Jamaal Bowman Deserves the Left’s Support

New York congressman Jamaal Bowman is a democratic socialist incumbent under fire by AIPAC for his pro-Palestinian stances and corporate lobbyists for his progressive domestic policy. His defeat would be a serious setback for the Left.

Representative Jamaal Bowman speaks during a news conference outside the US Capitol on February 14, 2024 in Washington, DC. (Alex Wong / Getty Images)

We often hear from the Left on how important it is to use our power — as voters, union members, protesters — to reject politicians who have not called for a cease-fire in Israel’s war on Gaza, which has claimed upward of thirty thousand lives. But it’s equally urgent to defend those elected officials who have advocated for a cease-fire against the war and against the occupation itself.

The pro-war, pro-Israel forces are mobilizing against those elected officials, hoping to take them down. Jamaal Bowman is one of the most stalwart cease-fire defenders — and one of the most electorally imperiled.

Bowman is only one of many democratic socialists this year facing challengers funded by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), the leading Israel lobbying group, which has close ties to the Israeli government and a track record of opposing socialists and progressives. AIPAC is spending $100 million to try to take down Israel’s biggest critics this year. Most of the socialists in this group will probably win, providing their supporters do the work of campaigning for them and turning out the vote. But like Representative Cori Bush of St Louis, Bowman is in real danger of losing.

Bowman’s history on Palestine — and relationship to some of its socialist advocates — has been complicated. His New York district includes many serious supporters of Israel, and some of his actions in the past have angered the Left. When first in office, Bowman voted in favor of funding for Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense project and took a trip to Israel. Democratic Socialists of America’s National Political Committee issued a nuanced statement at the time. Some within DSA, which had endorsed him when he first ran for Congress in 2020, called for expelling him from the organization (which DSA did not do, but Bowman did allow his membership to lapse in 2022).

Since then, Bowman has been a passionate advocate against the war, for a cease-fire, and for Palestinian lives. Of the United States’ failure to stop Israel’s assault on Gaza, he said at a cease-fire rally in October, “I am ashamed, quite ashamed to be a member of Congress at times when Congress doesn’t value every single life.” He lost the centrist US-Israel policy advocacy organization J Street’s endorsement, partly by calling Israel’s post–October 7 attack on Gaza what it is: a genocide. In November, he participated in a hunger strike calling for a cease-fire, saying, “We need to end the mass murder of Palestinian civilians and Palestinian children.”

Many DSA activists speak highly of him, and many will be involved in his campaign this year. (No one is yet speaking on the record about what the official relationship between the Bowman campaign and DSA will look like this year, but it seems clear the relationship will be a friendly one.)

Now, because of his impassioned advocacy on this issue, he faces a serious threat in the form of George Latimer, a longtime Westchester County pol who, with lackluster fundraising skills, would not be congressional material if he were not heavily funded by AIPAC. Latimer has claimed that Bowman is funded by Hamas — an absurd charge for which, as the Intercept has reported, there is no evidence.

As Michael Lange has documented in a lengthy analysis, Bowman’s race is winnable but will be a tough fight. The redistricting process seems to have been engineered to get rid of him. He is popular in the Bronx, in working-class black and Latino neighborhoods, but the Bronx makes up less than 7 percent of his new district (cut back from 40 percent). He did beat back primary challengers last election on this less-friendly terrain, but Latimer, powered by AIPAC, has more money and is highly motivated by that cash source to stoke the intense dissatisfaction of some suburban Jewish voters with Bowman’s sympathy for Gaza.

Anyone who cares about what happens in Palestine has a stake in Bowman’s reelection, as so few elected officials are willing to take the political risks to speak out against this war. But reelecting Bowman and politicians like him is also critical for any left political agenda.

Bowman first got into politics as a middle-school principal; for a time, he was one of the only public-school administrators who would speak out against the neoliberal standardized testing system and its use in distributing school funding and evaluating teachers.

He’s even been unusually crucial on some state fights that are important to socialists. New York’s congressmembers don’t weigh in on state issues often. But Bowman vocally and publicly touted the Build Public Renewables Act (BPRA) and helped to win support for it from powerful state Democrats whose districts overlap with his; the bill passed and became one of New York City DSA’s biggest policy accomplishments, as well as the state’s most important climate legislation to date.

If Bowman is defeated, all the opponents of progressive politics — centrist Democrats, the fossil fuel industry, real-estate developers — will take the message that leftist principles can be used against leftist candidates. That would be a disaster for the socialist project.