Tuesday, June 25, 2024

A Democratic Senate candidate in Michigan said he was offered $20 million by a Michigan businessman to drop out of the race and instead take on a primary challenge against Rashida Tlaib, the Palestinian American representative who was censured this month for her statements about the Israel-Gaza war.

Linden Nelson, a Michigan businessman and past donor to Democratic and some Republican candidates, made the campaign funding offer to the Senate candidate, Hill Harper, last month, according to Karthik Ganapathy, a spokesman for Mr. Harper’s campaign. Mr. Nelson also donated $13,000 to Concerned Citizens of Michigan, a group that supported a primary challenge against Ms. Tlaib in 2020.

Mr. Ganapathy added that the conversation between Mr. Harper and Mr. Nelson was “respectful on both sides.” Calls to Mr. Nelson’s phone number on Wednesday were not answered. Ms. Tlaib declined to comment on the record.

“I’m not going to run against the only Palestinian-American in Congress just because some special interests don’t like her,” Mr. Harper said in a statement on X, formerly known as Twitter. He also criticized “the Israel lobby” and “a broken political and campaign finance system that’s tilted towards the wealthy and powerful.”

The funding offer would have in effect eliminated a progressive candidate from the crowded Democratic primary for an open Senate seat in Michigan and pitted him against Ms. Tlaib, a member of the progressive “squad” in the House. She has drawn criticism after breaking with Democrats who support Israel’s invasion of Gaza following a deadly terrorist attack carried out by Hamas.

The offer also reflects a growing effort to target Democratic candidates who have either been critical of Israel or sympathetic to Palestinian causes. A Democratic pro-Israel group began running television ads this month that criticize Ms. Tlaib for her positions on the war in Gaza — such as calling for an immediate cease-fire in the conflict. Other primary challenges are brewing against progressive representatives like Summer Lee of Pennsylvania and Jamaal Bowman of New York.

Mr. Harper, an author and actor known for his roles on “CSI: NY” and “The Good Doctor,” said on X that he was approached by “one of AIPAC’s biggest donors,” referring to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, soon after Politico published an article first reporting Mr. Nelson’s offer. He said he declined the offer, adding, “I won’t be bossed, bullied, or bought.”

Marshall Wittmann, a spokesman for AIPAC, said the group “was absolutely not involved in any way in this matter,” adding that “our records indicate that this individual has not contributed to AIPAC in over a decade.”

AIPAC, among other pro-Israel groups, spent tens of millions of dollars supporting candidates in Democratic primaries in the 2022 midterms. Progressive organizations are concerned that these groups will sway primaries against progressive Democratic elected officials next year.

Usamah Andrabi, the communications director for Justice Democrats, a progressive group that helped elect many of the targeted House members, criticized Mr. Nelson’s reported offer, saying “if that’s not showing that our democracy and our elections are for sale to the highest millionaire donor, then I’m not sure what is.”

Alain Delaquérière contributed research.

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