Pressure builds on Booker, Gillibrand to get to Yes on Israel Anti-Boycott Act (for sake of 2020)

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Senators Cory Booker and Kirsten Gillibrand have reportedly told fundraisers that they are running for president in 2020. Pro-Israel money is critical to any run for president. And now both senators are facing pressure for failing to back the Israel Anti-Boycott Act, which would criminalize some forms of support for boycott of Israel.

Gillibrand has pushed back with a love-letter to the Israel lobby group AIPAC published in the Forward, saying that it’s an “important part” of her constitutional oath to defend the Constitution and to protect the alliance with Israel.

Booker has the backing of the liberal Zionist group J Street, but he gets a lot more money from rightwing Israel supporters. At NJ.com, Jonathan Salant says that the Israel lobby organization NORPAC is Booker’s “biggest lifetime source of campaign contributions” and it has been disappointed by his vote in favor of the Iran deal and his refusal to sign on to the boycott bill.

Still, NORPAC holds out hope for Booker’s conversion:

“We’ll see how the final vote does down. What we ask of Senator Booker is to look at things morally and try to get the best product out,” said Dr. Ben Chouake, president of NORPAC, which brought $158,871 into Booker’s campaign coffers, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

Booker’s spokesperson tells NJ.com that he is “reviewing” the legislation, and the chair of another Israel lobby group, NACPAC (National Action Committee PAC), says he’s confident that Booker will come to yes.

“Senator Booker is not alone in his concerns either amongst Dems or the Senate as a whole,” [Mark] Vogel said. “We’re confident with some of the changes that are under consideration that Senator Booker will co-sponsor the bill.”

The article notes that Booker will get pressure from the Democratic base to oppose the bills. But which matters more, the base or the donors?

Booker has taken the J Street line: supporting the Iran deal and opposing the Taylor Force act that would strip the Palestinian Authority of essential funding. J Street says that the Israel Anti-Boycott Act would criminalize boycotts of the settlements– a form of boycott it does not oppose.

By the way, here is the mission statement of NORPAC. Its entire purpose is supporting Israel, “the Jewish Homeland.”

NORPAC is a non-partisan Political Action Committee (PAC) whose primary purpose is to support candidates and sitting members of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives who demonstrate a genuine commitment to the strength, security, and survival of Israel…

Imagine if a Russia-loving organization were backing presidential candidates. NACPAC has a similar goal:

NACPAC can help Israel by cementing the US-Israel alliance in the hearts and minds of US Congressmen!

As for Gillibrand, she published that piece in the Forward last week saying that while she took her name of the Israel Anti-Boycott Act — during a moment of weakness at a town hall, she implies — she hasn’t backed off her support for Israel one iota. The boycott campaign (BDS) is anti-Semitic.

[S]ome have suggested that I want to delegitimize Israel because I took my name off the bill. That is not true. My record makes it clear that I am one of the strongest and most consistent supporters of Israel in the Senate….

Second, some have suggested that I suddenly began supporting the BDS movement when I took my name off the bill. This accusation has popped up on the Internet in recent days – both from Israel’s supporters and from Israel’s detractors. This is just plain false. I cannot state this more clearly: I vehemently oppose the BDS movement, which too often is used as a pernicious vehicle for anti-Semitism; I would never support it, and I signed on to the Israel Anti-Boycott Act in order to push back against this effort to make Israel – and Israel alone – a pariah.

The piece is a response to the Israel lobby group AIPAC, which had accused her of fostering Israel’s delegitimization.

Gillibrand and Booker are surely fearful about the growing divide between the Democratic base and the donor class. Gillibrand laments the eruption of a “divisive debate… that is pitting defenders of the First Amendment against supporters of Israel,” and ends her piece by saying that supporting Israel is part of her oath to defend the Constitution. 

The oath I swore as a senator was to “support and defend the Constitution.” That means defending free speech, including protests I really don’t like. But it also means keeping our country safe – and an important part of that is protecting our alliance with Israel. I am proud to defend the First Amendment and support Israel, and I urge all New Yorkers to join me in fighting for both.

This is nuts. And it’s obviously donor-driven.

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“some have suggested that I suddenly began supporting the BDS movement” – I would like to know who is attacking her so that we can attack back. If she is supporting us then we should back her up. In my experience it’s usually a small number of people who make the majority of noise, and if you can identify them it’s usually not hard to shut them down for a while. Also – there are… Read more »

“Pro-Israel money is critical to any run for president.” That is the enduring and disreputable shame of American politics. The first candidate for any office who says ‘no thanks’ might very well be surprised at the outpouring of support from real progressives, especially if they choose to be vocal and educate voters about the reasons why they prefer not to accept the bribe. The money from the “donor class” its covered in blood and filthy… Read more »

On the bright side: Blatant bribery is out in the open.

It appears that a substantial proportion of the Israel lobby in the US is quite willing to suppress free speech in this country, in order to foster further illegal settlements in the occupied West Bank. Not a surprise, of course.