Orange County contest

Pro-Israel groups ally against Dave Min in contentious California primary

DMFI, a Democratic pro-Israel group, also endorsed a slate of moderate Democratic candidates — many facing contested primaries

Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images

Dave Min, Democratic candidate for California's 47th Congressional District, addresses guests during a campaign event at a home in Irvine, Calif., on Friday, October 6, 2023.

Democratic Majority for Israel is wading into an increasingly contentious House race for an open swing seat in California, endorsing Joanna Weiss over the other top Democrat, Dave Min, who is also facing opposition from a separate pro-Israel group that recently made an unexpected entry into the primary.

DMFI’s political arm announced on Thursday that it was backing Weiss, an attorney and activist, in its first round of non-incumbent endorsements for the 2024 election cycle. The new slate also includes a handful of moderate Democrats in competitive primaries for open seats in Virginia and Colorado as well as some challengers in Texas and Nebraska, among other states.

The nod to Weiss, however, represents the most immediately consequential endorsement on the list, landing just weeks ahead of what is expected to be a closely contested primary to replace outgoing Rep. Katie Porter (D-CA), who is running for Senate.

It also comes as Min, a state senator in Orange County, has been pummeled by new attack ads from the super PAC affiliated with AIPAC, United Democracy Project. In recent days, the pro-Israel group has dropped more than $600,000 on a TV ad campaign hitting Min over a DUI arrest last May.

DMFI PAC, which entered 2024 with around $1.7 million in cash on hand, is also planning to invest in the race, according to a source familiar with the group’s deliberations, adding to a torrent of outside spending.

The late activity from two leading national pro-Israel organizations has stirred speculation over the motivations behind their opposition to Min — which neither group has publicly clarified.

In a statement, Mark Mellman, DMFI PAC’s chairman, said that Weiss, like every Democrat in its new slate of endorsements, “strongly supports the enduring U.S.-Israel relationship and, once elected, will oppose placing additional conditions on U.S. aid for Israel as it seeks to disarm and dismantle Hamas.”

Min, for his part, has likewise expressed support for continued U.S. military aid to Israel, without extra conditions, and has won backing from a number of pro-Israel lawmakers.

But even as he seems to be broadly aligned with his opponent on Middle East policy, DMFI ultimately concluded that Weiss was the stronger choice with regard to key issues concerning Israel, according to the source with knowledge of the group’s thinking, who asked to remain anonymous to address private conversations.

The deciding factor, this person claimed, was that Min, after meeting with DMFI in recent months, refused to make edits to his Israel position paper that were requested by the group’s leadership. 

Among the issues was that DMFI had raised concerns about the language Min had used to endorse the memorandum of understanding guaranteeing U.S. aid to Israel over a fixed 10-year period. The group believed his wording was too vague, according to the source, and did not clearly specify if he would vote for the full annual funding amount.

A spokesperson for Min’s campaign declined to comment.

In a questionnaire recently solicited by a pro-Israel group in California and reviewed by Jewish Insider this week, Min was explicit about his commitment to honoring the U.S.-Israel aid agreement. “I would support extending the joint 10-year memorandum of understanding between Israel and the United States signed by President Obama,” Min wrote, “including full funding of the obligations created by the MOU.”

He also clarified that he “would oppose conditions on our aid that were specifically and uniquely targeted at Israel or seemed politically driven.”

It was unclear if Min had used the same language in his position paper, which his team was not able to share on Thursday.

As for AIPAC’s involvement, Min’s team has suggested that its super PAC is now running attack ads against him because AIPAC, which met with both candidates, had taken issue with his criticism of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as well as his affiliation with J Street, the progressive Israel advocacy group that endorsed him in 2018.

A pro-Israel strategist in California informed of Min’s engagement with AIPAC, who was granted anonymity to discuss a confidential matter, said that AIPAC had also raised concerns with Min about his position paper, which he declined to address. 

The group, which is bipartisan, has not officially endorsed Weiss and is unlikely to engage in the general election unless Min advances past the top-two primary early next month, the strategist said. The leading Republican candidate in the race, Scott Baugh, is staunchly pro-Israel.

A spokesperson for AIPAC declined to comment, and a representative for UDP, its super PAC, did not respond to a request for comment.

With backing from DMFI and a lesser-known pro-Israel group that endorsed her campaign last week, Weiss has largely consolidated the pro-Israel lane in a race that could help decide the balance of power in the House, even if some observers remain skeptical there are significant differences with Min.

In a statement addressing the endorsement from DMFI on Thursday, Weiss pledged to “stand with Israel when in Congress” and said the group “has done immeasurable work to promote peace between Israel and its neighbors in the region.”

The new slate of non-incumbents backed by DMFI this week, including Janelle Bynum in Oregon and Eileen Filler-Corn in Virginia, is not likely to be its last of the cycle — especially as the group continues to assess some primaries in which prominent Israel critics are poised to face well-funded challengers.

The source familiar with DMFI’s deliberations said the group is “very likely” to go on the offensive in at least two races to boost challengers running against Reps. Jamaal Bowman (D-NY) and Cori Bush (D-MO) — who are among the most vulnerable anti-Israel lawmakers in the House. 

The timing, however, remains unclear, and DMFI has not yet made any final decisions as it prepares to engage in the Orange County matchup.

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