Solidarity PAC’s Newest Endorsement is More Conservative on Israel — and Well-Funded by Real Estate

By Celia Bernhardt |

Solidarity PAC — the first pro-Israel PAC to specifically focus on New York’s state-level elections — describes itself as aiming to counter the growing influence of the Democratic Socialists of America in the Democratic party, arguing that the organization’s anti-Zionist views are fundamentally antisemitic. In an April interview with the Queens Ledger, PAC treasurer Sara Forman explained that she views the DSA and their associates as pushing the issue of Israel/Palestine into political spaces where it doesn’t belong, and that her team supports candidates who focus instead on the kitchen-table issues more traditionally associated with state- and local-level politics. 

“The point of doing this is to just demonstrate that you don’t need to inject foreign policy into state and local,” Forman said. “We would prefer, frankly, for state and local lawmakers to not even talk about foreign policy. There are so many things that they could be worried about here in New York that they could meaningfully do work on.”

The PAC’s initial slate of nine candidates are more or less what you might expect from this description: relatively mainstream liberal Democrats running against progressive candidates, most of whom are endorsed by the DSA (which has frequently asserted that “Palestine is on the ballot” in its candidates elections). They tend to engage less on the issue of Israel/Palestine than their left-leaning opponents do, or maintain a line of moderate- to-liberal wording when they engage with the topic. PAC-endorsed Anathea Simpkins, for example, frequently emphasizes identifying as a pacifist in her statements; in an April interview with the Queens Ledger, Simpkins said “I stand with our Jewish and Palestinians brothers and sisters abroad,” and argued that it was important to “bring people together in an emotional and contentious time to have these difficult conversations.” 

The PAC’s newest endorsement, though, is an outlier: outspoken, conservative, and intensely pro-Israel City Council Member Kalman Yeger, running not against a DSA member but a moderate pro-Israel political newcomer. 

While the race stands out in contrast with the others that Solidarity PAC has become involved in, Yeger’s strong financial ties with real estate are certainly in line with those of the PAC — which counts industry giant Hal Fetner, a member of the influential Real Estate Board of New York, as a top official

Yeger, who represents Borough Park and parts of Midwood in the Council and ran on the Democrat, Republican, and Conservative party lines all at once for his most recent bid, is well-connected in the Brooklyn political machine. Now running against Adam Dweck for State Assembly in Brooklyn’s District 41 (including parts of Midwood, Sheepshead Bay, Flatlands, East Flatbush, and Canarsie), Yeger is endorsed by reigning Assembly Member Helene Weinstein, who announced in early March that she would not run again.

There are no DSA, progressive, or by any stretch of the imagination anti-Zionist candidates in Yeger’s race — both he and Dweck are decidedly pro-Israel. The difference is in the degree: Yeger much more frequently posts about the issue online, and his rhetoric has veered right-wing enough to get him in trouble with the City Council. 

In 2019, Yeger was removed from his seat in the Council’s immigration committee after tweeting “Palestine does not exist.” Corey Johnson, then-speaker of the Council and currently a senior advisor at Solidarity PAC’s sister organization New York Solidarity Network, condemned his statements and affirmed his support in removing the councilman from the committee. More recently, Yeger reposted pictures of a protest inside the United Nations building organized by the group Rabbis for Ceasefire — where most participants wore Covid masks — with the comment “Clownmaskers for Hamas.” 

Yeger’s endorsement appears to be a break in Solidarity PAC’s strategy thus far — he is far more outspoken and focused on Israel than his opponent or any of the PAC’s other endorsed candidates. His race is also devoid of the specific challenge that spokespeople for the PAC have described it as addressing: anti-Zionist progressives. 

Yeger is far from the only Solidarity PAC candidate who has taken real estate money; he is in good company among the Democratic party at large, too. But he has been particularly prolific at it in this race. Yeger has shored up nearly $116,000 for his campaign since announcing his run in early March, and at least $13,850 of that comes from real estate PACs. $1,500 specifically is from Real Estate Board PAC: the political expenditure arm of the Real Estate Board of New York, where Fetner is a member. 

Solidarity PAC did not answer questions sent over email about exactly when Yeger was added to their slate of candidates or why he was chosen. 

Multiple outlets have noted Solidarity PAC’s ties with real estate interests including and beyond Fetner’s role in the organization. The PAC is run by officials involved in the pro-Israel 501(c)(4) New York Solidarity Network, which spent in the 2022 elections; Republican lobbyists who have pushed for real estate-friendly policy in the past are high-level officials in both groups. 

When speaking to the Queens Ledger in April, Forman spoke to the process of selecting endorsees, explaining that the PAC had looked for races where DSA “or their like-minded affiliates” ran candidates.

“It was pretty simple for us to reach out to the candidates who were running in opposition of the DSA candidates and say, ‘Hey, you have this DSA opponent, this is what they believe, tell us a little bit more about what you believe,’” Forman said. “Really we were just looking for candidates who support the right [of] the State of Israel to exist and to be part of the world… Also, we were looking for people who condemned the Hamas atrocities of [Oct. 7] and called for the immediate return of the hostages, because that’s really important.” 

“Our criteria is fluid, I would say, at this point,” Forman added. “I don’t believe in rigidity.”

The Bigger Picture 

The addition of Yeger brings the count up to eight Solidarity PAC endorsees running in New York City. In Queens, the PAC is backing Johanna Carmona against AOC-endorsed Claire Valdez and embattled incumbent Juan Ardila in Assembly District 37. In Brooklyn, it set its sights on Simpkins to unseat DSA incumbent Emily Gallagher in Greenpoint’s District 50, and will support incumbent Stefani Zinerman in holding off DSA challenger Eon Huntley in Bedford-Stuyvesent’s District 56. 

Albany might seem like a strange battleground for these issues to play out; state representatives do not typically have much reason to focus on foreign policy. To an extent, though, there are legislative stakes to these primaries: a recent DSA rally for the “Not on Our Dime” bill drew Gallagher, Huntley, and Valdez to the Bronx to show their support. The legislation would give the state attorney general the authority to revoke tax-exempt status and impose fines on nonprofits providing support for Israeli settlements in occupied territories, or other activities deemed illegal under international law.

The bill doesn’t have enough support to pass as of now, remaining highly controversial in the state legislature with Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie declaring it a “non-starter.” In Yeger and Dweck’s race, “Not on Our Dime” is off the table either way. But in races where Solidarity PAC is facing off against the DSA, they are indeed facing off against the possibility of one more state legislator who would likely back the bill. 

Such a concrete policy battle about Israel in Albany is the exception rather than the rule, for now. In the majority of these races, candidates cite broader, more abstract reasons for their approach to Israel/Palestine in the state.

Valdez, for example, argues that voters in Western Queens feel strongly committed to Gaza and want their leadership to represent this and raise the profile of the issue. “I think if you’re running to represent a really progressive district, you need to be ready to make moral commitments and take moral stances, and to represent the people you claim to represent,” Valdez said in an April interview with the Queens Ledger. 

Carmona, meanwhile, frames the issue as fundamentally separate from the concerns and wellbeing of her constituents — as a focus that only takes attention away from what’s important to the community. “Frankly, this race is not about Israel or Palestine,” Carmona said to the Queens Ledger in an April interview. “It’s about my community here. And again, as a state legislator, we’re not running for congress or any federal position.” 

Carmona also accused Valdez of “exploiting” the issue for “out-of-town donors” in a statement following criticism from Valdez over her Solidarity PAC endorsement. 

Simpkins, despite being more willing to speak about Israel/Palestine through interviews and statements, has echoed Carmona and Forman’s argument that the issue is ultimately not relevant to state-level politics. 

“I don’t think it has a presence in the work I’m going to be doing in Albany,” Simpkins said. “I need to focus on the kitchen table needs of my constituents, and what affects their day to day lives.”

Gallagher, in an April interview, echoed Valdez’s emphasis on morality for its own sake as part of a representative’s duty when explaining why she finds the issue relevant to her work. 

“It doesn’t have to do with the daily life of my work, but I think it does have to do with the moral life of our tax dollars,” Gallagher said.

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