Back in late 1999 through the fall of 2000, when Hillary Clinton was first running for the U.S. Senate, this column had some uncomplimentary things to say about the then-first lady. From time to time since her election, readers have wondered whether the Monitor had any second thoughts, especially given Sen. Clinton’s generally solid foreign policy record.
The Monitor has always replied that while the community should of course be appreciative of Clinton’s Senate record on Israel, it’s almost impossible to ascertain how much of it comes from the heart and how much is dictated by political expediency. The fact is, if you’re a senator from New York, being pro-Israel comes with the territory.
Whether you’re a Republican or a Democrat, whether your name is Javits or Keating or D’Amato or Schumer or Moynihan or Clinton, you’d best be perceived as supportive of Israel if you care about your political future. (Though that truism failed Ken Keating, in 1964 against Robert Kennedy, and Al D’Amato, in 1998 against Charles Schumer, when they ran into the even greater truism that in a state like New York a popular Democratic challenger is always a mortal threat to a seemingly well-entrenched Republican incumbent.)
Hillary Clinton was unique, however, in that few if any of her predecessors came into office having already generated a high degree of suspicion and hostility among pro-Israel voters. Which is precisely why nerves were rubbed so raw by her nakedly partisan – and astoundingly petty – decision to go back on her word and duck last week’s anti-Ahmadinejad rally upon learning the Republican vice-presidential nominee had also been invited.
Clinton’s maneuver served to reopen old wounds and give new life to lingering doubts about her sincerity. For an idea of just how brittle Clinton’s relationship with the Jewish community was back in 2000 and why many in the community reacted the way they did to last week’s snub, here’s an excerpt from the Jan. 28, 2000 Media Monitor column – “Hillary From Chappaqua’s Latest Stumble”:
There she goes again, the much-ballyhooed Smartest First Lady Ever who right about now resembles nothing so much as a wide-eyed rube hopelessly lost in the big city.Just barely recovered from her famous slip-up with Suha Arafat last fall, the Brainiac from the Beltway once again found herself the cover girl for Incompetence Illustrated, and once again Jews were at the center of the controversy.
Not only did Mrs. Clinton become the latest Democrat to take a limousine up to Harlem to bend the knee to Rev. Al Sharpton, but her pander routine backfired terribly when one of Sharpton’s brethren in Christ, the Rev. Charles Norris, bestowed his own special blessing on the Martin Luther King Day convocation by referring to a couple of former employers, one of whom had fired him, as “those two Jews.”
The first lady, who was not in the room at the time of Norris’s remarks but was informed of them before she got up to speak, merely added a tepid throw-away line on anti-Semitism – which made no specific reference to Rev. Norris or his remarks – to her prepared speech.
The New York Observer, in an editorial titled “Is Hillary Supporting Jew Haters?” opined that “New Yorkers should count themselves fortunate that for every one of Hillary Clinton’s carefully choreographed appearances … there are also unscripted moments that allow voters to take the true measure of the candidate.”
The Observer suggested that rather than react in her proper and mealy-mouthed fashion to Norris’s anti-Semitic rhetoric, Mrs. Clinton should have found it in herself to “do what any decent person would have done, namely, politely tell the audience that she would not dignify such statements by her presence and walk off the stage.”
In another stinging editorial, the Washington Post recalled that the first lady had excused her mute reaction to Suha Arafat’s anti-Israel invective by claiming she didn’t want to jeopardize prospects for peace or create an “international incident when I was abroad.”
But this time, the Post archly noted, “Hillary Clinton was home in America, where she is free to denounce bigotry without upsetting any peace talks or negotiations…. If candidate Clinton cares what anti-Semites think, what should the rest of New York think of her?”
Jason Maoz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org