Liberal pro-Israel group J Street launches $700k ad campaign to boost Levin in primary

Melissa Nann Burke
The Detroit News

Another outside group is jumping in with big money to sway the competitive Democratic primary in Michigan's 11th District in Oakland County, where two incumbents, U.S. Reps. Andy Levin and Haley Stevens, are running for a third term in Congress. 

J Street Action Fund said Tuesday it's spending $700,000 on a TV ad campaign in the district to boost Levin of Bloomfield Township three weeks out from the Aug. 2 primary.

The group, an affiliate of the liberal "pro-Israel, pro-peace" group J Street, is airing a 30-second ad criticizing Stevens for taking donations from another pro-Israel organization, the hawkish American Israel Public Affairs Committee.

The ad makes no mention of Israel but shows footage of the Jan. 6 Capitol attack in noting that AIPAC supports 109 Republicans who voted to overturn the 2020 election. "No campaign cash is worth abandoning our democracy," the narrator says.

U.S. Rep. Haley Stevens, left, and U.S. Rep. Andy Levin debate during the Democratic 11th Congressional District debate at Oakland University in Rochester, Mich. on May 24, 2022.

Larkin Parker, a spokeswoman for Stevens, called the negative ad "shameful and truly sickening."

“Andy Levin should be absolutely ashamed that he left a winnable seat to primary a fellow Democrat and is now resorting to weak-man tactics that truly reveal the desperation of his resource-starved campaign," Parker said in a statement. 

"Rep. Stevens voted not once, but twice to impeach Donald Trump while she represented a Republican seat and was one of the first members of Congress to call for his ouster on January 6th as she sheltered in place in her office."

J Street spokesman Logan Bayroff said the $700,000 campaign is the Action Fund's largest single expenditure in a race yet this election cycle behind the Democratic primary in Maryland's 4th District.

J Street decided to get involved in the Michigan contest in response to large spending in the 11th District by the United Democracy Project, a super political action committee affiliated with AIPAC that's misrepresenting Levin as anti-Israel, Bayroff said.

"We wish that this race hadn't been turned into this ridiculous litmus test about Israel," Bayroff said. "But we're not going to leave strong, principled Democrats who are friends and allies of J Street and our movement undefended when they're facing this kind of onslaught of right-wing money."

AIPAC, which supports both Democrats and Republicans, has endorsed Stevens and criticized Levin — the only Jewish candidate in the race — who has advocated for Palestinian human rights and spoken against Israeli policies.

United Democracy Project began airing a pro-Stevens TV ad two weeks ago and has spent over $1.59 million in support of her through media ads and direct mail, according to federal disclosures. 

AIPAC's political action committee has separately donated nearly $494,000 to Stevens' campaign through bundled donations, while J Street's super PAC has contributed over $286,000 to Levin. 

The dueling ads by the rival pro-Israel groups are another example of how the Levin-Stevens contest is reflecting a divide in the Democratic Party over Israel

United Democracy Project did not respond to a request for comment.

More:Levin-Stevens primary contest reflects split among Democrats over Israel

Levin spokeswoman Jenny Byer said voters in the 11th "deserve to know the truth" about who is funding the UDP advertising — a reference to donations to UDP by two GOP megadonors, Paul Singer and Bernie Marcus, who each gave $1 million.

"It’s a right-wing group that wants to defeat progressive candidates who stand up for working families and human rights," Byer said. "Rep. Stevens has been asked at every debate and at public events why she is accepting this money, much of which comes from Republican billionaires, and she refuses to answer."

Parker countered that it's Levin who "once again fails his own purity test by accepting outside, dark money."

"He is the only candidate in this race who is going negative time and time again," she said.

Asked about her AIPAC endorsement at a May debate, Stevens noted she's in the company of multiple Democratic leaders including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, Majority Whip Jim Clyburn, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and several dozen members of the House Progressive Caucus. 

"Certainly, that endorsement was based on my belief in a strong U.S.-Israel relationship," she said.

Levin countered that it's not about the endorsement itself but about taking donations from groups that support "insurrectionist" Republicans.

"It's not acceptable as a moral Jewish person to support people who are undermining our democracy," Levin said at the debate.