Andrew Vitelli

The pro-Israel Democrat threatening to shrink the Squad

Westshester, NY County Executive George Latimer delivers remarks on his trip to Israel. Dec 4, 2023 (Screenshot from video)
Westshester, NY County Executive George Latimer delivers remarks on his trip to Israel. Dec 4, 2023 (Screenshot from video)

Since its first four members were elected to Congress in 2018, the “Squad,” a group of far Left and obsessively anti-Israel congressmembers, has grown slowly each election. But in 2024, that trend may finally reverse, with at least three Squad members facing serious primary challenges, in large part because of the October 7 Hamas attacks.

Summer Lee and Cori Bush each face threats from rival Democrats, but the most endangered may be Jamaal Bowman, a congressman in New York’s 16th Congressional District facing a challenge from Westchester County Executive George Latimer. A former city, county, and state official who has never lost an election in more than 30 years in public office, Latimer has the backing of AIPAC as well as most the district’s Democratic town and city committees.

Last month, I sat down with Latimer to discuss his views on Israel and how the issue of the Jewish state is playing into the Congressional race for coverage in The Examiner, a local paper chain in Westchester.

Unlike the man he seeks to unseat, Latimer is sympathetic towards Israel and the threats it faces. He was deeply and viscerally impacted by the 10/7 attacks, particularly after his visit to Israel in November. He toured Kfar Aza, where more than five dozen innocent Israelis were butchered or kidnapped. He watched the Iron Dome shoot down a Hamas rocket overhead and experienced a taste of the fear Israelis in the Gaza Envelope and beyond have felt for years. He appropriately mocked those who issued mealy-mouthed or pedantic statements condemning Hamas’s attack, comparing them to someone who witnesses a murder before their eyes and proclaims, “Well, I denounce you for murdering this person!”

“They attacked kibbutz[im] where the people who lived there were left-of-center people. They were part of the Israeli Left who lobbied for peace, who want peace,” Latimer said. “And they killed the very people who were the most oriented to try to negotiate.”

Bowman, who beat pro-Israel stalwart and longtime incumbent Eliot Engel in the Democratic primary in 2020, isn’t endangered solely because of his approach to Israel. Since his election, he has often seemed more like a Babylon Bee caricature of a Democratic senator than a real-life lawmaker. Upon his election, he declared that capitalism is “slavery by another name.” Last Fourth of July, he tweeted that “we must remember that we stand on stolen land toiled by enslaved Africans.”

He is best known, however, for pulling a fire alarm in a US Capitol office building last September, apparently to delay a vote on a spending bill. Bowman lied about it, saying he was trying to open a locked door, until video emerged debunking that claim. He ended up pleading guilty to a misdemeanor count and earned a rare bipartisan censure in the House.

All this is to say, Latimer is not simply running because he opposes Bowman’s approach to Israel. It was a key consideration in his entering the race – he was leaning against a run a month before 10/7, he said. But in our conversation, Latimer stressed that his focus would be more on helping the district than taking the lead on the hottest culture war topics. “You will not be on MSNBC by doing the things I’m talking about,” he says.

‘I don’t want… to start pretending I am Secretary of State’

Latimer appears unlikely, therefore, to become another Ritchie Torres or John Fetterman. He is hesitant to criticize or second guess the president, explaining that an executive implements policy and handles negotiations; too much legislative involvement, he said, can only tie his hands.

“I don’t want, as one congressman, or potential congressman, to start pretending I am the Secretary of State,” he added.

This was the part of our conversation I found disappointing. Biden’s party has a constant chorus of voices urging him to be tougher on Israel and more forgiving towards Hamas, and the president seems eager to appease them. Lawmakers who appreciate Israel’s right, and responsibility, to defend itself against the genocidal Hamas terror group should not unilaterally silence themselves.

Latimer was also not without some gentle or implied criticism (justified, in my view) of Israel’s current government and its policies, including settlement expansion. He backs a two-state solution, and said he understands that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu does not.

“Because I support the State of Israel does not mean I support everything Netanyahu does,” he said. “He is a political leader with his opinions.”

Unlike a growing number of Democratic lawmakers, that was about as far as his criticism went. While even Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer draws false equivalence between Netanyahu and Hamas, Latimer showed no such tendency. He compared the Hamas attacks to September 11, when more than 120 Westchester residents were murdered by al Qaeda terrorists.

After our initial conversation, Latimer posted on X (nee Twitter) his support for a temporary ceasefire to bring back all the hostages and bring humanitarian aid to Gaza. Local media portrayed this statement as some kind of a dramatic shift in the race, of Latimer coming around to Bowman’s call for a permanent ceasefire. This is a complete misreading. Israel has long proposed a temporary ceasefire to release the hostages and allow aid into the strip, and Latimer was never against such a temporary pause; it is Hamas who has rejected this proposal and called for a “permanent” end to the fighting. In this case, like all cases prior, the truce’s permanence will last only until Hamas decides to break it.

“I don’t think Hamas wants to negotiate,” Latimer told me. “I think Hamas would rather have a bloodbath. They don’t care about the Palestinian citizens.”

A spokesperson for Latimer confirmed that he has always supported a temporary pause and said the aforementioned tweet did not reflect a change in policy.

Since our interview a month ago, the Democratic Party has drifted towards Hamas’s position. Schumer, the most senior elected Jewish leader in Congress, now sounds more like Bowden as he disgracefully puts Netanyahu and Hamas on the same level.

I am optimistic Latimer will continue to resist such a drift. Latimer recognizes that we live in a dangerous world, and that faltering in the conflict between Israel and the Iranian-back Hamas has wider implications for the Western-led world order.

“If the United States were to abandon Israel, Ukraine, South Korea, Taiwan, pick a place. If we were to say, ‘You know what, we don’t want to be involved all over the world,’ sooner or later the skies of Kfar Aza will be the skies over Mamaroneck,” he said, referring to a town in Bowman’s congressional district. “Those forces of evil out there are not going to stop.”

About the Author
Andrew Vitelli is a New York-based journalist. A former Fellow for the Government Press Office in Jerusalem, Vitelli earned his master's degree from Tel Aviv University.
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