(JTA) — Rep. Eliot Engel picked up some much-needed support from prominent mainstream Democrats, including two leading members of the Congressional Black Caucus, in his tight New York primary race against a progressive challenger.
No. 3 House Democrat Jim Clyburn, Hakeem Jeffries and Adam Schiff endorsed the 16-term incumbent Engel over the weekend.
Clyburn’s endorsement of Joe Biden helped the presidential candidate to victory in the South Carolina primary, which reversed the fortunes of his then-downward trending campaign. Schiff is the head of the House Intelligence Committee and a leading critic of President Donald Trump.
Engel’s once-overlooked race has tightened after a series of gaffes and as his opponent Jamaal Bowman has racked up big-name endorsements from the likes of progressives such as Sen. Bernie Sanders and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
The latest endorsements emphasize how the race has become a battle between the establishment, which is traditionally more pro-Israel, and the insurgent progressive movement. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has also come out firmly in support of Engel.
Clyburn placed his statement firmly in the context of the political moment.
“Let me be blunt: We need leaders in Congress with proven records of standing up for civil and human rights,” Clyburn said Sunday. “Eliot Engel is not new to the fight for justice and equality — he’s been in the fight his entire life, and I have worked with him on these issues for almost three decades.”
Earlier this month, Engel was caught on a hot mic saying that he was only interested in speaking at a news conference on vandalism from the George Floyd protests in his Bronx district because of his upcoming primary.
Local Jewish activists have taken notice of the race. Rabbi Avi Weiss, the founding rabbi of the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale, wrote an open letter to Bowman, asking why the middle school principal supports placing conditions on U.S. aid to the Israeli government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
“I am especially alarmed that at no time have you mentioned Palestinian violation of human rights – specifically, the Palestinian Authority’s policy of funding the families of those who have committed murderous terrorist acts,” wrote Weiss.
Bowman has said that would vote to “make sure that the rights and dignity of both the Israeli and Palestinian people are respected.”