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Hillary Clinton Links BDS Criticism of Israel with Antisemitism in AIPAC Speech

Then-US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton meets with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem in July 2012. (Photo: US Embassy Tel Aviv)

Then-US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton meets with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem in July 2012. (Photo: US Embassy Tel Aviv)

There was never any doubt that Hillary Clinton is a staunch supporter of Israel, but the Democratic presidential frontrunner angered many pro-Palestinian activists when she linked a leading peaceful protest movement to “bullying” and “antisemitism.”

Addressing the American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s (AIPAC) annual policy conference in Washington, DC on Monday, Clinton reiterated official US support for a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict.

“Israelis deserve a secure homeland for the Jewish people. Palestinians should be able to govern themselves in their own state, in peace and dignity. And only a negotiated two-state agreement can survive those outcomes,” the former secretary of state said to rousing applause. While Clinton said that “everyone has to do their part by avoiding damaging actions, including with respect to settlements,” she offered no other criticism of Israel—whose 49-year occupation and ongoing Jewish settler colonization of Palestine are violations of international law—but plenty of harsh words for those who oppose Israel’s illegal policies and actions.

Clinton lumped what she called Iran’s “continued aggression” and Islamist terrorism together with “the growing effort to delegitimize Israel on the world stage,” singling out “the alarming boycott, divestment and sanctions movement” (BDS) for particular scorn. BDS, a global campaign for Palestinian human rights, is a peaceful protest movement supported by academics, political organizations, religious leaders, celebrities and others, including prominent Israeli and non-Israeli Jews.

Former president Jimmy Carter, who won the Nobel Peace Prize for brokering a lasting peace between former bitter enemies Israel and Egypt, is the most prominent American BDS supporter. Carter has accused Israel of perpetuating “even worse… apartheid than we witnessed in South Africa.” South African anti-apartheid icon Desmond Tutu, another Nobel Peace Prize winner, has also urged an international boycott of Israel over its “apartheid” treatment of the Palestinians. Former UN human rights official Richard Falk, an American Jew, is a BDS supporter who has repeatedly asserted that Israeli settlement expansion is a “form of ethnic cleansing.”

While BDS leaders say fighting racism is one of their main goals, Clinton equated the movement with anti-Jewish bigotry in her AIPAC address. “Antisemitism has no place in any civilized society, not in America, not in Europe, not anywhere,” she said, urging Israel supporters “to be united in fighting back against BDS.”

“To all the college students who may have encountered [BDS] on campus, I hope you stay strong,” said Clinton. “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.”

While some prominent Jewish critics of BDS, including the Anti-Defamation League, the Simon Wiesenthal Center and Israeli government officials have accused the movement of being antisemitic because it singles out Israel for condemnation in a world full of human rights violators, BDS supporters call allegations of antisemitism absurd, pointing to the fact that several of the movement’s leaders are Jewish. BDS backers also accuse Zionists of labeling Israel critics as antisemitic or, if the critics are Jewish, “self-hating Jews,” in a bid to deflect legitimate criticism of Israeli policies and actions. The late Israeli cabinet minister Shulamit Aloni called such accusations “a trick we always use.”

While Clinton blasted BDS for “bullying” on US college campuses, movement supporters claim they are the ones who are victims of attempted and actual heavy-handed pro-Israel repression. Their claims are buoyed by incidents like the termination of Steven Salaita, a professor who lost his job at the University of Illinois after he posted tweets critical of Israel.

“Only Israel can murder around 300 children in the span of a few weeks and insist that it is the victim,” said one of the tweets, a response to the 2014 Israeli offensive that killed more than 2,100 Palestinians, most of them innocent civilians, in Gaza.

Israel critics also note what they claim is an overwhelmingly pro-Israel bias in the US corporate mainstream media and the high price they say journalists can pay for speaking out against the Jewish state, pointing to the late Helen Thomas, a longtime White House reporter who was shunned after saying that Israel should “get the hell out of Palestine.”

Like much of the US political and media establishment, Clinton eschews balance in favor of bias toward America’s closest Middle East ally.

“America can’t ever be neutral when it comes to Israel’s security or survival,” she insisted in her AIPAC speech, ignoring the Palestinian struggle for survival under Israeli occupation and crippling economic blockade. “We can’t be neutral when rockets rain down on residential neighborhoods,” she said, ignoring the entire Gaza neighborhoods flattened by Israeli air, land and sea bombardment. “[Or] when civilians are stabbed in the street [and] when suicide bombers target the innocent,” she said, ignoring the entire families of innocent civilians killed during Israeli offensives. “Palestinian leaders need to stop inciting violence [and] stop celebrating terrorists as martyrs,” she said, ignoring the Israeli lawmakers, including a cabinet minister, who have publicly called for genocide against Palestinians and the Israelis who celebrate the killing of innocent Palestinian children.

“If you see bigotry, oppose it,” Clinton implored. “If you see violence, condemn it. If you see a bully, stand up to him.” BDS supporters see all three, but Clinton’s words left leading voices in the movement wishing America’s leaders were able to see the bigotry, violence and bullying committed on a staggering scale by one of their own closest allies.

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