Ads, accusations and AIPAC: District 12 primary update
2024 PrimaryRace between Lee and Patel heats up

Ads, accusations and AIPAC: District 12 primary update

The candidates call each other out for "lies" and taking money from PACs

(Photo courtesy of Pexels)
(Photo courtesy of Pexels)

As the April 23 Democratic primary approaches, the race for Pennsylvania’s 12th District House seat between incumbent Rep. Summer Lee and challenger Edgewood Borough Councilmember Bhavini Patel is heating up.

The Israel/Hamas war has been a prominent issue for both campaigns, although it is not the focus of either candidate’s ads airing now on television and digital platforms.

Rep. Summer Lee (Photo courtesy of
In Lee’s reelection ad, the freshman congresswoman emphasizes her work ethic and claims to have delivered $1.2 billion in federal funds to her community “while standing up to Republican extremism to make life better for all of us.”

But in a news release following the launch of Lee’s ad, Patel refuted the congresswoman’s claim to have delivered $1.2 billion to Western Pennsylvania, calling it a “billion-dollar lie,” and asserting that the bulk of that federal funding was in the works before Lee took office in 2023.

Patel’s televised ad seeks to portray Lee as an extremist who intends to “dismantle the Democratic party, undermine President Joe Biden and even wants to abolish the police.” Patel concludes by saying, “In the Trump era, Democrats have to stick together.”

Bhavini Patel (Photo courtesy of
Another ad promoting Patel, paid for by the Moderate PAC — which supports centrist Democrats — accuses Lee of having “an extreme socialist” agenda: “defunding the police; attacking President Biden; she even voted against raising the debt ceiling, risking America’s credit so she can become a media star of the far left.”

Lee’s campaign responded to that ad in a news release, citing the far-left news site The Intercept in describing the Moderate PAC as a “Super PAC funded exclusively by Pennsylvania’s richest Republican, Jeffrey Yass.”

“Republican-funded Super PACs and their chosen candidate couldn’t stop us last cycle, and they won’t stop us this time either,” Lee wrote.

In a December news release, Lee criticized another PAC. She wrote: “You may have heard: AIPAC (the right-wing Super PAC that elected **109** insurrectionists funded by the same Republican billionaires that bribed SCOTUS) has committed to spending a staggering $100 million to defeat the squad in 2024 primaries — and I’m their #1 target. Why? Because we represent voices and communities too often overlooked and unheard in Washington.”

While the United Democracy Project — an AIPAC-affiliated super PAC — spent about $1 million in the 2022 general election and about $3 million in the 2022 primary against Lee, it has not yet committed any funds in support of Patel this election cycle.

The UDP did, however, air two ads in the weeks after Hamas’ brutal invasion of Israel, calling out Lee for being one of only 10 members of Congress to vote against a resolution condemning the attack, which left 1,200 Israelis dead and more than 250 people kidnapped.

“Tell Summer Lee to stand with Israel,” a voiceover in that ad pleads.

On social media, Lee is promoting a new coalition formed last month called Reject AIPAC. The coalition is comprised of about 20 progressive organizations, including Justice Democrats, US Campaign for Palestinian Rights Action, the Democratic Socialists of America, and Jewish Voice for Peace Action and IfNotNow Movement — both Jewish anti-Zionist organizations.

Reject AIPAC “promises a seven-figure ‘electoral defense campaign’ aimed at shoring up members of Congress, including Rep. Summer Lee (PA-12), who are targeted by the pro-Israel group,” Politics PA reported. “It also wants members of Congress to sign a pledge to not accept any more money from the organization — explicitly seeking to frame AIPAC in a similarly controversial light as the National Rifle Association (NRA).”

Lee was the featured speaker during a March 28 Reject AIPAC National Call, hosted by IfNotNow. At the outset of the Zoom call, Jay, a volunteer with IfNotNow in Los Angeles, called for attendees to help the movement “end U.S. support for Israel’s apartheid system, and to demand equality, justice and a thriving future for all Palestinians and Israelis.”

Lee told call participants that she was “one of the first candidates to actually have to live through the AIPAC onslaught,” apparently referring to the UDP’s funding of ads against her during her previous campaign.

“And I move right into that really quickly because we recognize that so much about our Israel policy right now that we are dealing with, with our government, is in large part because of the lobbying work that they’ve done,” Lee continued. “And they had been setting up the foundation for this reaction, for this response from our government, for a really, really long time. But the direct putting their money into campaigns to keep largely — as we know — black and brown progressives out of Congress, out of the halls of power, right, that was a new tactic that they were employing last year as I ran.”

Sophie, IfNotNow’s campaign director, followed Lee with a plea to “take down AIPAC.”

AIPAC’s “goal in our elections is pretty transparent and straightforward,” Sophie said. “If you as a politician stay in line, they will help you win. And if you criticize Israel, they will put everything they have into defeating you.

“AIPAC has made it their business to perpetuate a dangerous lie that Jewish safety requires the oppression of Palestinians,” Sophie said.

Justice Democrats, a progressive PAC that supports the Squad, including outspoken Israel critics Rashida Tlaib, Ilhan Omar, Cori Bush and Jamaal Bowman, recently launched an ad supporting Lee. The ad is narrated by a man with a distinctive Pittsburgh accent accusing Patel of being “bankrolled by supporters of Donald Trump,” then says, “Yinzers, this is a no-brainer: Vote for Summer Lee.”

Justice Democrats spent more than $1 million last election cycle supporting Lee. This election cycle, Lee also has the support of the Muslim United PAC, which hosted a virtual fundraiser for her campaign last weekend. On social media, the Muslim United PAC praised Lee for “calling for a ceasefire in Gaza.”

The Democratic presidential primary also is not without controversy.

In a recent news release, Patel accuses “at least one member of Lee’s staff” of supporting the Democratic Socialists of America’s launch of “Uncommitted PA,” a movement to urge Democrats to vote “uncommitted” on their primary ballots in protest of Biden’s handling of U.S. policy as it pertains to the Israel/Hamas war.

An Instagram account called “Dear White Staffers” is promoting the uncommitted initiative on social media. According to a Jewish Insider reporter, that account — though ostensibly anonymous — is run by a staffer for Lee.

Whether the race between Lee and Patel will be competitive remains to be seen.

Last week, the Jewish Democratic Council of America endorsed the primary challengers to two far-left lawmakers: George Latimer, who is challenging Rep. Jamaal Bowman of New York, and Wesley Bell, who is taking on Rep. Cori Bush of Missouri. Bowman and Bush have been vocal in their anti-Israel views. This is the first time the JDCA has backed challengers to Democratic incumbents, according to Jewish Insider.

But when asked by Jewish Insider about Pennsylvania’s District 12 race, a JDCA spokesperson declined to comment, saying the JDCA is focusing on “competitive” races. PJC

Toby Tabachnick can be reached at

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