It wasn’t so long ago that New York’s junior U.S. senator, Kirsten Gillibrand, could be counted on to have Israel’s back. But no more. It seems the ever-growing influence of the Bernie Sanders hard left in the Democratic Party has reached her and she’s feeling the heat.
In April, Sen. Gillibrand wrote glowing profiles of the four principal organizers of the so-called Women’s March, referring to them collectively as modern day suffragettes. The problem is that one of them was Linda Sarsour, a virulently anti-Zionist activist who denies Israel’s right to exist and is a leader of the anti-Israel boycott movement.
And then last month Sen. Gillibrand abruptly withdrew her support (and co-sponsorship) of proposed legislation that would extend the reach of an existing law prohibiting commercial cooperation by U.S. businesses with boycotts of Israel called for by foreign countries.
The proposal would now also outlaw commercial cooperation with anti-Israel boycotts called for by international organizations such as the United Nations or any of its agencies. President Trump and his UN ambassador, Nikki Haley, may be slowly moving the UN in a different direction, but the problem still looms.
There was no substantive rhyme or reason for Sen. Gillibrand’s about-face. However, she announced her retreat at a predominantly Democratic town hall meeting in Queens after being sharply criticized for her support of the new legislation. To be sure, she seized on a position paper that had been circulated by the American Civil Liberties Union which argued, rather lamely, we think, that the new legislation would infringe on the constitutionally protected free speech rights of Americans by prohibiting advocacy of anti-Israel boycotts. She said she would insist, as a condition of her support, on changes in the legislative proposal to satisfy the views of the ACLU.
Yet the new legislation would, as the existing legislation now does, only cover commercial conduct, not speech. Indeed, the existing law has been on the books for approximately 40 years and has never been enforced against speech advocating anti-Israel boycotts. Despite the plague of pro-boycott demonstrations on college campuses, does anyone know of anyone being prosecuted?
The reading the ACLU gave to the new legislation was plainly strained and should not have been so casually embraced by Ms. Gillibrand. Moreover, she presumably had reviewed the proposal before agreeing to be a sponsor in the first place.
It is also worthy of note that Sen. Gillibrand used the occasion of the town hall meeting not only to go negative on anti-Israel boycott legislation but also to announce to her audience of Democrats: “I do share your concerns about the current government of Israel.”
So what gives with Sen. Gillibrand? She runs again in November 2018, so we still have plenty of time to figure out where her true feelings lie.