Why are pro-Israeli PACs weighing in on an Ohio special election?

Why are pro-Israeli PACs weighing in on an Ohio special election?
The results of an Ohio special election on 3 August could set the tone for the coming years of the Democratic Party, as the old establishment guard battles a new generation of progressives.
3 min read
Washington, D.C.
03 August, 2021
A national and international spotlight shines on an Ohio election. [Getty images]

When Nina Turner entered the race for Congress in Ohio's 11th District, she got off to a strong start, with a lead of around 30 percent against her Democratic primary opponents.

For her progressive fans, her wide lead seemed almost too good to be true. Could an outspoken leftist in an increasingly conservative state in the rustbelt get the support of the Democratic establishment?

It took a while for them to weigh in, but when they did they came out in full force. In June, her opponent, Shontel Brown, chair of the Cuyahoga County Democratic Party, picked up an endorsement from former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. This was followed by Representative Jim Clyburn of South Carolina, widely credited with reviving Joe Biden's bid for the Democratic presidential nomination.

Support has also come from pro-Israel groups, such as the Jewish Democratic Council of America, Democratic Majority for Israel, Pro-Israel America, and NORPAC. J Street - the left-leaning, pro-Israel advocacy group - has decided not to endorse any candidate in the race.

Mark Mellman, president and CEO of DMFI, which has spent around a million dollars on the election, including TV advertisements, has called Turner "a profound threat" to ensuring that the Democratic Party remains pro-Israel and described the election in Ohio as critical.

Turner said she supports making aid to Israel conditional on its human rights record. During Israeli attacks on East Jerusalem and Gaza in May, she tweeted: “Palestinian lives matter.”

"They know Nina Turner is part of this new group of leaders that understands the universal fight for justice. They understand public opinion is shifting on this issue. She is standing up for all oppressed people," Mohammed Missouri, executive director of Jetpac - an organisation that encourages and trains Muslims and allies to run for office - told The New Arab.

"Congress is changing with this new crop of elected officials. It’s a new type of leadership. It’s very different and very real. Nina Turner would be one of those people. Special interests have been used to influencing Congress," said Missouri, referring to the interests of powerful donors versus small donations from voters, many of whom have become more supportive of Palestinian rights.

Hours before polls open on Tuesday, the election betting site Predictit.org has Turner beating Brown, leading the pack at 56 cents. According to their graph, gamblers started by betting on Turner at nearly 80 cents in late July, a strong lead that has steadily declined as her opponent was flooded with high-profile endorsements and donations from around the country. Some polls now have Turner and Brown running neck and neck.

Depending on how this election plays out, it could be a sign of where the country is heading, politically. This also goes for the Republican primary in the more rural conservative area of District 15, which will be taking place at the same time. Though District 11 is deeply Democratic - and the winner of the primary will most likely win the general election - many eyes are also on the other Republican race to see if Donald Trump’s preferred candidate, coal lobbyist Mike Carey, wins.  

"Whoever wins this is going to win the general. We hear a lot about the squad. It matters. Another one will make a big difference," Vince Jungkunz, associate professor of political science at Ohio University, told The New Arab, referring to the small group of outspoken progressive Congress members.

"These elections are helping us understand where both parties are going," he said.

"Local elections are so consequential to the national divide. So much is at stake right now. Everything matters."