US presidential hopeful Gillibrand has ‘mixed record’ on Israel

The U.S. senator has defended Israel against U.N. bias while supporting the Iran deal and withdrawing her sponsorship of the Israel Anti-Boycott Act.

By David Jablinowitz, World Israel News

U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) officially joined the 2020 presidential race on Sunday, issuing an announcement video stating that “we need to remember what it feels like to be brave.”

She accuses President Donald Trump of spreading hate and sets herself apart from the incumbent by telling her potential supporters: “I took your lead; I chose brave, too.”

Gillibrand, 52, has served in the Senate since 2009 and before that was a member of the House of Representatives. She joins an already crowded field of Democratic party hopefuls trying to gain the party nomination and ultimately defeat Trump in November 2020.

Among supporters of Israel, she is seen as someone with a mixed record. She has condemned the prevalent anti-Israel bias at the United Nations, although she has wavered on the issues of Iran and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

In September 2009, Gillibrand released a statement that the “Iranian regime’s word cannot be trusted, and a nuclear Iran cannot be tolerated,” only to support “an imperfect Iran deal” in 2015.

“I have decided to support this deal after closely reading the agreement, participating in multiple classified briefings, questioning Energy Secretary [Ernest] Moniz and other officials, consulting independent arms control experts, and talking with many constituents who both support and oppose this deal,” wrote Gillibrand.

She sharply criticized Trump when he pulled the U.S. out of the accord in 2018.

“By walking away from the agreement, the president has opened the door to Iran going back to developing a nuclear-weapons program,” she said. “This unilateral decision will cost us the ability to maintain a strong coalition holding Iran accountable and the ability to increase leverage and oversight with our European allies.”

In 2017, she withdrew her sponsorship of the bipartisan Israel Anti-Boycott Act, citing the criticism of the American Civil Liberties Union that it would infringe upon freedom of speech. The bill would have barred American firms from joining the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement, including boycotts advocated by international organizations such as the United Nations.

Calling for restraint on both sides

In November 2018, Gillibrand called for restraint on both sides of the Israel-Hamas conflict as terrorists were launching massive numbers of rockets from Gaza into Israel but clearly blamed the terrorists for the violent situation.

“I am relieved that Israel’s missile defense programs were able to avert civilian fatalities from this disgraceful terror attack,” said Gillibrand at the time.

“I urge calm so the situation does not further escalate, and I still remain hopeful for a long-term, peaceful solution to this tragic conflict,” she said. “But the only way we will accomplish that is through negotiations that create conditions for safety and economic security – not through rocket attacks or any other acts of terrorism.”

Her support for Israel against a biased U.N. manifested itself perhaps most dramatically in January 2017, when she supported a Senate resolution to refute U.N. Security Council Resolution 2334  condemning Israeli “settlements” in Judea and Samaria. Her support ran against the position of outgoing President Barack Obama, who had allowed the resolution to pass at the world body with a U.S. abstention instead of exercising its veto power.

Differences with Netanyahu

If Gillibrand becomes president and Benjamin Netanyahu remains Israeli prime minister, they will have some differences to work out.

In 2017, she voiced concern that Netanyahu “does not have a plan for peace and doesn’t have a vision for peace,” adding that at a 2016 meeting in Israel with the prime minister, “the question we asked is, what is your vision for peace, and he didn’t have one,” she said.

“He just said my only hope is that I protect my people from rockets,” she added.

“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,” Gillibrand said.

JNS contributed to this report.