Hillary joins the chorus against BDS: On Israel, she aligns herself with the right, and people like Sheldon Adelson

No middle ground for Clinton -- she's come out in support of Israel's most right-wing policies toward Palestinians

Published July 8, 2015 2:58PM (EDT)

  (AP/Richard Shiro)
(AP/Richard Shiro)

It’s no surprise that Hillary Clinton has once again voiced her staunch support for Israel. What is worth noting, and remembering as the presidential race heats up, is that she has now come out in support of its most right-wing policies toward the Palestinians. In a letter to well-known Israeli-American businessman and donor to the Clintons Haim Saban, Clinton stridently voices all the criticism of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement that we hear repeatedly from the Netanyahu government. Hillary is now, more than ever it seems, part of that chorus.

We might recall that Saban joined casino mogul Sheldon Adelson in convening a “secret” meeting in Las Vegas to raise money and strategize for a campaign against BDS, particularly on college campuses. It is crucial to note that this meeting was not initiated by college students, and that liberal Zionist groups such as J Street were conspicuously not invited. In other words, the wealthy and powerful gathered to plan and finance, unilaterally, both a campaign against college students who are critical of Israel and a campaign that takes a position to the right of liberal Zionist positions.  Put briefly, this is an all-out attack on critics of Israel and the BDS movement in particular, and Clinton’s letter shows no soft spot at all in terms of its support of Saban and Adelson.

At a time when many Democrats are beginning to voice doubt about Israel’s policies toward the Palestinians, it is crucial to note that Hillary Clinton has aligned herself not with liberal Democrats or even conservative Democrats, but with right-wing Republicans and people like Sheldon Adelson on this issue.

Consider these quotes from the letter, dated July 2 and paid for by “Hillary for America”:

I am writing to express my alarm over the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanction [sic] movement, or “BDS,” a global effort to isolate the State of Israel by ending commercial and academic exchanges.  I know you agree that we need to make countering BDS a priority.  I am seeking your advice on how we can work together—across party lines and with a diverse array of voices—to reverse this trend with information and advocacy, and fight back against further attempts to isolate and delegitimize Israel….

I am also very concerned by attempts to compare Israel to South African apartheid.  Israel is a vibrant democracy in a region dominated by autocracy, and it faces existential threats to its survival.  Particularly at a time when anti-Semitism is on the rise around the world—especially in Europe—we need to repudiate forceful efforts to malign and undermine Israel and the Jewish people.

This could easily have been generated by the Israeli state itself; this passage uses all the buzzwords we have come to associate with the attack on critics of Israel, not to mention BDS: the idea that critics of Israel are, by criticizing it, “isolating it,” the mischaracterization of BDS as “ending” “academic exchanges” (to refute this, one has only to see the actual stipulations of the academic boycott, which targets institutions but leaves individual scholars free to travel, do research, collaborate), and most important, the notion that criticism of Israeli state policies is an attempt to “delegitimize” Israel itself.

It is astounding that Clinton can rehearse the cliché of Israel being a “vibrant democracy” given Netanyahu’s panicked call to his supporters during the last election to come out and vote, as “hordes” of Arab Israeli voters were exercising their democratic rights. That made clear that for Netanyahu, the desired outcome of democracy can only be one thing: a Jewish state. What kind of a “vibrant democracy” is that? Again, the idea that Israel faces an “existential threat” from efforts to “malign and undermine Israel and the Jewish people” repeats the double fallacy that criticism is meant only to “malign and undermine” an otherwise innocent state, and that there is a perfect equation between “Israel” and “the Jewish people,” as if those critical of Israeli state policies could not be Jewish.

But even more repellent is when Clinton makes the graceless yet predictable turn into fundraising, leveraging a call to attack BDS with an appeal for money:

BDS is the latest example to single out Israel on the world stage, but we’ve seen this sort of attack before, at the UN and elsewhere.  As Senator and Secretary of State, I saw how crucial it is for America to defend Israel at every turn.  I have opposed dozens of anti-Israel resolutions in the UN, the Human Rights Council, and other international organizations.  I condemned the Goldstone Report, making it clear that Israel must be allowed to defend itself like any other country.  And I made sure the United States blocked Palestinian attempts at the UN to unilaterally declare statehood. Time after time, no matter what the venue, I have made clear that America will always stand up for Israel—and that’s what I’ll always do as President.

What could be ambiguous about this?  The notion of Israel “defending itself” no matter what trumps attempts by the UN, human rights groups and other international groups to hold Israel accountable to international law.  At the same time, the efforts of Palestinians to gain protection and legitimacy must be stifled.  Clinton digs in her heels in defiance of anyone or anything that can possibly be construed as critical of Israel.  The fact that none of this, in over half a century, has helped achieve peace in Israel-Palestine is simply not of interest to her.

Finally, she comes back to lash out at BDS once more:

From Congress and state legislatures to boardrooms and classrooms, we need to engage all people of good faith, regardless of their political persuasion or their views on policy specifics, in explaining why the BDS campaign is counterproductive to the pursuit of peace and harmful to Israelis and Palestinians alike.

In my view, this is the most pernicious and toxic passage in the fundraising letter.  Look at the venues that she picks out—she will harness the energies of Congress and state legislatures, corporate boards and, yes, classrooms, to attack BDS. With the exception of corporate boards, every other venue is supposed to be a site of democratic debate and deliberation, and in the case of classrooms, it is a matter of academic freedom and free speech. Yet Hillary Clinton will now change all of them into sites wherein participants will be turned into an audience -- people will sit patiently to receive the “explanations” of Hillary and Co.  And to top it all off, note that this Hillary-splaining session is for the good of Palestinians as well.  How arrogant, and nauseating.

But note that at the start Clinton mentions that BDS is a “trend.”  There is more than a grain of truth in that. And it’s a trend because people are fed up with the status quo, so ardently maintained by Hillary Clinton in all those places she mentions. They are fed up and no longer accept the notion that the blame all falls on the Palestinians. They also do not understand why BDS, a perfectly legal and nonviolent movement, should be attacked with as much force and venom as if it were advocating militant armed struggle. Look at the three demands of BDS: the end of an illegal occupation; equal rights for Palestinians; and honoring the international human right of return.  By what means of persuasion?  Not the rifle or rockets, but by the nonviolent means of withdrawing support from Israel through boycotts, divestment and sanctions. And the fact that BDS is finally moving the discussion forward is what is disturbing to Clinton.

But she dismisses fine points like this in order to garner more money and more votes.

Now what about Bernie Sanders? He has in the past been as strong an advocate for Israel as Clinton. His supporters say that his candidacy will “move the discussion” left.  Well, now Clinton has staked out her position with utmost clarity and conviction. What does Sanders have to say about Israel-Palestine — will he run left, or right?

By David Palumbo-Liu

David Palumbo-Liu is the Louise Hewlett Nixon Professor at Stanford University. Follow him on Twitter at @palumboliu.

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Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Bds Boycott Divestment Sanctions Haim Saban Hillary Clinton Israel Sheldon Adelson