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Israel-Hamas war roils congressional race outside New York City, testing Democrats in pivotal clash

TARRYTOWN, N.Y. — TARRYTOWN, N.Y. (AP) — The war between Israel and Hamas Congressional primaries are underway between two Democrats in New York, reflecting a rift that has splintered the party nationally since the conflict began last year.

US representative Jamaal Bowmanone of the House of Representatives liberals who have questioned the Biden administration’s strong support for Israel’s response to the Oct. 7 Hamas attack on civilians in southern Israel is facing a stiff challenge from centrist George Latimera senior district official who entered the race with the support of Jewish leaders in a largely suburban district north of New York City.

Bowman, a former high school principal seeking his third term, is one of the most critical voices in the House of Representatives on Israel. While condemning Hamas’ attack, he said Israel is to blame genocide in Gaza. He was also among a few members of Congress who opposed it a symbolic resolution to support Israel after the October 7 attack because the country did not push for a ceasefire or pressure to protect Palestinian civilians.

Latimer, 70, has been a political fixture in the district for more than three decades, serving as Westchester County Executive after serving in positions as a local and state lawmaker. He said Bowman’s rhetoric about Israel was only part of the reason he entered the race. A bigger reason, he said, was that people want a more moderate, pragmatic representative than Bowman, who has sometimes been accused of being more concerned about his national profile than the district’s problems.

In a year when congressional races in New York are expected to play a crucial role in determining who controls the House, this seat, which includes parts of the Bronx and Westchester, is expected to remain in Democratic hands regardless of who wins the 25 primary. June wins. .

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Still, the outcome could give Democrats clues about how to frame their message in November, especially on the war, and signal how crucial suburban districts might vote in the fall.

In an interview, Bowman defended his position on Israel.

“Just as I cannot in any way support or condone the terrible attacks of October 7, I can in no way support or condone the genocide now taking place in Gaza,” Bowman said. “So we need to speak even louder. in the US because Israel is supposed to be an ally, and they are not following international law.”

That stance has put him at odds with much of the Democratic establishment and has resulted in a campaign to dethrone He is a member of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, a major lobbying organization dedicated to his ouster progressives who have criticized Israel.

Bowman said the group is “trying to buy this race.”

“They are using all their tools to silence me or bully me and intimidate me into doing what they want me to do,” he said.

Bowman won office in 2020 as a liberal insurgent, defeating U.S. Rep. Eliot Engel, who had served 16 terms and chaired the House Foreign Affairs Committee. Bowman’s position on Israel and the Palestinians had also been a small problem in that race. Engel, who is Jewish, was a strong supporter of Israel.

But Bowman, who is Black, emerged as the candidate of the moment in an election year that saw major protests against racial injustice in the wake of the police killing of George Floyd. His victory came just two years after Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s shocking upset in a nearby congressional district over U.S. Rep. Joe Crowley, who was the fourth-ranking Democrat in the House of Representatives at the time.

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In a potentially telling signal of where the Democratic Party stands this year, former U.S. Rep. Mondaire Jones, a progressive Democrat who entered Congress the same year as Bowman and served one term, recently opted to endorse Latimer in the race .

“I am making this endorsement to stand up for my Jewish constituents, because Representative Bowman and I have very different views on Israel,” said Jones, who is trying to regain a seat in Congress after losing his old district in a redrawing of the Constitution. congressional boundaries. “It is very clear that Mr. Bowman is focused on doing his thing and, in my opinion, not focused enough on the impact this has on the environment here in the Hudson Valley.”

The strategy largely reflects Democrats’ political plans for this year’s New York congressional races. The party has tried to move toward the center to attract suburban voters, who tend to be more moderate.

Latimer, who has scored the approval of former presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, enjoys rattling off the names of local officials he has worked with and delving into the minutiae of day-to-day governance – dealing with potholes, restoring a lighthouse and holding meetings on an issue the local airport.

“When I go to Washington, I don’t go there to be part of the verbal food battle. I’m going to try to figure out how to be a productive member of Congress that gets the results that you can get,” Latimer said in an interview.

Both candidates have supported a two-state solution and say they want peace in the region. But where Bowman is pointed to Israel’s actions and wishes a ceasefireLatimer has been clear in his support for Israel and said negotiating with Hamas is a no-starter – although he said he will not give Israel a “blank check” on anything it does.

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“I’m clearly in favor of having a two-state solution and negotiating for peace,” he said, but “don’t tell me, ‘Stop firing now. Sit down and let’s negotiate’, as the man I am negotiating with in Hamas is a terrorist organization committed to my destruction.”

Bowman, beyond his views on Israel, increased his national profile when he activated a fire alarm in a House of Representatives office building last year as lawmakers were working on a funding bill. He said it was a mistake when he tried to open a locked door as he rushed to vote, although House colleagues later convicted him before.

Bowman said the fire alarm goes off “once every 200 calls” when he gets back home, especially when “older moms in the neighborhood, older black women literally slap me on the wrist and say, ‘Stay out of trouble up there.’”

Jimmy Hickey, a 60-year-old who lives in the neighborhood and works as a janitor in a cooperative building, set off the fire alarm without asking when an Associated Press reporter asked about the primary — “that’s childish,” he said. Hickey said he is a registered Democrat but believes the party has moved too far to the left.

“A guy like Latimer is still a moderate,” Hickey said. “He gets into Congress, he can work with people, get things done. The other man, I don’t think so.”

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