Prominent US Jewish Leader Slams New York Senator Gillibrand’s Backtrack on Israel Boycott Bill
New York Democratic Senator Kirsten Gillibrand took heat on Thursday from World Jewish Congress President Ronald Lauder, following her announcement earlier this week that she was withdrawing her support for the Anti-Israel Boycott Act, a new bill currently making its through Congress.
Introduced in March by Gillibrand’s fellow Democrat, Maryland Senator Ben Cardin, the bill would make it illegal for US citizens to participate in economic boycotts of US allies initiated by foreign governments or by inter-governmental organizations like the UN Human Rights Council — which in January this year began assembling a “blacklist” of companies doing business with Israel.
On Israel specifically, the bill prohibits participation in “any boycott fostered or imposed by any international governmental organization against Israel or any request by any international governmental organization to impose such a boycott.”
After initially supporting the legislation, Gillibrand confirmed at a town hall meeting in Queens on Monday that she was withdrawing her backing, citing the First Amendment concerns raised by advocacy groups opposing the bill — most notably the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).
“I am going to urge the authors of the bill to change the bill, and I will not support it in its current form,” she said. “I’m going to urge them to rewrite it to be sure it says specifically ‘this does not apply to individuals, this is only applying to companies.'”
In a statement on Thursday, Lauder said he was “deeply disturbed” by Gillibrand’s announcement. The WJC chief noted that the legislation was “aimed at combating the BDS movement which is spreading virulently in the United States and throughout the world.”
“I would urge Senator Gillibrand to instead add her name back as a co-sponsor for this legislation and reaffirm her commitment to opposing the international campaign to de-legitimize our democratic ally in the Middle East, Israel,” Lauder went on to say.
At the meeting in Queens, Gillibrand stated, “I am against BDS, but I feel that anybody who’s in favor of it should feel very comfortable speaking on any stage, anywhere in America” — an observation that avoided any mention of the link between the BDS movement and antisemitic statements and actions.
Lauder countered by saying, “Supporters of the BDS movement shield themselves by claiming that their movement is anti-Zionist, not anti-Semitic, but let me be crystal clear, anti-Zionism is no different than anti-Semitism. When you hold the only Jewish state to a different standard than every other nation, when you lie about its past and its present, that is old fashioned, unadulterated anti-Semitism.”
Gillibrand’s political record shows her to be an opponent of both the BDS campaign and state-sponsored boycotts of Israel. In November 2015, Gillibrand and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tx) led a bipartisan group of 26 senators in opposing the European Union’s decision to label goods produced by Jewish communities in the West Bank.
“As allies, elected representatives of the American people, and strong supporters of Israel, we urge you not to implement this labeling policy, which appears intended to discourage Europeans from purchasing these products and promote a de-facto boycott of Israel, a key ally and the only true democracy in the Middle East,” Gillibrand and Cruz wrote in a letter to the European Commission at the time.
In an editorial earlier this week excoriating Gillibrand’s backtracking on the bill, the New York Post said that the junior senator had joined “the ever-growing list of Democrats who live in mortal fear of alienating the party’s hard-left base.”
Arguing that there were no negative free speech implications contained in the bill, the paper pointed out that it “merely updates the 1977 Export Administration Act (which barred cooperation with the Arab League boycott of Israel) to include other such boycotts, including ones by UN agencies.”
Other Democrats targeted by the ACLU and its allies over their support for the bill include Sen. Maggie Hassan (D-NH).
“Senator Hassan strongly opposes the boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel and believes that it harms efforts to secure enduring peace through bilateral negotiations toward a two-state solution,” Ricki Eshman, Hassan’s press secretary, said in a statement responding to the criticism.