Jamaal Bowman, a progressive congressmember whose rhetoric over the Israel-Hamas war has drawn recrimination from many of his fellow Democrats, officially launched his re-election campaign on Wednesday night.
But it wasn’t your traditional launch.
Bowman’s kickoff took on the cadence of an antiwar protest, in which he doubled down on pleas for a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas — the very issue that has drawn fire from members of his party.
The two-term representative and former middle school principal who ousted longtime Rep. Eliot Engel in 2020 now faces a primary challenge from Westchester County Executive George Latimer, a staunchly pro-Israel Democrat. In a video launching his campaign in December, Latimer directly criticized Bowman’s remarks on the Israel-Hamas war and cited them as a central reason for his decision to run.
More moderate New York Democrats have traditionally been strong supporters of Israel, and the conflict has driven a wedge between them and progressives who have expressed sympathy for the Palestinian people.
“If we weren’t doing the right thing, if we weren’t fighting for justice, if we weren’t fighting for freedom and humanity and equality and our children — they would not be coming after us,” Bowman said, from a Yonkers fish-and-chips restaurant.
Bowman, who represents the northernmost edge of the Bronx and the southern half of Westchester in New York’s 16th Congressional District, could be facing the state’s most contentious Democratic primary of the 2024 election cycle — and an expensive one — as the party had hoped to focus its efforts on winning back House seats from Republicans.
A spokesperson for Latimer’s campaign declined to comment on Bowman’s launch.
Latimer has the support of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, or AIPAC, which has set its sights on unseating members of the so-called “Squad” in Washington for their pro-Palestinian rhetoric on the war. Bowman is a close ally of Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who became the face of New York’s anti-establishment surge after unseating Queens Democratic Party head Rep. Joe Crowley in 2018.
“We proved the first point that you can get in the door. The question now is can you survive? Can you stay?” Ocasio-Cortez said at Bowman’s campaign kickoff. “Because when you stand up to power, power fights back. That is what this race is all about. They’re trying to make an example of Jamaal Bowman.”
Bowman and his supporters repeated familiar chants from pro-Palestinian rallies and demonstrations advocating for a cease-fire in the conflict, sparked by Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack on Israel.
“As a Palestinian, I want every Jewish brother and sister to live in peace and security and dignity,” said Nada Khader, a speaker at Bowman’s event. “But you do not get peace, security and dignity by dropping bunker buster bombs on defenseless, stateless refugees in camps.”
Bowman has further aggravated members of his party and faces increasing pressure from some constituents by accusing Israel of “genocide” against Palestinians in Gaza — a characterization Latimer has avoided in interviews.
“What’s going on right now in Gaza is a human rights violation and it’s against international law,” Bowman told Gothamist after the event. “So we have to stand up for the people in Gaza the same way we have to stand up for the people in Israel.”
Latimer’s announcement that he would primary Bowman last month angered several progressives he had been friendly with in the past, including the Working Families Party, which endorsed Bowman before Latimer entered the race.
Separately, Bowman was accused of intentionally pulling a fire alarm at the U.S. Capitol last year — an allegation he rebuffed as an accident — to delay voting on a Republican-led stopgap measure to avert a government shutdown. He was formally censured for the incident in December.