Clinton issues missives against Israel boycott movement

Democratic presidential front-runner pens letters to American-Israeli philanthropist, Jewish communal leader seeking help in combating BDS

Former US secretary of state Hillary Clinton (photo credit: AP/Carolyn Kaster)
Former US secretary of state Hillary Clinton (photo credit: AP/Carolyn Kaster)

Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton expressed concern regarding efforts to boycott Israel in letters to Jewish leaders, calling for legislative action to support the Jewish state.

Writing to Israeli tycoon Haim Saban and Jewish communal leader Malcolm Hoenlein, Clinton asked for their help in devising a plan to counter the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement.

“I am seeking your advice on how we can work together […] to reverse this trend with information and advocacy,” the former secretary of state wrote in identical letters last week.

Clinton said she was concerned by attempts to compare Israeli policies to South Africa’s apartheid regime, which was successfully boycotted by the world community in the 1980s in a campaign seen as an inspiration for Israel boycott advocates.

“Particularly at a time when anti-Semitism is on the rise across the world — especially in Europe — we need to repudiate forceful efforts to malign and undermine Israel and the Jewish people,” she wrote.

She signed her letter to Hoenlein, who is the executive chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, with the added handwritten note, “Looking forward to working with you again.”

Hillary Clinton's signature and personal note on a July, 2015, letter to Malcolm Hoenlein
Hillary Clinton’s signature and personal note on a July, 2015, letter to Malcolm Hoenlein

The letters, dated July 2, were sent several weeks after Saban attended a summit for efforts to combat BDS put on by gambling tycoon Sheldon Adelson. Adelson is considered a major backer of Republican candidates who Clinton may face in her run for the White House.

Recounting her Israel bona fides, Clinton listed her opposition to resolutions at the United Nations and the Humans Rights Council, blocking Palestinian statehood bids and making it generally “clear that America will always stand up for Israel.”

Clinton also reiterated her support for a two-state solution, saying, “I remain convinced that Israel’s long-term security and future as a Jewish state depends on having two states for two peoples.”

Saban is considered a major Clinton donor. Figures published in May showed the billionaire telecom tycoon and his wife donated up to $25 million to the Clinton Foundation.

Applauding Clinton’s show of support, Saban said in response that “when she becomes president, Hillary will reinforce the US-Israel relationship.”

Israeli officials and Jewish leaders have reacted with alarm over the past several weeks to what they say is a concerted effort to delegitimize the Jewish state via a pro-Palestinian boycott campaign.

An announcement by French telecom giant Orange last month that it planned to exit the Israeli market was met with fierce denunciations, including from Saban, who owns Partner, the Israeli cell firm that leases the Orange name.

The past few months also saw a bid by Ramallah to push for Israel to be kicked out of world soccer body FIFA, and the UK National Union of Students’ decision to join the BDS movement last month.

Late last month, US President Barack Obama signed into law a bill that conditions a trade agreement on efforts to fight BDS, in a move seen as a major victory for the Israel supporters.

However, the State Department later pulled back some of its support for the bill, saying it would not be enforced in regard to efforts to boycott Israeli settlements.

Clinton’s letters are likely designed to help her shore up backing from Israel supporters as she campaigns for the Democratic nomination.

While seen as a solid backer of the Jewish state, she has raised hackles in the past with strong denunciations of settlements.

“I am a strong supporter of Israel, strong supporter of their right to defend themselves. But the continuing settlements, which have been denounced by successive American administrations on both sides of the aisle, are clearly a terrible signal to send if at the same time you claim you’re looking for a two-state solution,” Clinton told CNN in 2014.

Tamar Pileggi contributed to this report.

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