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A pro-Israel network of political action committees, coordinated by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, has spent more than $12 million during the current election cycle in direct donations, and millions more through coordinated Super PACs, to oppose any candidate who questions or challenges Israel, according to officials who monitor US election financing.

Dale Sprusansky, an editor at Washington Report on Middle East Affairs magazine who tabulates and investigates pro-Israel PAC money, said that the amounts involved dwarf the money spent in support of pro-Arab and pro-Palestinian candidates.

He told Arab News that in many cases, the donations and activities tied to AIPAC do not even address Israel directly and instead focus on local issues that are twisted, distorted or fabricated to undermine candidates who either support Palestine and criticize Israeli authorities, or who generally support Israel but do not consistently stick to the accepted pro-Israeli agenda.

“What we can track thus far for the current campaign cycle is $12 million but that is … not the dark money,” Sprusansky said on Wednesday during an appearance on The Ray Hanania Radio Show.

“So, and every study shows this on this issue and on other issues, the dark money is multiples of what the overt money is — I would say hundreds of millions sounds right to me.”

AIPAC does not necessarily promote messages that express direct support for Israel, he explained. Instead, most of the money is used to attack the records of candidates it believes are not loyal enough to the Israeli state, and target mainstream issues and local policies in an attempt “to erode voter support” for the candidates it opposes, he added.

“It takes so much gall to act like they care, right?” Sprusansky said. “They are running ads saying she is bad for her constituents who have needs, when their real focus is on a country that is half a world away. They don’t (care) about her constituents, so it is astonishingly disingenuous.

“Maybe in districts perceived as being very Zionist, like South Florida, New York and California, you will see ads actually mention Israel. But for the rest of the country, 90 percent of the districts, no pro-Israel ad is going to mention Israel.

“They know that the average American is going to sit there and say, ‘Why are they talking about Israel when I have 10,000 issues in front of me as an American?’ That is their strategy: To get you in a fury over something other than the issue they are causing you to vote for.”

Sprusansky described such methods as “deceitful and disingenuous.”

The estimate of the AIPAC money does not include the millions raised by another, affiliated PAC called the United Democracy Project, which makes no direct mention of Israel in its messages but targets any candidate that does not embrace a pro-Israel agenda.

One the people it targeted was former Representative Donna F. Edwards who served 10 years in Congress but stepped down in 2017 to pursue an unsuccessful run for the Maryland Senate. When she attempted a return to congress in the contest for Maryland’s 4th Congressional District this year, she was defeated in the Democratic primary on July 19 by Glenn Ivey.

Sprusansky said the UDP spent more than $6 million in attack adds targeting Edwards that accused her of lying to voters about her record on mainstream American issues. Ivey is considered a strong supporter of Israel.

“If you look at Donna Edwards’s record (on Palestine), it is better than most congresspeople but it is not phenomenal; she is not Rashida Tlaib and she is not Ilhan Omar,” Sprusansky said.

“Edwards did vote to support Israel on multiple occasions but she did (say) several things that did not completely toe the line. And … when you don’t completely, 100 percent toe the line, (when) you are bad on one out of 100 (issues), you are bad and you can expect $6 million to be poured against you in a local election campaign.”

Sprusansky also highlighted the Democratic primaries due to take place on Aug. 2 in Michigan, in which several candidates are being targeted by AIPAC, UDP and “dark money” sources. They include Palestinian candidate Huwaida Arraf in the 10th District, Jewish American Congressman Andy Levin in the 11th, and Palestinian Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib in the 12th.

Levin “is so middle of the road” and supports the “two-state solution, which many people view as perpetuating the status quo and injustice,” Sprusansky noted. “AIPAC originally started as supporting the two-state solution (but) now views (it) as somehow being anti-Israel. So much of the deck is already stacked before you even get to the ballot box.”

AIPAC’s strategic-funding approach to US elections is both legal and effective, and far outspends pro-Arab donations, he said.

“Why does a local official, city council member or school board member pass a resolution supporting Israel in Gaza, which is more than 9,000 miles away from the little voter constituency where they hold offices?” Sprusansky asked.

“It happens in so many ways. For a lot of them, they (the candidates) get approached very early in their careers by pro-Israel groups and they become activists, city council members, at the most local of levels. School board members.

“Often (they are approached) by groups such as the Anti-Defamation League and others. And they basically start slowly cultivating them toward their views. And the next thing you know they are going on trips to Israel — free, paid for — and it becomes very clear to them that being pro-Israel is good for raising money and it is good to keep trouble off of your back.

“Not only did Donna Edwards have $6 million (spent opposing her) but she (faced) attacks ads and it was a double whammy of trouble when you don’t have pro-Israel money behind you.”

According to a seven-page analysis published in this month’s Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, AIPAC has donated more than $100,000, and as much as $892,000, to 25 candidates in election races in Ohio, Michigan, New York, Virginia, Maryland, Texas, Illinois and New Jersey.

Sometimes the donations are designed to soften the opposition, as in the case of Illinois congressmen Jesus Garcia, who has received $19,600 from APIAC, and Danny K. Davis, who has received $56,484. Both have presented themselves to Arab Americans as being supportive of Palestinian rights.

The Ray Hanania Show is broadcast live every Wednesday at 5 p.m. EST on WNZK AM 690 radio in the Greater Detroit area, including parts of Ohio, and WDMV AM 700 radio in Washington D.C., including parts of Virginia and Maryland. It is rebroadcast on Thursdays at 7 a.m. in Detroit on WNZK AM 690 and in Chicago at noon on WNWI AM 1080.

You can listen to the radio show’s podcast by visiting ArabNews.com/rayradioshow.