AIPAC launching super PAC ahead of midterms

The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) announced on Thursday that it is launching a super PAC ahead of next year’s midterm elections. 

AIPAC President Betsy Berns Korn said the lobby group is creating a super PAC and a federal PAC “to make us more effective in fulfilling our mission in the current political environment.”

The PACs will back both Democratic and Republican pro-Israel members of Congress in addition to congressional candidates, according to Korn.

She said the changing political environment in Washington, D.C., motivated the lobbying group to launch the PACs.

“The D.C. political environment has been undergoing profound change. Hyper-partisanship, high congressional turnover, and the exponential growth in the cost of campaigns now dominate the landscape,” Korn said in a statement.

“As such, the Board has decided to introduce these two new tools,” she added.

The announcement of the new PACs comes as Israel has become a hot-button issue on Capitol Hill, at times pitting Democrats against one another.

Notably, Israel was plunged into the spotlight in September when progressive Democrats demanded that funding to support Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system be stripped from a stopgap bill to prevent a government shutdown.

Funding for the Iron Dome system had for some time received bipartisan support until this year, when some progressives objected to the matter in support of Palestinians.

Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.), the only Palestinian American member of Congress, said, “We cannot be talking only about Israelis’ need for safety at a time when Palestinians are living under a violent apartheid system,” referring to the Israeli government as “an apartheid regime.”

“We should also be talking about Palestinian need for security from Israeli attacks,” she added.

The House ultimately passed a standalone bill to fund the Iron Dome.

Over the summer, Israel was also a topic of discussion after Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) made remarks that appeared to compare the U.S. and Israel to Taliban and Hamas when discussing war crime.

At the time, Omar’s remarks sparked backlash from a group of 12 lawmakers, that called her remarks “misguided.”

“Equating the United States and Israel to Hamas and the Taliban is as offensive as it is misguided. Ignoring the differences between democracies governed by the rule of law and contemptible organizations that engage in terrorism at best discredits one’s intended argument and at worst reflects deep-seated prejudice,” the group, lead by Rep. Brad Schnieder (D-Ill.) wrote at the time. 

The group also asked her to clarify her remarks in their letter.

Marshall Wittmann, a spokesperson for AIPAC, told The Hill in a statement that the PACs are “an opportunity to significantly deepen and strengthen the involvement of the pro-Israel community in politics,” adding that they will function “in a bipartisan way.”

Rob Bassin will lead the super PAC, and Marilyn Rosenthal will head the federal PAC, according to an AIPAC official. Before their new roles, Bassin was AIPAC’s political director and Rosenthal served as director of progressive engagement.

J Street, the progressive pro-Israel, pro-“two-state solution” group, issued a statement Thursday calling on all pro-Israel PACs to not support candidates that question the 2020 election

The creation of the new committees is part of a number of new initiatives the group has launched in recent years, including increased social media presence, a digital initiative and a forthcoming AIPAC app, the official noted. The initiatives have reportedly helped increase membership to the group to more than 1.5 million.

While super PACs are not permitted to donate to candidates directly, they are able to solicit and utilize an unrestricted amount of money to rally support for or against a candidate.

Laura Kelly contributed to this report. Updated at 4:55 p.m.