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CHANGES IN ATTITUDE

J Street rescinds endorsement of Jamaal Bowman over anti-Israel rhetoric

The surprise reversal is a setback for Bowman as he prepares for a challenging primary

Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-NY) leaves the U.S. Capitol Building

J Street, the progressive Israel advocacy group, said on Friday that it had rescinded its endorsement of Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-NY) over his increasingly inflammatory rhetoric on the war in Gaza, crediting the decision to growing concerns that his comments have gone too far.

“When the rhetoric, the framing and the approach go too far, that’s where we are going to hold our line,” Jeremy Ben-Ami, J Street’s president, told The Forward, which was first to report the group’s decision to part ways with Bowman. “And that’s when we felt that Bowman crossed the line here.”

The surprise reversal from J Street was a setback for Bowman, who has faced scrutiny from Jewish voters over his positions on Israel, as he prepares for a primary fight against a formidable Democratic rival.

Just last month, Ben-Ami had said in an interview with Jewish Insider that J Street would continue to support Bowman and saw no need to reevaluate its endorsements mid-cycle. 

Even as he acknowledged disagreements over calls for a cease-fire and said that Bowman’s comments, including accusations that Israel is committing genocide in Gaza, had “certainly crossed the line,” Ben-Ami insisted that the congressman’s approach to Middle East policy was within the “parameters for endorsement.”

But the final straw apparently came earlier this month, when JI first reported on a recent event in Westchester County at which Bowman appeared alongside Norman Finkelstein, a controversial anti-Israel scholar who has celebrated Hamas’ Oct. 7 terror attacks and been accused of promoting antisemitic conspiracy theories.

In his remarks at the event, a panel discussion on the Israel-Hamas war, Bowman voiced admiration for Finkelstein and the other speakers, saying that he was “starstruck” to be in their company and thanking them for “delivering the truth to us.”

Bowman has since apologized for his comments, which drew backlash from Jewish leaders, claiming he was “unaware” of Finkelstein’s “reprehensible” views before he attended the event, even as he had told the audience that he watched the panelists “all the time on YouTube.”

Despite the apology, Ben-Ami suggested to The Forward that Bowman’s praise for Finkelstein had ultimately compelled J Street to officially withdraw its support last week.

A spokesperson for J Street, asked for comment on its decision to revoke its endorsement of Bowman, referred JI to a statement released late on Friday afternoon citing “significant differences between us in framing and approach” — which the group left unspecified.

The group added that even as it was pulling its support for Bowman’s campaign it looked “forward to continued dialogue” with the congressman, a prominent member of the Squad, while vowing that it was “committed to make no endorsements in” his primary.

Bowman, who launched his reelection campaign last Wednesday, is gearing up to face off against George Latimer, the popular Westchester County executive recently endorsed by AIPAC — which has clashed with J Street-backed candidates in recent election cycles.

In a campaign kickoff video released last week, Bowman blasted AIPAC as “funded by Donald Trump’s Republican megadonors,” warning that the group is now “preparing to spend millions” to oppose him.

House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY), a long-standing AIPAC ally, has indicated that he will support Bowman and other Squad members facing challenges this cycle.

Bowman’s campaign did not respond to a request for comment from JI on Friday.

Earlier last week, Bowman was endorsed by the Jewish Vote, a far-left group affiliated with Jews For Racial and Economic Justice, whose political director, Alicia Singham Goodwin, criticized J Street’s about-face in a statement on Friday.

“Unfortunately, this is yet another in a series of poor decisions that J Street has made in recent months,” she said, “and one they’ll certainly regret.”

In 2021, Bowman took his first trip to Israel on a delegation sponsored by J Street, drawing ire from the far left. Last cycle, J Street helped raise nearly $40,000 for Bowman’s campaign through its web portal, while its super PAC dropped an additional $100,000 into the race.

While such instances are rare, this isn’t the first time J Street has pulled an endorsement due to tensions over Israel. In 2018, the group withdrew its support for Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI), the Palestinian-American lawmaker who was then mounting her first House campaign, over her refusal to back a two-state solution.

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