New PAC Launches to Boost Pro-Israel Democrats in New York

Backing primary opponents to progressive Democrats, the new Solidarity PAC resembles a state-level analog to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.

Julia Rock and Chris Gelardi   ·   March 26, 2024
Governor Kathy Hochul, Representative Jerrod Nadler, and others march in the June 4, 2023 Israel Day Parade in New York City.
Governor Kathy Hochul, Representative Jerrold Nadler, and others march in the June 4, 2023 Israel Day Parade in New York City. | Darren McGee/ Office of Governor Kathy Hochul

The Republican treasurer and Democratic executive director of a pro-Israel political advocacy group have launched a state-level political action committee to spend directly in New York’s elections, according to Board of Elections records obtained by New York Focus.

The committee, called Solidarity PAC, is boosting Democratic primary opponents to candidates endorsed by the Democratic Socialists of America and the Working Families Party. It resembles a New York state-level version of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, which backs pro-Israel candidates in federal elections.

PACs run by pro-Israel groups like AIPAC and Democratic Majority for Israel have been a pivotal force in national Democratic politics for years, funneling millions into US congressional elections — and defeating incumbent and insurgent candidates alike. But the new Solidarity PAC appears to be the first committee to explicitly back New York state-level candidates who, according to its website, “value the American alliance with Israel.”

The website invites visitors to make donations to be split among candidates the PAC endorses, and the candidates’ webpages note whether their opponents are endorsed by the DSA or WFP. It backs the Hudson Valley incumbent Assemblymember Didi Barrett, one of the chamber’s more conservative Democrats, who is facing a formidable challenge from Claire Cousin, a WFP-endorsed nonprofit director. Another candidate’s page states that his challenger is a “Jamaal Bowman organizer.”

The PAC’s registration document, filed in February, shows that Solidarity PAC is operated by officials involved in the New York Solidarity Network, a 501(c)(4) dark money nonprofit that describes itself as a “membership organization for New Yorkers who have a tight-knit relationship with Israel personally and politically.”

New York Solidarity Network’s executive director, Sara Forman, is the PAC’s treasurer, and her organizational email address appears in the registration document. Forman is a former fundraiser for the influential Democratic PAC EMILYs List who frequently rails against the left flank of the Democratic Party on social media.

“Progressives are the MAGA of the Democratic Party,” she tweeted in December. “The DSA doesn’t belong in the ‘big tent’ of the @TheDemocrats anymore and it’s time party leaders show them the exit,” she wrote in another tweet.

Solidarity PAC's registration forms obtained from the Board of Elections. Personal details have been redacted by New York Focus.

Republican operative Nathan Parsons-Schwarz, the Solidarity Network’s most recently listed treasurer, is also registered as a Solidary PAC official. He’s worked for the College Republican National Committee; Republican former Kentucky Secretary of State Trey Grayson; and the Republican parties of Arkansas, Pennsylvania, and Virginia. In 2022, the New York Solidarity Network paid his political consulting firm, Allegiance Strategies, around $300,000 for consulting and fundraising services, according to tax filings.

Neither Forman nor Parsons-Schwarz claimed residential addresses in New York: Forman listed a New Jersey residence, while Parsons-Schwarz listed one in Virginia.

Real estate magnate Hal Fetner, CEO of Fetner Properties and a member of the influential Real Estate Board of New York, is also listed as someone “who exert[s] operational control over the PAC.”

As of publication, Forman and Parsons-Schwarz did not respond to multiple attempts to contact them, including by phone, text, and email. Fetner did not respond to an email request for comment.

The New York Solidarity Network has been operating since at least 2021 and entered the public eye the following year, when The New York Times revealed that it was backed by hedge fund billionaire Daniel Loeb. Former New York City Council Speaker Corey Johnson is one of its senior advisers.

The group has published a “wall of shame,” a list of elected officials and advocacy groups it claims are “justifying Hamas terrorism,” and prompts visitors to scold them via tweet. The list includes Assemblymember Zohran Mamdani, state Senator Jabari Brisport, the New York City DSA, and New York City Comptroller Brad Lander, whose listed offense is holding a paper sign that reads “Ceasefire.”

The network has employed Democratic and Republican strategists alike, Jewish Currents reported in 2022, even as its focus has been on Democratic elections. A recent job posting from the group says that it “provides an easy, accessible way to help pro-Israel voters and donors make an informed decision about who they would support in an election.”

In key state races, the Solidarity PAC could drive up the stakes of candidates’ stances on Israel’s war on Gaza.

Dozens of elected progressives, as well as the Democratic Socialists of America and Working Families Party, have joined demands for a ceasefire in Gaza, where Israeli bombing and shelling has killed at least 32,000 people, and Israeli blockades have pushed the entire population of over two million into a hunger crisis. If circumstances don’t change, “you’re looking at more than 200 people dying from starvation per day,” a United Nations humanitarian spokesperson said last week.

Solidarity PAC’s website claims that its “deep-rooted American values and Zionist beliefs” are shared by most Jewish people in New York. “We believe that Jews have a right to self-determination in our ancestral homeland of Israel and that fighting antisemitism is a serious issue for New York,” the website says. “Our goal is to ensure the elected leaders in New York share these values.”

The PAC is currently offering its support to an inaugural class of nine: incumbent assemblymembers Barrett, Michael Benedetto, Stefani Zinerman, and John Zaccaro Jr, as well as new candidates Johanna Carmona, Gabi Madden, Anathea Simpkins, Jordan Wright, and Micah Lasher.

In potentially close races, like the Barrett-Cousin contest, the PAC may provide an important funding boost. Cousin maxed out for public funding under the state’s new campaign finance law, while Barrett never registered.

Barrett’s campaign did not respond to a request for comment on its backing from Solidarity PAC.

“My opponent never registered for public funding, because she knows her best shot at winning is to accept donations from large corporations and Republican-backed PACs whose values do not align with her constituents’,” Cousin’s campaign said in a statement.

“Our district is one where a resolution for a ceasefire passed unanimously,” the Cousin campaign said, “one full of people like me who stand firmly against antisemitism and Israel’s continued violence against the Palestinian people.”

Julia Rock is a reporter for New York Focus. She was previously an investigative reporter at The Lever.
Chris Gelardi is a reporter for New York Focus investigating the state’s criminal-legal system. His work has appeared in more than a dozen other outlets, most frequently The Nation, The Intercept, and The Appeal. He is a past recipient of awards from Columbia… more
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