Bronx dumps pro-Israel Engel for Bowman, a progressive critic of Israel


Reactions from the pro-Israel community have poured in as Rep. Eliot Engel is projected to lose his seat to Jamaal Bowman, a progressive, in New York’s 16th Congressional District as a result of the Tuesday’s primary.

The Bronx-Westchester district includes Riverdale.

As of early Wednesday morning, Engel, who has served in Congress since 1989 and is the chairman of the influential U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee, has received less than 34 percent of the votes, while Bowman has garnered almost 61 percent of the votes, a difference of nearly 12,000 votes.

“I’m a Black man who was raised by a single mother in a housing project. That story doesn’t usually end in Congress. But today, that 11-year old boy who was beaten by police is about to be your next Representative,” Bowman said in a statement on Wednesday morning. “I cannot wait to get to Washington and cause problems for the people maintaining the status quo.”

On Tuesday night, he told supporters, "You know what Donald Trump is more afraid of than anything else? A black man with power.”

Despite campaigning against Bowman, Democratic Majority for Israel’s political action committee congratulated him on his projected victory against the 16-term congressman.

DMFI PAC president Mark Mellman said his group looks “forward to working with him as a Member of Congress.”

“Eliot Engel earned our support in this race by his forceful leadership on behalf of a progressive agenda, which includes a strong U.S.-Israel relationship,” continued Mellman. “His constituents apparently concluded, however, that he had lost touch with them, and that is, of course, wholly their decision to make.”

“It is important to note that, from voters’ point of view, support for Israel was not part of the debate in this race. The one exception: in the final hours of the campaign, Mr. Bowman worked to burnish his pro-Israel credentials writing a newspaper op-ed stating his personal opposition to the BDS movement, his support for continued U.S. aid to Israel, and backing Israel’s right to defend itself from Hamas and other terrorist groups.”

Similarly, the Jewish Democratic Council of America, which had also supported Engel, congratulated Bowman and championed his progressive views.

“We are confident he is committed to the priorities of Jewish voters such as fighting gun violence, combating climate change, ensuring access to affordable education and health care, and advocating for racial justice and criminal justice reform, and we look forward to working with him to further this agenda in the House,” the group said.

Nevertheless, the Republican Jewish Coalition said that Engel’s projected defeat demonstrated “the shift in the Democrat Party away from support for Israel [accelerating] dramatically.”

RJC also said that Engel “has done a great deal for the U.S.-Israel relationship,” while Bowman “has an extreme and dangerous agenda.”

Bowman was endorsed by fellow New York Democratic congresswoman Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, as well as Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), and Justice Democrats.

Engel, a well-known figure in the pro-Israel community, has long been a prominent speaker at the annual AIPAC Policy Conference.

AIPAC declined to comment on Engel’s likely loss.

‘An end of an era’

Meanwhile, B’nai B’rith International CEO Daniel Mariaschin told JNS that Bowman’s projected upset would mark the end of an era.

“Eliot Engel had been a longtime friend of the community, a strong advocate for close relations between the U.S. and Israel, and an outspoken critic of the Iranian regime,” said Mariaschin. “To say he will be sorely missed would be an understatement.”

However, Pro-Israel America is holding out hope for an Engel comeback as absentee ballots still need to be counted, thereby pushing the announcement of the final result to early July.

The organization told JNS, “Pro-Israel America is proud to support Eliot Engel and will wait until the votes are counted here. Pro-Israel America will always step up and rally to defend pro-Israel champions like Rep. Eliot Engel, who has done so much for the U.S.-Israel relationship. The pro-Israel community remains strong, as does support in Congress for America’s alliance with Israel.”

The NY Post reported in Thursday's print edition that 24,877 Democratics requested mail-in ballots in the 16th CD, with only 2,079 returned as of Wednesday morning. Ballots postmarked through Tuesday night will continue to arrive for several days.

Engel votes in Riverdale

Engel showed up to vote Tuesday afternoon at the Riverdale/Kingsbridge Academy, guided by his wife, Patricia, The Riverdale Press reported. Afterward, he described Bowman as someone no one knows, because he didn’t participate in the same political circles.
“We have had many different things in this community, celebrations and other things,” Engel said. “We had (National) Night Out against crime. We had rallies against anti-Semitism. We had all kinds of rallies for racial justice. He wasn’t at one of them, because he has not lived in the community, he has not participated in the community. So he thinks that he can make it fuzzy and people will get confused.”
However, when Engel was asked about his own absence through almost the entirety of the coronavirus pandemic — where he holed up in his suburban Washington home for months — the congressman had a new reason to share: He was under quarantine for exposure to the virus — twice, The Press reported.
“My doctor wanted me to be where he is,” Engel said. “He is in the Washington, DC, area, so I was in the Washington, DC, area. Case closed.”
Engel did not elaborate on why he only had a doctor in Washington, and didn’t have one he could see in the Bronx.