Bill Clinton’s apologists continue to insist he was the most pro-Israel U.S. president – ever. Much of this is political theater, of course, as the Clinton Support Network cranks into high gear in its attempt to put Sen. Hillary Clinton into the office her husband occupied from 1993 to 2001.
But even those who view Bill Clinton in a less flattering light can’t deny that he was (and remains) the most popular president among American Jews since Franklin Delano Roosevelt – who, as fate would have it, was referred to by his acolytes as “the best friend the Jewish community ever had in the White House.”
And just as the Jews who worshiped F.D.R. never dreamed his name would come to live in infamy for his passive acquiescence in the destruction of European Jewry, so those who today sing Bill Clinton’s praises seem incapable of acknowledging that their man did more to legitimize the late Palestinian terror boss Yasir Arafat than any other president; gave new meaning to the term “moral equivalence” when he spoke in the same breath of the suffering of the children of Palestinian terrorists and the suffering of the children of those terrorists’ Israeli victims; interfered in domestic Israeli politics on behalf of the Labor party in not one but two Israeli elections, dispatching his political strategists to help Shimon Peres in 1996 and Ehud Barak in 1999; and came disconcertingly close to browbeating a sitting Israeli prime minister into making the most far-ranging and disastrous concessions imaginable to an Arafat who had long since served notice that he had no interest in peaceful coexistence.
Poor George Bush the First. Remember him? All he ever wanted back in the early 90’s was a freeze on settlements and a limited withdrawal of Israeli forces from Judea and Samaria in exchange for an enforceable peace agreement. For that, he was demonized as a striped-pants Arabist, a Saudi lackey, and quite possibly anti-Israel and anti-Semitic to boot.
Imagine how the former president must have felt as the very people who just a few years before had pilloried him for his Middle East policy fell all over themselves lionizing Clinton, who made demands of Israel that no other president, including Bush, ever even contemplated.
Clinton’s statement about Palestinian and Israeli children has been largely forgotten. The Monitor made mention of it in a previous column, and it’s worth repeating here because, in the words of author Yossef Bodansky in The High Cost of Peace: How Washington’s Middle East Policy Left America Vulnerable to Terrorism, “Clinton’s true sense of the dynamics of the Middle East was revealed when he publicly equated Palestinian terrorists and Israeli victims of terrorism.”
Here’s what Clinton said, addressing a group of Palestinian VIPs during a trip to Gaza in late 1998:
I’ve had two profoundly emotional experiences in the last less than 24 hours. I was with Chairman Arafat, and four little children came to see me whose fathers are in Israeli prisons. Last night, I met some little children whose fathers had been killed in conflict with Palestinians, at the dinner that Prime Minister Netanyahu held for me. Those children brought tears to my eyes. We have to find a way for both sets of children to get their lives back and to go forward…. If I had met them in reverse order I would not have known which ones were Israeli and which Palestinian. If they had all been lined up in a row and I had seen their tears, I could not tell whose father was dead and whose father was in prison, or what the story of their lives were, making up the grief that they bore.
Beautiful. Really makes one pine for the Clinton era, doesn’t it? Anyway, Clinton being Clinton, it seems the story he told about meeting those Israeli children was, ahem, contrived.
According to a story in the Dec. 25, 1998 issue of the Forward headlined “Clinton Lied About Meeting Children,” the Israeli Embassy minister for public affairs could not confirm that a meeting between Clinton and any Israeli children had taken place.
“Other Israeli government sources who would speak only on condition of anonymity,” added the Forward’s Washington correspondent, “said Mr. Clinton never met with the Israeli children. The White House and State Department did not return calls about whether such a meeting took place. There was no such event on the public schedule of the trip.”
Yes, the country is suffering a severe case of Bush fatigue. But nostalgia is never what it’s cracked up to be.