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At AIPAC, Clinton Supports Young People On ‘Front Lines of Battle’ Against BDS

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton spoke at an annual conference held by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) and praised students at colleges and universities who are on “the front lines of the battle to oppose the alarming boycott, divestment and sanctions movement known as BDS.”

The part of the speech on BDS was specifically directed at young people attending the pro-Israel lobby group’s conference, and it received roaring applause.

During her speech, Clinton declared, “Particularly at a time when antisemitism is on the rise across the world, especially in Europe, we must repudiate all efforts to malign, isolate, and undermine Israel and the Jewish people.”

The line was nearly identical to a sentence she wrote in a letter to Haim Saban on July 2, 2015, where she pledged to fight the BDS movement if elected president.

Saban is a Democratic Party mega-donor, who has donated at least $6.4 million to Clinton’s campaign. He held a conference in Las Vegas last June with Sheldon Adelson, a Republican Party mega-donor. The conference focused on how to spend millions of dollars in order to counter the BDS movement.

“We have to be united in fighting back against BDS,” Clinton argued. “Many of its proponents have demonized Israeli scientists and intellectuals, even students.”

She added, “To all the college students who may have encountered this on campus, I hope you stay strong. Keep speaking out. Don’t let anyone silence you, bully you, or try to shut down debate, especially in places of learning like colleges and universities.”

“Antisemitism has no place in any civilized society, not in America, not in Europe, not anywhere,” Clinton stated.

This language of warfare (“front lines”) explicitly cajoles students into waging fierce campaigns, which will likely suppress the First Amendment rights of fellow students who speak out for Palestinian human rights. It also encourages those campus groups, which already have a record of demanding the suppression of speech.

“Clinton is unashamedly showing that she has embraced Israel advocacy groups’ talking points wholeheartedly,” Dima Khalidi, the director of Palestine Legal, told Shadowproof. “She is broadcasting her opposition to a broad popular nonviolent movement for Palestinian human rights, and promising to throw her weight behind the concerted suppression of First Amendment-protected human rights advocacy in the U.S.”

“Her encouragement to speak out and stand up to the bullying ought to have been directed at advocates for Palestinian rights, who face real threats to their careers, their reputations, and their safety every day, merely for speaking out,” Khalidi added.

She continued, “The fact that every candidate for president is compelled to profess their intent to shield Israel from accountability for its human rights abuses is indication in itself of the massive power imbalance that Clinton is championing. She will undoubtedly fall on the wrong side of history on this issue, as her record has shown her to be on many others.”

A report released last year by Palestine Legal, which is an organization committed to protecting the constitutional rights of Americans who organize for Palestinian human rights and freedom, outlined why equating pro-Palestinian activism with antisemitism is so inflammatory.

Israel advocacy groups, including lobby groups like AIPAC, “devote considerable resources” to policing the speech and actions of activists. Groups falsely accuse student organizers of antisemitism solely because they criticize Israeli government policies. “Such conflation silences meaningful conversation about Palestinian rights and distracts from genuine forms of hatred and antisemitism,” according to Palestine Legal.

In some cases, these groups accuse the students of supporting terrorism to justify calls to suppress their freedom of assembly and freedom of expression. This is an even more inflammatory charge.

Screen shot from AIPAC’s live stream of Hillary Clinton’s speech to the conference

Politicians like Clinton and groups like AIPAC use a “State Department definition” of antisemitism. Palestine Legal argues this definition “erroneously includes criticism of Israel as a nation state in the definition.” This departs from the “conventional understanding of antisemitism as hate and ethno-religious bias against Jewish people.” It redefines antisemitism to include “demonizing Israel,” “applying a double standard to Israel,” and “delegitimizing Israel.”

The vast majority of incidents, which Palestine Legal responded to in 2014 and 2015, involved false and inflammatory accusations of antisemitism against students. For example, “At Northeastern University, the student government blocked the student body from voting on a divestment referendum because students, backed by Israel advocacy groups, argued that discussing divestment would in and of itself create an antisemitic climate.”

Recently, the New York State Senate slashed $485 million in funds for colleges in the City University of New York system in order to “send a message” that campus administrators are not doing enough to fight “antisemitism.”

The decision to slash funds was the direct result of efforts by the Zionist Organization of America to delegitimize the activism of Students for Justice in Palestine chapters on CUNY campuses.

Democratic Senator Liz Krueger called the language of the resolution “shocking,” according to the Jewish Daily Forward. “I’d never heard from my senate colleagues or my constituents that anyone thought CUNY was an anti-Semitic institution. And even if CUNY has a problem, how is cutting a third of their budget going to solve the problem?”

Does Hillary Clinton support this kind of legislative action to fight the BDS movement?

Last July, Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner signed a law to “divest Illinois’ public pension funds from companies that participate” in the BDS movement. Republican Congressman Bob Dold of Illinois praised Rauner and declared, “BDS is a disgusting, misguided and hateful weapon used to delegitimize Israel and those who stand with her. I applaud Governor Rauner for signing this first of its kind bill into law and thank the 151 bipartisan lawmakers who unanimously passed the bill.”

How far does Clinton plan to go in her actions against the BDS movement, if she is elected president?

Additionally, journalist Rania Khalek reported AIPAC “disinvited” Da’Shaun Harrison, the vice president of the NAACP chapter at Morehouse College, which is a historically black institution in Atlanta.

“Harrison had his invitation to attend the conference revoked after AIPAC learned that he participated in an October protest against Hillary Clinton and that he supports Palestinian rights,” Khalek reported for The Electronic Intifada.

A representative from AIPAC called Harrison’s school and an NAACP acquaintance, who invited him to the annual conference. Harrison felt like he was under surveillance for his activism. And, as Khalek wrote, it appears there are “long-lasting consequences” for protesting Clinton’s record on Israel.

What happened to Harrison is one aspect of what Clinton supports when she champions the fight against BDS. Another aspect is barring media organizations from covering pro-Israel events, when those organizations have published journalism critical of Israel’s human rights atrocities against Palestinians.

The range of tactics involved in stifling the BDS movement, as documented by Palestine Legal, includes “administrative sanctions, censorship, intrusive investigations, viewpoint-based restriction of advocacy, and even criminal prosecutions.”

By standing with those committed to fighting BDS, Clinton endorses all of the most disturbing neo-McCarthyist actions taken by campus administrators, elected officials, and Israel advocacy groups against those engaged in constitutionally-protected pro-Palestinian activism.

Survey Party by pollyann on Flickr
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Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola is managing editor of Shadowproof Press. He also produces and co-hosts the weekly podcast, "Unauthorized Disclosure."