Hillary Clinton letter asks pro-Israel leaders to help her undermine BDS movement

In a letter released yesterday, Hillary Clinton asked pro-Israel leaders and potential donors for advice on how to push back against and undermine the movement calling for boycotts, divestment and sanctions (BDS) against Israel for their continued human rights violations and illegal occupation of Palestinian lands. BDS has gained particular traction on college campuses and in Europe.

Here is an example of the letter, obtained by Barak Ravid of Haaretz:


There are a lot of problems with this letter — on factual, political and moral grounds — and as a former Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton really should know better.

For starters, Palestinian activists launched the BDS movement in 2005 after effectively giving up on the direct negotiations that Hillary Clinton says are the only path to peace. To be clear, negotiations will be necessary in order to end the conflict, but the Israeli government certainly isn’t behaving as if it intends to negotiate in good faith any time soon. Israel’s recent elections produced what has been called its most right-wing coalition government in history. It’s new Justice Minister, Ayelet Shaked, has openly called for the genocide of the Palestinian people. For the time being, Palestinian grievances can either be addressed through the informal international community through BDS, or they can be addressed through violence via Hamas. Which would Clinton prefer?

Hillary Clinton and Benjamin Netanyahu, via Wikimedia Commons

Hillary Clinton and Benjamin Netanyahu, via Wikimedia Commons

What’s more, Clinton’s insistence that there is an either/or choice between direct negotiations and external pressure is absurd. The whole point of BDS is to exert enough external pressure on Israel that they are forced to come back to the negotiating table with a serious commitment to abandon their settlements and give a new Palestinian state full sovereignty. Benjamin Netanyahu isn’t going to wake up on a different side of the bed one day and decide to do that all by himself.

Until a new round of serious negotiations takes place, however, Netanyahu and Clinton are going to have to get used to Israel being called an apartheid state, because that’s what it is. Apartheid in its original Afrikaans literally means “the state of being apart,” and as long as Israel is one state that affords second-class status to a large swath of the people within its borders based on their ethnic identity, they will be in a “state of being apart.” Reasonable people can disagree as to whether Israel’s state of being apart is as bad as South Africa’s capital-a Apartheid, but the definition fits, however “concerned” it makes Clinton feel.

Reasonable people can disagree over the long series of political and historical events that have produced the Israel-Palestine Conflict. They can disagree over why the negotiations that came so close to succeeding during Bill Clinton’s presidency will likely be impossible for another Clinton presidency to replicate. They can disagree as to what the best path forward is for peace in the region, and they can even disagree as to whether Israel has a right to exist in the first place.

But Hillary Clinton’s letter is not reasonable. It is pandering that fails to adequately address the very terms of the reasonable disagreements underlying the conflict. It may be campaign season, but again, she’s a former Secretary of State. She really ought to know better.

Jon Green graduated from Kenyon College with a B.A. in Political Science and high honors in Political Cognition. He worked as a field organizer for Congressman Tom Perriello in 2010 and a Regional Field Director for President Obama's re-election campaign in 2012. Jon writes on a number of topics, but pays especially close attention to elections, religion and political cognition. Follow him on Twitter at @_Jon_Green, and on Google+. .

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10 Responses to “Hillary Clinton letter asks pro-Israel leaders to help her undermine BDS movement”

  1. Jon Green says:

    I disagree, reasonably.

    Sure, there are people in the BDS movement who want Israel off the map. There are people *high up* in the Israeli government who think that the Palestinians should be driven into the sea. To say that those views are or aren’t “widely held” would probably depend on where and how you did your polling, but as far as BDS exists in America/Europe, I don’t think my characterization was too far off. Some clarification would have been useful there.

    Second, reasonable people can absolutely disagree about whether or not Israel has a right to exist. We both think it does, so I guess we’re just reasonable people who disagree about whether reasonable people can disagree on the issue, which is admittedly a bit meta, but that’s beside the point. You’re right to say that the question can’t be the basis of a negotiated peace settlement, but it can be the basis of a more general discussion about the contradictions between Israel’s liberalism and its Judaism, which *have* to be acknowledged in these kinds of debates.

  2. cdzrom says:

    Hey Jon,

    There are two serious errors in this piece.

    Firstly, you ascribe motives to the BDS movement that are not widely held within that movement. The goal of bringing Israel to the negotiating table is only held by those who believe Israel has a right to exist in the first place. Many of the leaders of the BDS movement (Abunimah, Barghouti, Bluemthal, Salaita, Tutu, etc.) see BDS as the first step in dismantling the apparatus of the Israeli state, which they euphemistically refer to as the one-state solution. They see any type of negotiation with Israel as counterproductive, because such negotiations implicitly recognize Israeli sovereignty and thus normalizes the existence of the state. Normalization, is above all, the enemy of the BDS movement. If you give Abunimah’s book “The Battle for Justice in Palestine,”even a perfunctory read, you’ll see this point made explicitly and repeatedly. Tel Aviv is considered occupied. So is Haifa, Beersheva, and so on.

    Clinton, on the other hand, believe BDS is counter-productive to any type of negotiated settlement because she believes that Israel has a right to exist. That’s the distinction.

    Secondly, Reasonable people can’t “argue” about whether Israel has the right to exist. That recognition is a precondition for any type of negotiation. Without it, the exchange is basically “Israel should be destroyed” versus “No it shouldn’t”. Not an argument, but an appeal to force (Thrasymachus, wassup). Also, if you find debating the existence of a nation more reasonable than a letter, your standard for reasonableness is a little off.

    The Oslo accords are seen as a black mark by many in the BDS community and it’s important to understand why. Because Arafat at least intimated that he would recognize Israel’s right to exist, the Oslo Accords are widely held to be a sham. If they had succeeded, they would have simply legitimated occupation, and further normalized Israel’s membership in the family of nations. Such outcomes are antithetical to the anti-Zionist and BDS movements.


  3. Chas says:

    Perhaps the most important victory for BDS was last month’s announcement French mobile phone giant Orange that the company intends to unwind its partnership with Israeli carrier Partner Communications. The controlling shareholder of Partner is Haib Saban. Hillary announced her strong opposition to BDS in a letter addressed to Haim Saban, who had given her super PAC $2 million a day earlier and who has given the Clinton Foundation millions more.

  4. 2karmanot says:

    What this situation needs is someone who is willing to call the Israelis out on their cultural genocide, apartheid Shoah and absurd media charades. Israel believes that a magical, tribal, sky tyrant has given them a justification to slaughter, pillage and absorb the territory of their neighbors for all eternity. Israel is a terrorist state.

  5. ComradeRutherford says:

    Where’s Yabbed to say that Bernie is worse?

  6. nicho says:

    Someone needs to call the Israeli government out for being a terrorist state.

  7. Bill_Perdue says:

    The colonists are stubborn racists. ” Polls show that Israeli youth are becoming less tolerant and more racist with each passing year. Anecdotal evidence suggests that Israeli teachers are now afraid to even bring up the topic of human rights, for fear of setting off a racist free-for-all in the classroom. And yet, the Education Ministers appointed by Netanyahu have consistently tinkered with the curriculum, hoping to create new generations of Jews even more sectarian than previous ones. This year, Israeli children began to learn about the Nazi Holocaust in kindergarten.

    As Religious Services Minister in the last Netanyahu government, Jewish Home party leader Naftali Bennett created a new bureaucratic body, the Jewish Identity Administration, to proselytize Orthodox Judaism to secular Israelis. Now that Bennett has been made Education Minister in the new Netanyahu government, he will not need to make use of a proxy organization in order to indoctrinate Israeli youth.” Poll: Half of Israeli high schoolers oppose equal rights for Arabs… Nearly half of Israeli teens surveyed say they would refuse to evacuate West Bank settlements http://www.haaretz.com/print-edition/news/poll-half-of-israeli-high-schoolers-oppose-equal-rights-for-arabs-

    “Moshe Feiglin, the deputy speaker of the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, has published a plan for the total destruction of the Palestinian people in Gaza. His detailed plan, which calls for the use of concentration camps, amounts to direct and public incitement to genocide – a punishable crime under the Genocide Convention.” http://electronicintifada.net/blogs/ali-abunimah/concentrate-and-exterminate-israel-parliament-deputy-speakers-gaza-genocide-plan

    Feiglin is not only advocate for genocide. “Just days before the seven-week siege of Gaza this past July and August that left some 2,000 Palestinians dead, 11,000 injured and 100,000 homeless, Israeli lawmaker Ayelet Shaked, a senior figure in the Jewish Home Party that is part of Israel’s ruling coalition, posted on Facebook that “the entire Palestinian people is the enemy . . . including its elderly and its women, its cities and its villages, its property and its infrastructure. … Now this also includes the mothers of the martyrs, who send them to hell with flowers and kisses. They should follow their sons, nothing would be more just. … Otherwise, more little snakes will be raised there.” http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/26254-the-political-economy-of-israeli-apartheid-and-the-specter-of-genocide

    Nor is their racism confined to Palestinians and Arabs. “Violent Anti-African Race Riot Rocks Israel, Black Men and Women Beaten – Violence surged in the streets of Tel Aviv as a 1000-strong protest against African immigrants seeking asylum in Israel turned violent.” http://atlantablackstar.com/2012/05/26/violent-anti-african-race-riot-rocks-israel-black-men-and-women-beaten/

  8. mikez says:

    YOU, Green, really ought to know better.

    If the Democratic party is pro-BDS then I don’t even know where to turn. Not only is BDS a huge joke that no one truly follows the principles of, not only is the Palestinian government a tremendous barrier to any negotiations, not only is the UN and its Human Rights Council the absurdity of the decade, but Israelis are probably the most stubborn people around. What this situation needs is someone who is willing to call the Palestinians out on their media charades and get down to business as with every passing year the Israelis become less and less inclined to negotiate with the thoroughly illogical group that is the Palestinians.

  9. Bill_Perdue says:

    To be clear, negotiations will be necessary in order to end the conflict, but the Israeli government certainly isn’t behaving as if it intends to negotiate in good faith any time soon.

    During the attempt by the French to continue the subject of the Algerian people, the left rejected calls to force the NLF, جبهة التحرير الوطني or Jabhet Al-Taḥrīr Al-Waṭanī, to negotiate with the French colonialists. Algeria belongs to the Algerians exclusively and they defeated the French, forcing them out. Almost a million French colonialist were forced to leave.

    During the Vietnam war, a war characterized by a US invasion to ensure that Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia were forced into neo-colonial submission by the US, leftists rejected the idea of calling for negotiations. The Vietnamese had nothing to negotiate – Vietnam belongs to the Vietnamese. The Vietnamese NLF forced the Americans out, defeating them convincingly, with the aid of the US antiwar movement, especially the GI antiwar Movement.

    The Palestinians have nothing to negotiate. Palestine belongs exclusively to them.

    The BDS movement is also gaining strength in trade unions, here, in Europe and especially in South Africa. “Workers Against Israel – Nothing is more crucial to the success of BDS than the movement’s relationship with organized labor. … but also to the possibility of direct action posing an ever graver threat to business as usual for Israel, particularly when organized labor is on board. … Until now, no one had ever kept an Israeli cargo ship from unloading for two consecutive days; we blocked the Zim Piraeus for four. … The Palestinian General Federation of Trade Unions (PGFTU) has called on workers worldwide, and Bay Area workers in particular, to refuse to facilitate the commerce of Zim and other Israeli companies as part of BDS. This call was supported by COSATU, the Coalition of South African Trade Unions.” https://www.jacobinmag.com/2014/09/the-foes-of-israel/

    HRH HRC is a supporter of the racist, mainly European colony in Palestine. “Hillary Clinton really should know better.” Of course she doesn’t know better.

  10. Butch1 says:

    This will be the official “suck-up” policy our country will have or continue with Israel at the expense of Palestine if she becomes the POTUS. We definitely need someone who will show some backbone against Bibi Netanyahu who doesn’t want anything, but the apartheid conditions to continue in the Gaza strip and will continue attacking any person or flotilla that tries to bring them any aid.

    This kind of political pandering to Israel was done for one purpose only and that was for the Jewish vote in this country. What Ms. Clinton doesn’t quite understand is that many moderate younger Jews are more sympathetic to the Palestinian problem and want that situation resolved without anymore war and the conditions improved NOW. They do not care for the thuggish behavior of Netanyahu and they want a “two-state” solution which he does not. Clinton’s pandering is a generational problem, I think and she has struck a “political fowl ball.” I thought she was more intelligent than this.

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