Jewish community.

General Background

Gashi describes himself as a “common sense” Democrat who has nothing in common with the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) which has backed Bowman. Gashi grew up in Kosovo and came to the United States at age four. He later returned to Kosovo as an adult to work for the United Nations as the country gained its independence in the dissolution of Yugoslavia. His memories of Israel’s involvement with Kosovo – even before it became independent – left a positive mark on him.

Gashi is appreciative of the Jewish community as well. As a secular Muslim, he said he was appalled at President Trump’s so-called “Muslim ban” which would have restricted people like him from coming to the US (writer’s note: Trump did not ban all Muslims, but people from seven Muslim-majority countries, which did not include Kosovo). When Gashi went to JFK Airport to protest the ban, the first people he saw protesting were Jewish groups. These incidents gave Gashi a sense of warmth toward the Jewish community.

A full background of Gashi’s background can be found on his website. Unfortunately, there is little else on the site, such as his positions on important issues.

Vedat Gashi, running for congress in 2022 to represent NY-16

On Israel

Gashi is instinctively pro-Israel but not very well versed on specific topics.

As it relates to Bowman’s vote against supporting the Abraham Accords in April 2021, Gashi said he was “disappointed” in Bowman’s vote because the Accords clearly advanced US’s foreign policy interests. He assumed that Bowman did so because of pressure from the DSA, and Gashi used that point to highlight that he would not abide by any party orthodoxy but consider each issue as it impacted the people in his district. He added that the DSA’s comments which blamed American and NATO policies for causing Russia’s invasion of Ukraine as indicative of the far-left group’s “tenuous grasp of reality.”

Gashi said that the people behind the Boycott, Divest and Sanction (BDS) of Israel are anti-Semitic. He believes that people who call Israel an “apartheid state”, such as Bowman’s senior policy advisor Rajiv Sicora, “don’t want Israel to even exist”. In contrast, Gashi believes that Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East and is a strong American ally.

Bowman is tied to other DSA-backed politicians like Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) and Ilhan Omar (D-MN), as he votes alongside them 98% of the time. Gashi thinks that Tlaib and Omar have made many anti-Semitic comments, such as Tlaib’s screed that Jews and Zionists profit from racism “from Gaza to Detroit,” and Omar’s comments about Jews buying control of Congress and hypnotizing the world. He finds their comments “deeply racist” and offensive.

Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI), Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) and Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-NY), three members of the ‘Squad’ of Democratic Socialists on November 30, 2021 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Regarding Bowman co-sponsoring the May 2022 Tlaib-led legislation that called the founding of Israel a ‘Nakba’ (catastrophe), Gashi said that sponsors of such legislation do not believe Israel has the right to exist. He said he arrived at such a conclusion from being informed about how Serbs treated Kosovo. Serbs believed Kosovo to be “nothing more than a parking lot,” an empty vessel without meaning or ownership, much the way some anti-Israel people continue to look at the Jewish State today. He noted that the founding of many countries included wars and displacements but that doesn’t mean the new country shouldn’t exist.

Gashi did not have a strong opinion about “settlements.” He noted that he saw some when he visited friends in Israel several years ago, with many being fully established towns which are a far cry from what the name implies, which is a couple of shacks. He offered no opinion about whether they are legal or whether UN Resolution 2334 was appropriate.

Gashi seemed surprised to learn that Palestinian Arabs favor the terrorist group Hamas, and said he felt bad that they were being fed “lying propaganda by their leaders.”

As it relates to a number of other regional issues such as the Taylor Force Act and the Palestinian Authority’s desire for a consulate in Jerusalem, Gashi knew little about the topics.

United Nations / Iran

Gashi worked for the United Nations in Kosovo for a number of years and believes that the organization is an “unwieldy animal” with many difficult actors like Russia, however, Gashi believes that there is opportunity for the United Nations to be a positive force. During our interview, Gashi noted he was not familiar with the many resolutions and committees within the United Nations that attack the Jewish State but seemed interested to learn more.

Regarding the Iranian nuclear deal, Gashi said that “Iran achieving nuclear capacity would be a terrible outcome and needs to be opposed every which way we can, if not diplomatically, then by other means”. He added that “it is an existential problem”.

Anti-Semitism / Religion

Gashi was not familiar with the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism but stressed that “words are important.” Drawing on his experience in Kosovo, he shared that politicians were reluctant to use the term “genocide” because it would compel certain actions, even though avoiding its usage “led to more ethnic cleansing” in his home country. He did not know why President Biden agreed to the IHRA definition and then refused to enact it for Title VI to protect Jewish and Zionist students on campuses, until December 2022, which is after mid-term elections.

Gashi was also unfamiliar with Senator Diane Feinstein grilling of Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett saying “the dogma lives loudly within you and that’s of concern,” as it related to ACB’s Catholic beliefs, suggesting it would possibly disqualify her for office. He said that “all manners of good and bad deeds have been attributed to religiosity. Religiosity in and of itself, is neither good nor bad. Faith, in general, is a good thing.” He did say that Feinstein’s comment was inappropriate.

Schools / Police

Gashi would not engage in a discussion about charter schools or monies for parochial schools. He seemed more concerned about upsetting teacher unions and keeping funding inside of the public school system. Whether he would tackle the issue of prioritizing educating children rather than winning support of powerful unions remains to be seen, as he would not voice an opinion going into a Democratic primary where he is competing against a radical socialist who was formerly a teacher.

Gashi did come after Bowman about his stance to “Defund the Police.” He felt that Bowman’s endorsement of the socialist platform was dangerous for the district and country. He added that Bowman continues to lie about his comments and vote on the manner, much as Bowman clearly lied to his constituents about supporting the infrastructure bill when he voted against it.

Summary

Gashi presents as a left-leaning politician, yet far to the right and much more honest than Bowman. He is not well-versed in various issues of concern to the Jewish people in his district but seems eager to learn and approach the issues thoughtfully.

Related articles:

Rep. Ritchie Torres Doesn’t Want To Be the Only Progressive Pro-Israel Unicorn

The Disgraceful Promotion of Refugee-Washing ‘Nakba’ In The U.S. Congress

Politicians In Their Own Words: Why We Don’t Support Defending Jews

The Right Number of Anti-Semites in Congress

Republican and Democratic Politicians Discuss Israel’s Latest Fight

Rashida Tlaib’s Modern ‘Mein Kampf’

Omar and Tlaib’s Antisemitic B.D.S.