Former Democratic Rep. Steve Israel has endorsed Suffolk legislative presiding officer DuWayne Gregory for Congress because of Democratic primary foe Liuba Grechen Shirley’s stand against proposed legislation to criminalize attempts by Americans to boycott the State of Israel.
Israel, who had planned to stay on the sidelines in the Second District race, cited Grechen Shirley’s July 19, 2017, posting on the website “New York’s 2nd District Democrats” about legislation aimed at the boycott movement. The movement is known as BDS — Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions.
“While I had originally planned to be neutral . . . in light of Ms. Grechen Shirley’s support of a boycott against Israel, I cannot remain silent” said Israel. “The movement to boycott Israel is shameful. Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East, the only country that fully empowers women and is essential to U.S. security.”
Monica Klein, Grechen Shirley’s spokeswoman, said the candidate’s post took no position on the boycott movement and only dealt with the issue of freedom of speech.
“I do not now nor have I ever supported to the BDS movement,” Grechen Shirley said after Israel’s endorsement of Gregory. “Israel, along with the Jewish people, have always and will forever have my support.”
Supporters of the BDS movement, which started in 2005, say the campaign seeks to pressure Israel economically over its treatment of Palestinians. Opponents call the movement an anti-Semitic attempt to hurt Israel.
In her 2017 posting, Grechen Shirley criticized New York Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand and Chuck Schumer for co-sponsoring a bill “that would make it a felony for Americans to support the international boycott against Israel, which was launched in protest of that country’s decades-old occupation of Palestine! This is unacceptable.”
Grechen Shirley, founder of the website, said the legislation carried a minimum civil penalty of $250,000 and a maximum criminal fine of $1 million and 20 years in prison.
She also said The American Israel Public Affairs Committee, a pro-Israel lobbying group, has “too much power.”
Grechen Shirley said in her statement: “I will stand up for the First Amendment rights of American citizens and am thankful to Senator Gillibrand for withdrawing her support” for the measure later. The American Civil Liberties Union also opposed the legislation.
Israel, a Huntington Democrat who left Congress last year after 16 years in office, dismissed Grechen Shirley’s reaction to his endorsement as “absolutely backtracking.”
Israel said she and others use “the First Amendment as a cloak to not only be critical of Israel, but to validate people’s right to boycott” and impose sanctions on Israel.
“I’m sticking with my endorsement of DuWayne Gregory, who understands anti-Semitism when he sees it,” Israel said.
Gregory welcomed Israel’s backing.
Gregory said Grechen Shirley “has made comments against our country’s relationship with Israel,” while his campaign “has sought to be inclusive and open to all.”