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‘Disappointed’ AIPAC targets Gillibrand for removing her name from boycott bill

on 16 Comments

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


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 New York’s junior Senator, Kirsten Gillibrand, has withdrawn her co-sponsorship of the Israel Anti-Boycott Act (S.720), sending a powerful message to her constituents that she no longer supports the fight to combat the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

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?

Robert Herbst

Robert Herbst is a civil rights lawyer. He was chapter coordinator for Westchester Jewish Voice for Peace from 2014-2017,

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16 Responses

  1. on August 3, 2017, 9:29 am

    The bill was not sponsored by AIPAC, it was drafted by AIPAC !!

  2. Kay24 on August 3, 2017, 1:49 pm

    It was to be expected that after Sen. Gellibrand criticized the zionists, they were going to attack her and make her into yet another example for others, and warn those who dare to speak against them, that they will feel their wrath. The mere fact that Sen. Gellibrand’s colleagues are okay with this, is hard to accept.

  3. CigarGod on August 3, 2017, 4:11 pm

    So easy to send a note of support for her courageous act.

    I suggest getting her name spelling down.

  4. JosephA on August 3, 2017, 9:33 pm

    So the United States has at least one senator with brain cells intact…

  5. WebSkipper on August 4, 2017, 9:33 am

    My guess: She’ll sign on again as a sponsor following some token cosmetic changes to the language. Look for it within a week.

    • jd65 on August 4, 2017, 11:32 am

      Unfortunately, my guess is the same as yours, WebSkipper.

    • genesto on August 4, 2017, 2:22 pm

      I agree. In the end, this is all a matter of which side exerts more political pressure, not a matter of principle at all. Gillibrand has not exactly been a friend of the Palestinian people in the past, and I wouldn’t expect any dramatic change in her position in the future.

  6. Misterioso on August 4, 2017, 10:07 am

    Kudos to Senator Gillibrand. Unlike many of her co-senators, she refuses to violate the Constitution.

    • JWalters on August 9, 2017, 9:59 pm

      It always takes guts to stand up to the mob. One has to pick one’s battles carefully.

  7. Elizabeth Block on August 4, 2017, 10:18 am

    AIPAC is disappointed. As we say in Brooklyn, es tut mir leid (“I’m sorry for your troubles”). The words are German, the sarcasm is Yiddish.
    May AIPAC suffer many more “disappointments”.

  8. James Canning on August 4, 2017, 12:39 pm

    Aipac continues its effort to suppress free speech in the US, to facilitate Israel’s endless occupation of the West Bank.

    • jeff_davis on August 8, 2017, 2:55 pm

      Aipac continues its effort to suppress free speech in the US, to facilitate Israel’s endless occupation of the US Congress.

  9. genesto on August 4, 2017, 2:17 pm

    I’m sorry, but I can’t join those who want to thank Ms Gillibrand for her withdrawing her co-sponsorship of a terrible bill she shouldn’t have supported, let alone co- sponsored, in the first place. And, I’m sorry if I see her withdrawal of support as simply doing the job she was elected to do. Those deserving honors for her withdrawing are all the individuals and organizations that banded together to FORCE her to do so, sending a powerful message to AIPAC that it can no longer get all it wants when it wants out of Congress. Kudos to all of you, but not to Ms Gillibrand!

  10. Marshalldoc on August 4, 2017, 2:28 pm

    As right as she is to withdraw support for this unconstitutional bill, one must ask (her & the other co-sponsors) ‘where is your sense of democracy, free speech, and the Bill of Rights’ that you could even think to lend your name to this trash legislation regardless of whose interests it serves? After all, most of those in Congress are lawyers and, while that’s no guarantee of logical thought, it should count for something!

    • genesto on August 4, 2017, 6:53 pm

      Ah, an ally at last! That’s precisely my point. How can you laud someone who simply corrects a terrible mistake – and not for any reasons of morality, only to distance herself from the political firestorm her decision to co-sponsor this piece of garbage caused in the first place?

      I could have applauded her if she merely remained silent on the legislation, but publicly came out against it once criticism of it reached the level it had. That, at least, would have been a lot closer to the responsible behavior we have a right to expect from our elected leaders.

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