Liberal Pro-Israel Group To Spend $100,000 Boosting Jessica Cisneros In Texas

The J Street Action Fund is backing Cisneros, a progressive attorney, in her Democratic primary challenge against Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas).
Democratic congressional candidate Jessica Cisneros speaks to the media before a rally with Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) in San Antonio on Saturday.
Democratic congressional candidate Jessica Cisneros speaks to the media before a rally with Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) in San Antonio on Saturday.
Eric Gay/Associated Press

J Street Action Fund, a left-leaning pro-Israel group, is spending $100,000 on digital video advertisements supporting Jessica Cisneros, a progressive lawyer challenging Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas), one of the most conservative Democrats in Congress.

The investment is timed to benefit Cisneros ahead of Texas’ March 1 Democratic congressional primary, joining other national support for Cisneros in the final stretch of her uphill battle against a nine-term incumbent. On Saturday, Rep. Alexandia Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) headlined a rally for Cisneros in San Antonio, and on Monday, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) endorsed Cisneros.

“Our effort aims to show voters that while Rep. Cuellar’s fighting for his personal interests and out-of-touch conservative views, Jessica Cisneros is a principled, dedicated leader who’s ready to fight for the true needs and values of her district,” Logan Bayroff, a spokesperson for J Street Action Fund, said in a statement.

Cisneros, an immigration lawyer, shocked election watchers with a scrappy bid in the 2020 election cycle that came within 4 percentage points of defeating Cuellar.

This time around, Cuellar maintains an even larger fundraising lead over Cisneros than he enjoyed in the 2020 election cycle.

But an FBI raid on Cuellar’s home in January, conducted as part of an investigation into Cuellar’s cultivation of ties with the government of Azerbaijan, provides an opening for Cisneros.

Cuellar insists that he is innocent of any wrongdoing and welcomes the investigation. No charges have been filed against him.

“Let me be clear: I’m running for reelection and I intend to win,” Cuellar declared following the raid.

Cisneros’ backers have seized the opportunity offered by the negative attention on Cuellar. J Street Action Fund is targeting voters in Texas’ 28th Congressional District — a gerrymandered seat that stretches from San Antonio down to the Rio Grande Valley —with two video ads that invoke the federal probe.

One 30-second spot is a contrast ad that highlights Cuellar’s alleged corruption and conservatism, as well as Cisneros’ attributes, saying she “fought for South Texas families as a human rights lawyer.”

A second 30-second video is solely an anti-Cuellar attack, citing the FBI raid and Cuellar’s opposition to abortion rights and pro-union legislation.

“Henry Cuellar isn’t fighting for Texas families, he’s looking out for himself,” the ad concludes.

Meanwhile, Pro-Israel America, a more conservative pro-Israel group founded by a former leader of the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee, or AIPAC, has endorsed Cuellar, praising him as an “outspoken supporter of the U.S.-Israel relationship throughout his time in Congress.” As of the end of 2021, Cuellar had raised more than $54,000 from pro-Israel donors and groups.

J Street Action Fund’s intervention in the race speaks to how groups on all sides of the U.S.-Israel policy debate are escalating their investment in congressional races. J Street announced the creation of J Street Action Fund as an independent spending arm in January, marking the organization’s first foray into a world of big-dollar election spending not bound by the fundraising and spending limits of candidates and federal PACs.

Pro-Israel America, AIPAC and other like-minded groups have also stepped up their political spending. AIPAC previously relied on a network of affiliated groups to bolster its preferred candidates, but in December, it announced the creation of its first-ever federal PAC, as well as a super PAC capable of raising and spending unlimited sums.

“Hyper-partisanship, high congressional turnover, and the exponential growth in the cost of campaigns now dominate the landscape,” AIPAC said in an email announcing the news to its supporters.

AIPAC and its right-leaning allies are responding, in significant part, to the inroads that pro-Palestinian forces have made inside the progressive world. For the first time in decades, a contingent of at least a dozen federal lawmakers directly or indirectly support applying stricter conditions on U.S. military aid to the Israeli government.

Unlike AIPAC, however, which opposes efforts to pressure Israel to withdraw from the Palestinian territories or make other concessions to Palestinian demands, J Street has encouraged the U.S. to take steps to proactively facilitate a two-state solution. At the same time, J Street stops well short of the radical stances promoted by groups like the Democratic Socialists of America, which supports the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel.

In explaining the reason for its intervention on behalf of Cisneros, Bayroff cited Cuellar’s embrace of AIPAC-style opposition to more dovish U.S.-Israel policies.

“Whether it comes to ongoing diplomacy with Iran or U.S. policy toward the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Rep. Cuellar has repeatedly aligned himself with foreign policy hawks who undermine true American values and interests,” Bayroff said. “Instead of this kind of flawed and failed leadership, Jessica Cisneros is exactly the kind of talented progressive voice who will champion a more principled and pragmatic foreign policy in Congress.”

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