newsBoycott, Divestment & Sanctions (BDS)

Midterm Elections 2018

GOP candidate for US Senate visits Israel, challenges positions held by New York incumbent

New York challenger Chele Farley differentiates herself from incumbent Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand when it comes to certain positions regarding Israel and the Jewish community.

Chele Farley at the Western Wall, May 2018. Credit: Farley for Senate.
Chele Farley at the Western Wall, May 2018. Credit: Farley for Senate.

Chele Farley, a Republican candidate for the New York Senate, visited Israel for the first time on a fact-finding mission just before the opening of the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem in mid-May.

Farley, who has long worked in the financial-services industry, will be running against the incumbent of nine years, New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand. If successful, she will become the first Republican senator in New York since Alfonse M. D’Amato left the Senate in 1999.

At the King David Hotel in Jerusalem, Farley addressed a group of Israeli Knesset members, ministers and leaders from the United States and Israel as a part of the Arutz Sheva media network’s “Salute to Jerusalem” conference.

She praised the change in tone of the U.S.-Israel relationship, embassy move and Israel as a “beacon of freedom and democracy,” and “a global center of the scientific advancement that will shape humanity’s future—all while being under the never-ending threat of violence from enemies both foreign and domestic.”

She promised that “strengthening this relationship and keeping our mutual security interests” would be her personal priority in the Senate. This includes, she said, leading the efforts against the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement and Palestinian payments to families of terrorists.

Farley presents herself as the pro-Israel candidate in the race and has partially attributed her running to Gillibrand “turning her back on Israel,” in light of Gillibrand’s recent voting record on BDS and the Taylor Force Act.

Gillibrand’s office had not responded to multiple requests for comments.

But her website states her desire to “continue to strengthen America’s close relationship with the State of Israel,” and notes that she has voted for U.S. policy to support and facilitate Israel in maintaining post-1967 defensible borders.

Ron Klein, chair of the Jewish Democratic Council of America and a former Democratic congressman from Florida, said Republicans turning support for Israel into a partisan issue is a risky move. “JDCA supports Democratic candidates, but believes Israel needs all the friends we can get. It is very dangerous what many Republicans are doing to play the political game with Israel, making it an issue that’s not bipartisan. I’m comfortable with Gillibrand’s positions, even though I may not agree [with them].”

On BDS and the Taylor Force Act

On the topic of BDS, Farley, a sponsor of the recent anti-BDS bill, said “BDS is a major point of distinction between my views and those held by … Gillibrand. She believes BDS is protected by free speech.”

In 2017, Gillibrand co-sponsored the Israel Anti-Boycott Act, which made it a federal crime—punishable by a maximum sentence of 20 years imprisonment—for Americans to encourage or participate in boycotts if protesting actions by the Israeli government.

But despite previous support for the bill and continued condemnation of the BDS movement, Gillibrand took her name off of the bill in April and urged a rewriting to “address civil liberties concerns,” noting that the bill could be read as targeting individuals who participate in the BDS movement.

She then clarified in the Forward, “I have always supported Israel and opposed BDS. My record makes it clear that I am one of the strongest and most consistent supporters of Israel in the Senate,” she said, calling Israel “one of the most vibrant democracies in the world.”

Still, Farley maintained that Gillibrand chose to pull her support for the bill after pressure from left-leaning activist groups, calling the move hypocritical and “shameful for a New York senator,” who is not properly representing the people of New York, and instead “following the winds wherever they blow and focused on winning the White House.”

Klein defended Gillibrand, saying withdrawing support from that piece of legislation in particular doesn’t mean she has withdrawn support for the Jewish state in general.

“As far as pulling her name from the anti-BDS bill because of concerns about the First Amendment, I don’t think that means she’s anti-Israel. It is more tied to freedom of speech, rather than against Israel.”

Klein added: “I wouldn’t have voted that way—BDS is straightforward to me—but I served with her in Congress, and had many conversations with her and don’t question her support for Israel.”

Farley also pointed out Gillibrand’s vote against the Taylor Force Act earlier this year. “Last month, I met Stuart Force, the father of Taylor Force, a West Point graduate on a university trip who was murdered by a Palestinian terrorist. The Taylor Force Act passed in March prevents the Palestinians’ disgraceful practice of using taxpayer money to reward the families of terrorists,” she said.

“But Gillibrand voted against it,” noted Farley, adding that “the New York population should be focused on doing what is good for Israel.”

Klein, however, stressed that support for Israel is about “more than one vote.”

“Your actions speak louder than words on a whole variety of issues on how you support Israel, whether military and strategic relations or a lot of other things that the Jewish community cares about,” he said, listing immigration, health care, women’s rights and gun issues among those concerns. “Gillibrand will get most of the Jewish community’s vote because of her support for Israel and her support for a bunch of other things.”

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