politics to go

What happened to Senator Kirsten Gillibrand?


During the 2013 Chuck Hagel confirmation hearings, New York’s junior senator, Kirsten Gillibrand, showed herself to be an advocate for Israel. But lately she’s made some anti-Israel statements and votes despite the fact that her New York constituency is largely pro-Israel.

As a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee that questioned Hagel, whose support for Israel was in doubt, Gillibrand emphasized the importance of the Jewish state to America.

Four years later, Gillibrand’s posture has moved closer to that of the Democratic Party’s progressive wing and she’s distanced herself from Israel.

She voted against David Friedman appointment be the U.S. ambassador to Israel, expressing concern about his nomination.

In the “Time 100” magazine in April, Gillibrand wrote a piece supporting “four extraordinary women — Tamika Mallory, Bob Bland, Carmen Perez and Linda Sarsour” — for organizing the Jan. 21 Women’s March on Washington.

“The images of Jan. 21, 2017, show a diverse, dynamic America — striving for equality for all,” she wrote. “The moment and movement mattered so profoundly because it was intersectional and deeply personal. These women are the suffragists of our time.”

Yet one of the women that Gillibrand praised, Linda Sarsour, opposes Israel’s existence as a Jewish state, tweeting in October 2012 that “nothing is creepier than Zionism.”

Sarsour also proclaimed that Zionists cannot be feminists: “It just doesn’t make any sense for someone to say, ‘Is there room for people who support the state of Israel and do not criticize it in the movement?’ There can’t be in feminism. You either stand up for the rights of all women, including Palestinians, or none. There’s just no way around it.”

Even when Sarsour’s anti-Israel history was pointed out to Gillibrand by Rabbi Abraham Cooper of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, who asked the senator to reconsider her endorsement of Sarsour, Gillibrand stuck to her guns.

And then, at a town hall meeting with constituents in July, she criticized Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, using an argument that was surprising for its ignorance.

Answering a questioner from the Jewish Voice For Peace (a group named by the Anti-Defamation League as one of the 10 most anti-Israel organizations in America) Gillibrand trashed Netanyahu based on a meeting she had with the prime minister, as part of a Senate delegation to Israel, in 2016.

“In our meeting with Prime Minister Netanyahu, the question we asked is, what is your vision for peace, and he didn’t have one. He just said my only hope is that I protect my people from rockets. If you don’t have a vision, if you don’t have a plan, then it is never going to happen. And so, we do need to require more of our world leaders, and I think a call to action to Israel’s government to have a plan for peace is really incumbent on all of us.”

The visit Gillibrand referenced took place during a particularly violent period of terror. According to the Israel Security Agency, October 2015 saw the beginning of a wave of terrorism that led to 620 attacks in one month — 11 people (one foreign national and 10 Israelis) were killed in terrorist attacks in October, and 80 were injured, 37 of them moderately or more severely. In November 2015, 10 people (one Palestinian and 9 Israelis) were killed in terrorist attacks; qmong the non-fatal casualties, 22 were wounded in stabbings, 24 in vehicle attacks, and 12 in shootings. December 2015, saw 3 civilians slain in stabbing attacks.

What did she expect Netanyahu to say? Like every prime minister since Rabin, Netanyahu has supported a two-state solution. In 2010, he even offered to stop building housing units in communities over the green line if the Palestinians would simply recognize Israel as a Jewish state.

“President Abbas must do what I have done,” Netanyahu told a joint session of Congress in 2011. “I stood before my people, and I told you it wasn’t easy for me, and I said, I will accept a Palestinian state.

“It is time for President Abbas to stand before his people and say, ‘I will accept a Jewish state’.” Later in the speech, he added, “Our conflict has never been about the establishment of a Palestinian state. It has always been about the existence of the Jewish state.”

Gillibrand knows very well about Netanyahu’s vision of peace. So, did she attack Netanyahu to please the anti-Israel progressive wing of her party, was she trying to please her Iranian donors (her campaigns have been supported by the Iranian American Political Action Committee and by the pro-Iran lobby’s Hassan Nemazee), or was she trying to please the questioner from the anti-Israel Jewish Voice For Peace?

Gillibrand recently flipped on the anti-BDS bill. Originally a backer, at first sign of pushback from progressives she changed her mind.

“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 delegitimize our democratic ally in the Middle East, Israel,” said World Jewish Congress President Ronald Lauder.

Normally this would be where I’d point out that Gillibrand has always opposed BDS and other types of boycotts because she has. But looking at her 2017 track record supporting people like Linda Sarsour, trashing Netanyahu, and opposing the nomination of her own constituent — pro-Israel David Friedman — to be our ambassdor to Israel,  we have to wonder what is the real reason she is backing away from the anti-BDS bill.