New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand is known to opportunistic, jumping to support the kind of postures and policy that happen to be favored by headlines or social media at the moment.
This is a habit that has been praised by some on the online political left, which has always struck me as an odd feature of elite politics in America — in that human beings generally don’t generally like to see their leaders as dishonest or unprincipled, two features of opportunistic politicians who jump from position to position based on short-term political interest. It’s kind of like praising Frank and Claire Underwood.
One example of how Gillibrand has been opportunistic is her support for the Israeli government. That government is increasingly unpopular among Democrats and independents, but given the fact that she represents New York, which is a hub of pro-Israel fundraising and activists, she has generally been very supportive of the Israeli government.
For instance, in 2010 Israeli commandos killed activists aboard a Gaza-bound flotilla carrying humanitarian aid to break the siege. The move brought around international condemnation pretty much everywhere except the U.S. Congress, much of which jumped to Israel’s defense.
One of those who jumped was Gillibrand, who helped draft a Senate letter calling on the Obama administration to “to determine whether or not an organizer of the flotilla, the Turkish Humanitarian Relief Foundation (IHH), should be placed on a list of foreign terrorist groups.”
The calls to investigate the Turkish nonprofit that organized the flotilla for terrorism was so brazen that even the establishment Center for American Progress, no hub of pro-Palestinian activism by any means, noted that there is no basis for this claim:
There appears to be a general belief among scholars and analysts, based on interviews conducted by Melis Tusiray, that İHH is a humanitarian aid organization with strong religious underpinnings and political motivations among its leadership. It is highly likely that there is contact between some İHH’s members and Hamas, as well as other militant organizations in the Middle East. But İHH is not itself believed to be a terrorist organization that practices violent extremism.
Some may argue that opportunistic politics will sometimes benefit progressive or humane ends. Sure, but it goes both ways. The flotilla episode demonstrates how Gillibrand’s attempt to always play to a base that can benefit her short-term political goals can be reactionary as well.