The above was the title of the column I wrote about Hillary Clinton in November 1999 when, as First Lady of the United States, she came to Israel to visit “good friends.”
One of those “good friends” was the “First Lady of Palestine,” Suha Arafat.
I remember watching as then-Israeli President Chaim Herzog and his wife Aura stood on the reception line together with Yasser and Suha Arafat, and Hillary Clinton formally shook hands with Aura Herzog and passionately embraced Suha Arafat.
The next day she visited Suha at Ramallah’s Grand Park Hotel to inaugurate a $3.8 million project for Palestinian women and children’s health funded by the U.S. through USAID (the United States Agency for International Development). Mrs. Arafat, in her welcoming remarks, accused Israel of poisoning the air and water supply of Palestinian land, “causing cancer and other widespread diseases” among Palestinian women and children. Without elaborating on how this was accomplished and where she obtained her statistics, Suha Arafat claimed that the pollution of Palestinian land by Israel was as high as 80 percent! Instead of taking sharp exception to false remarks made in her presence, Hillary responded: “On behalf of the president and his administration, I want to tell you that you can count on the United States and the strong U.S.-Palestinian relationship as you move forward on the path to peace.”
Nor did Hillary respond to the parting words of another “non-political” speaker, the Arab administrator of the project who said to the beaming Mrs. Clinton: “I hope that the next time we host you it will be in our homeland, the State of Palestine, and in our capital city, Jerusalem.”
The focus of my article was Hillary Clinton’s attitude to Suha Arafat’s accusation, which went beyond insidious political demagoguery to the realm of historic anti-Semitism.
The question we need to ask is: How sensitive is the former First Lady to anti-Semitism? Has she heard of anti-Semitic canards, particularly the accusation that Jews poison wells and fountains in order to spread disease and death? Ever since the 14th century, when the Jews were accused of poisoning Europe’s water supply and causing the bubonic plague, popularly known as the Black Death, the myth of Jews as progenitors of pestilence has lived on. It joined the earlier stereotype of the Christ-Killer Jew and Killer-of-Christian-children, resurfacing in different mutations at different times in many different localities and instigating persecutions of Jews – massacres, expulsions and sometimes total annihilation of Jewish communities.
Throughout the ages, hundreds of thousands of Jewish men, women and children lost their lives as a result of these ghastly accusations. The resurfacing of these stereotypes in pre-Nazi Germany made the Holocaust possible.
When questioned later about her reaction to Suha’s lies, Hillary gave the most shocking answer: “They are unhelpful to the peace process.” Can you believe the callousness of such attitude? I was thunderstruck.
Having sandwiched her visit to Ramallah between visits to Yad Vashem and the Western Wall, was Hillary not sensitized to historic Jewish vulnerabilities?
The awareness of Jewish historic vulnerabilities should pose a challenge for any leader who understands that he or she must fight the negative Jewish stereotype so richly fostered in the Arab mind and Muslim culture. It must be done not only on behalf of Jews, but on behalf of Israel, the collective Jew.
Hillary as a leader has a solemn responsibility, and a first-class opportunity, to make an impact. When this is accomplished, and only then, will there be fertile atmosphere for a potential peace.Prof. Livia Bitton-Jackson