AIPAC Targets Gillibrand For Removing Name From Boycott Bill

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Above Photo: By Ashraf Amra

At two town halls late last month, New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand promised to reconsider her co-sponsorship of Senate Bill 720, the Anti-Israel Boycott Act, after a number of her constituents raised free speech concerns, to rousing applause, seemingly without dissent.

At the time, Gillibrand was one of 45 co-sponsors in the Senate and 234 in the House.  Since the bill was sponsored by the Israel lobby group AIPAC, it was not surprising that, despite its attack on First Amendment rights, it would receive huge support before it was widely publicized, based solely on its AIPAC pedigree. Gillibrand herself agreed with my characterization that AIPAC was a lobby with a “stranglehold” on Congress (when I approached her after a town hall).

So despite her explicit commitment to take another look at the bill, and her expressed concerns about the government of Israel and its Prime Minister’s failure to have a vision for peace, it was reasonable to question whether the junior senator from New York would ultimately find the wherewithal to resist that stranglehold.

Well, lo and behold, this past Monday, Gillibrand withdrew her co-sponsorship of the bill. According to the U.S. Campaign for Palestinian Rights, this is the first time since its founding in 2001 that a Member of Congress has taken his or her name off an AIPAC-sponsored bill.

It did not take long for AIPAC, recognizing the historic nature of Gillibrand’s challenge, to begin to mobilize its troops against her.  Here is yesterday’s email from one Brian Tregerman, AIPAC’s Director for Westchester and Riverdale, New York:

 From: Brian Tregerman [REDACTED] Date: Wed, Aug 2, 2017 at 3:56 PM
Subject: URGENT: We need your help with Senator Gillibrand
To: [REDACTED]

Dear [REDACTED],

We need your help. New York’s junior Senator, Kirsten Gillibrand, has withdrawn her co-sponsorship of the Israel Anti-Boycott Act (S.720), sending a powerful message to her constituents that she no longer supports the fight to combat the international delegitimization of Israel. Please call Senator Gillibrand’s office today at (202) 224-4451, and remind her how crucial this bill is in combating the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement and reaffirming Congressional support for Israel.

Script: “I am calling to urge Senator Gillibrand to add her name back as a cosponsor for the Israel Anti-Boycott Act, and reaffirm her commitment to fighting the international delegitimization of our ally, Israel.”

Below are talking points (see attached for more extensive points): 

  • The Israel Anti-Boycott Act (S.720) would expand existing U.S. anti-boycott laws to international governmental organizations like the United Nations and the European Union.
  • Congress and the Executive branch have long combatted such attacks on our ally, Israel, including legislation enacted in the 1970s which prohibits U.S. companies from complying with unsanctioned foreign boycotts imposed by foreign governments. The new bill would also prohibit compliance with boycotts imposed by international government organizations.
  • Nothing in this bill restricts constitutionally-protected free speech or limits in any way criticism of Israel or its policies, and U.S. courts have repeatedly upheld the constitutionality of this law.
  • This bill is designed only to combat foreign boycotts and other harmful actions against our ally, Israel. It purposely does not seek to specify “outcomes” of a negotiated peace agreement, including the disposition of Israeli settlements.

Senator Gillibrand needs to know that her constituents are disappointed in her withdrawal of support, and are deeply committed to reminding her how important this bill is in reaffirming Congressional support for Israel. Every call truly matters.

Thank you, as always, for your activism.

Brian Tregerman
Director, Westchester and Riverdale

[Redacted] AIPAC • American Israel Public Affairs Committee

AIPAC’s false assertion that S. 720 does not restrict or punish “constitutionally-protected free speech” is belied by the ACLU’s analysis, on which Gillibrand relied in withdrawing her support for the bill.  Tregerman’s email acknowledges the “powerful message” Gillibrand’s withdrawal of co-sponsorship sends to her constituents.

AIPAC, as is its wont, mischaracterizes that message by painting Gillibrand as a possible supporter of the “international delegitimization of Israel,” but the lobby is clearly serving notice that it now considers Gillibrand an enemy for breaking ranks.

It remains to be seen whether Gillibrand has really determined to cross the Rubicon. Now that AIPAC has her in its sights, will she be willing to lead the fight to break its stranglehold on the Congress, for the sake of the Constitution, if not yet for oppressed Palestinians?  If so, will any other Senators or Representatives, of either party, have the guts to join her?

  • Thom Rip

    Amazingly bold move by her, in a largely Jewish populated state…Will she hold?

  • Robert H. Stiver

    Gillibrand is toast. Give her credit for so much as dipping her toe in the swamp of political Zionism’s occupation and control of WashDC.

  • Aquifer

    Don’t bet on it – if she introduces HR676 in the Senate, she may well get popular support that may offset what she loses here … This “junior Senator” may be coming into her own – let’s wait and see …

  • tsyganka

    Hope so.

    It’s also good to remember that being Jewish does not necessarily mean that someone supports the terrorist actions of the Israeli govt.

  • tsyganka

    Toast? Hope not.

    Credit definitely given.

  • tsyganka

    I subscribe to various mailing lists to see what folks are doing, regardless of whether I agree with them. – The DLCC and other Dem. organizations are throwing her name out there with a bunch of others – basically to see what will stick – as a possible candidate for 2020.

    HR 676 seems, from its .gov summary, to be what we NEED. I’m worried about what will be introduced in the Senate, though. Bernie has delayed in introducing a similar bill, and I haven’t seen him recently mention the methods of paying. We do Not need another cop-out (similar to what happened when we didn’t get the public option in the ACA).

    If Gillibrand introduces a true version of HR 676 in the Senate, her political career will benefit. If it’s enacted, all Americans will benefit.

  • Aquifer

    Indeed, Sanders continually rhetorically dangles “Medicare for All” before his adoring fans, but his lack of overt support for HR676, let alone his failure to introduce it it into the Senate, when he has had the opportunity for years, is a red flag, IMO – the devil is always in the details and we have seen Dem bait and switch re health care, among other things, before …

    Gillibrand has an opportunity to go beyond what the “prog” press has taken to describe as “Sanders agenda” which always seems to wind being party over principle – can she, will she, do it …

  • tsyganka

    Full disclosure: I voted for Sanders in the primaries and was disgusted by the D and R party machinations against him. I don’t fault him for doing what he promised to do – i.e., support the D candidate if and only if he didn’t win the nomination (the alternative was fascist Trump). But I do fault him for his delay on Medicare for All and his reticence on other matters. – The only thing I’ve seen on the plus side lately is his saying he Will introduce the bill within the next month (I still question this) and the endorsement by his Our Revolution of Socialist Alternative candidate Ginger Jentzen (running for city council in Ward 3, Minneapolis; very good on the issues).

    Gillibrand has done the correct thing regarding the BDS bill. She has some problems in other areas, though.

  • Aquifer

    Well he made two “promises” it seems to me – 1) to support the D nominee (and he knew who the alternatives were) and 2) to pursue a “political revolution” – when push came to shove he chose to keep the former at the expense of the latter … party over principle – if he had chosen to honor the latter, he could have backed Stein, and he was, on several occasions invited to collaborate with her and the GP – he never even bothered to respond ..

    No, the alternative was NOT Trump, it was Stein … the irony is that in making “beating Trump” his primary goal, instead of trying to advance a real political revolution worth its salt, he chose to back someone he thought could beat Trump, even though she stood for just about the opposite of what he claimed to stand for – party over principle – and lost anyway – so he abandoned his principles, and in the process compromised his integrity, and still lost – hell if you’re gonna go down, at least hang on to your principles … Stein has done that. IMO …

    This is a pattern for those who have tied their political fortunes to the DP – for all those “pragmatic” reasons we hear about – they have chosen to dance with the devil, wherein they can boogie a bit, but step on his toes and there is hell to pay – Sanders himself said he “knew the rules” – he started out as an indy decades ago, but decided if he wanted to advance further up the ladder it would be best if he signed that dance card …and he did, and the rest follows ..

    I would like to see Gillibrand break that mold – but the odds are that when the riot act is read to her, she will fold …

    He has said he will introduce HIS bill next month, of course we have been hearing about such imminent introduction for months now – but to what extent his bill looks like 676 remains to be seen – he and the other Dems had an opportunity to support it when it was dropped in their lap, albeit cynically, with the Blaine Amendment to the R “skinny bill” and they all declined to do so – another red flag

  • kevinzeese

    Not sure she is toast. A critical view of Israel has been developing in US political discourse. They have been unable to pass these anti-BDS bill in many states. She may sense something in the political culture that is developing and my find herself on the right side of a critical foreign policy issue. Showing political courage will get her points and if Israeli popularity in the US is diminishing, as it should be, she may get a boost from this — especially if she does other popular things like improved Medicare for all.

  • mwildfire

    Yes. Jews are prominent among those opposing Zionism and apartheid. They’re also prominent among those supporting it, of course.

  • Robert H. Stiver

    mwildfire, I “upped” your comment, but I surely question your initial use of “prominent.” I’ve sat here just after getting my day started, and my mind finds Gilad Atzmon (renounced his Judaism, I think), Jeff Blankfort, Avi Schlaim, Sara Roy and (God, there must be at least one more…Brother Nathaniel?) as among those Jews I’ve encountered who would oppose Zionism AND apartheid. Uri Avnery, Norman Finkelstein…great human beings, but they are in the end Zionists. Gideon Levy?–I love the man, but he’s living in the land of apartheid, is he not?

    We need more than a few Jews you can count on one hand’s fingers to support those of us who would like to like Jews for their undoubted contributions to medicine, music, literature — but find their overt or covert/complicit support of the Zionist entity so-called Israel so odious that we (I, certainly) become perilously close to damning their entire warped dalliance with Zionism AND apartheid as the inevitable manifestation of a religion/culture/people who feel “chosen” to the extent of accepting what they have done to the Palestinians….

    I have not delved into “Christian” Zionists and other ilk who have a special reserved place in my pantheon of disgust and actual hatred for those who deny the legitimate rights and aspirations of the Palestinians….

  • mwildfire

    well, I didn’t mean prominent people–I meant that my impression is that among those for whom this is an important issue, there are quite a few Jews. A good many US Jews are Zionists and defend everything Israel does–I am alienated from what little extended family I have because of this. I’m surprised you say Finkelstein is a Zionist, and certainly would not discredit someone because he lives in Israel. I live in the US, arguably a worse oppressor. I fantasize about leaving, but it isn’t easy–and sometimes seems more useful to fight from within the heart of the beast. Lately I’m going through one of my phases where it seems like nothing I/we do has any effect, though.

  • Robert H. Stiver

    Points well taken; thank you. I just realized that Prof. Ilan Pappe should have been on my “good/prominent Jews” list. Last I knew Finkelstein was adamantly opposed to any thought of one state…I extrapolate from that that he wants his ideal Israel to survive and prosper as is.

  • Catherine Maxwell

    Awesome! It’s long overdue for people to finally call out the apartheid state . If there is to be peace and a reduction in terrorism, then Israel will have to do some SERIOUS soul searching.