sanders new hampshire
© Matt Rourke/Associated Press
Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, Independent-Vermont., arrives to speak to supporters at a primary night election rally in Manchester, New Hampshire, February 11, 2020.
The liberal Zionist organization J Street called on Saturday for a pro-Israel Democratic group to take down an ad attacking presidential candidate Bernie Sanders.

Ahead of the February 22 Nevada caucuses, the Democratic Majority for Israel (DMFI) was unleashing TV ads in the Silver State blasting the Vermont senator on the idea that he's not electable, Mediaite reported.

"DMFI in reality represents a minority of pro-Israel Democrats who seem more concerned with targeting progressives over Israel policy than with confronting the destructive agenda of Donald Trump," said J Street president Jeremy Ben-Ami.

"Like their partner organization AIPAC - which recently ran vitriolic attack ads echoing Republican smears against progressive Democrats - DMFI's right-leaning positions on Israel and US foreign policy are completely out of touch with the vast majority of Democrats and American Jews, who are both supportive of Israel and strongly critical of the policies of the Netanyahu government and of Donald Trump," he added.

DMFI has no formal relationship with the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). It was founded by Mark Mellman, who had ties to AIPAC when he worked for a consultancy that did business with the lobby in two separate iterations — one five years ago and another thirty years ago, he told The Times of Israel.

On Sunday, DMFI pushed back on J Street's censure, and the notion that it is affiliated with AIPAC.

"DMFI is independent of any other organizations and its leadership has spent lifetimes in the trenches helping Democrats," Mellman said in a statement. "Like many other Democrats, we believe that Senator Sanders will not be able to defeat Trump, and his nomination would put Democratic candidates at risk up and down the ballot and across the country."

He added, "If J Street really cared about the Democratic Party, the US-Israel relationship or combatting antisemitism, they would join us, instead of protecting Senator Sanders and lying about DMFI's positions and so-called partnerships.

AIPAC denied that it helps funnel money into the organization's coffers after an article from the left-leaning website The Intercept reported that the powerful pro-Israel lobby was channeling benefits to the group's donors.


Comment: Sanders surging in polls, worried Israeli lobby drops big chunk of change on sinking his Nevada chances
That partisan work is left to organizations like DMFI, whose ads AIPAC claims to have no involvement with. However, the Intercept reported that AIPAC is allowing donations to DMFI to count as donations to AIPAC, with big money contributions buying donors access to AIPAC's list of friendly congressmen, all without implicating AIPAC in the Sanders smear campaign. The investigative site also reported that DMFI is staffed by a host of AIPAC alumni, who switched over to focus their lobbying efforts exclusively on the Democratic Party, following the GOP's rightward drift on Israel in recent years.

Rachel Rosen, a spokeswoman for Democratic Majority for Israel, which was founded in 2019, told the Associated Press the organization was "completely independent" from "any other organization."

Last month, AIPAC apologized for and removed Facebook ads that castigated freshman Muslim congresswomen Rashida Tlaib of Michigan and Ilhan Omar of Minnesota as "radicals" who posed a threat "maybe more sinister" than Islamic State and other terror groups.
Representative Rashida Tlaib (L) and Representative Ilhan Omar

Representative Rashida Tlaib (L) and Representative Ilhan Omar (R)
An alliance of liberal advocacy groups, including MoveOn and Indivisible, is leading an effort to dissuade 2020 Democratic presidential hopefuls from attending AIPAC's annual policy conference next month after mounting a similar effort last year.

The anti-Sanders ads come after the candidate won the New Hampshire primary and is surging in the national polls.

DMFI also ran similar ads in Iowa, leading up to its caucuses two weeks ago, where Sanders came in second behind former South Bend mayor Pete Buttigieg.

J Street noted that the ads don't refer to Sanders's Israel policy, which has been far more aggressively sympathetic to the Palestinians than his Democratic rivals.
Jeremy Ben-Ami J street
© Courtesy JTA/J Street
J Street Executive Director addressing the group's conference in Washington, March 21, 2015.
"The ads themselves have nothing to do with Israel and don't even mention Senator Sanders' views on Israel or foreign policy," Ben-Ami said. "If the funders and activists behind DMFI want to attack the Senator's politics and candidacy, they should find another banner to rally under that leaves Israel out."

Sanders has openly considered cutting American aid to Israel to pressure the nation to roll back its settlement enterprise, enter peace talks with the Palestinians and improve the humanitarian crisis in Gaza.

He has also spoken of his support for Israel's right to exist and live in safety, but has called for a more "evenhanded" US approach to Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking.

Ben-Ami criticized DMFI for taking sides in the Democratic primary, and said other US Jewish groups should also demand the ads be taken off the air.

"We urge other leaders and organizations in the American Jewish community to join our call to remove these harmful ads and we call on AIPAC to join us in condemning these ads and to sever ties with the group," he said.