Democrats’ Split Over Israel Takes Center Stage in Tense Primary Debate

Democrats’ smoldering divisions over the war in Gaza flared in New York on Monday, as Representative Jamaal Bowman, one of House’s most endangered incumbents, debated a party rival over Israel’s war tactics, American military aid and a powerful pro-Israel group.

In many ways, their exchanges echoed those playing out from Congress to college campuses. But for Mr. Bowman, there was something more at stake: His sharp criticism of Israel has put him at risk of losing his seat in a primary in the New York City suburbs next month.

That possibility appeared to be front of mind as he began the race’s first televised debate in White Plains, N.Y. Mr. Bowman joined his more moderate opponent, George Latimer, in reiterating support for two states — one Palestinian and one Jewish — and condemning antisemitism. He steered clear of incendiary terms like “genocide” that have cost him key Jewish support. Both candidates let some deeper differences slide.

The comity lasted all of 25 minutes.

Friction spiked — and never really abated — after the conversation turned to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the influential pro-Israel lobby that helped push Mr. Latimer into the race and has pledged millions of dollars to defeat Mr. Bowman and other members of the House’s left-wing “Squad.”

Sensing a rare opportunity to go on the attack, the congressman accused Mr. Latimer, the Westchester County executive, of being “bought and paid for” by the group and its deep-pocketed funders, who Mr. Bowman said also support “right-wing Republicans who want to destroy our democracy.”

Mr. Latimer did not take the gibe kindly. The group, as he quickly pointed out, has deep ties to Democratic leadership, but its brook-no-criticism approach to Israel’s deadly counteroffensive in Gaza has alienated large numbers of Democratic lawmakers and voters.

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