Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton blames President Bush directly for some of the anti-Semitism surrounding the debate over U.S. loan guarantees for Israel.
In an exclusive interview, Clinton — battling former Sen. Paul Tsongas (D-Mass.) for front-runner status among the top three remaining Democratic presidential hopefuls — also suggested it is up to the president to blow the whistle on the Jew-baiting of Bush’s Republican primary challenger, Patrick Buchanan.
The governor charged that Bush and Secretary of State James Baker are undermining chances for Arab-Israeli peace by pressuring Israel yet demanding nothing of the Arabs in the current talks.
“The president should speak out against anti-Semitism wherever it occurs, and especially when it occurs in his own back yard, in his own party,” the governor said last week while traveling by motorcade between speeches at Temple Emeth in Delray Beach and Century Village East in Deerfield Beach.
In addition, Bush “should avoid doing anything in a way which stokes the anti-Semitic fires that are always at least smoldering embers in corners of virtually every nation in the world,” Clinton asserted.
In his speeches here, the governor said Bush should speak out against Buchanan’s remark March 2 to Jewish hecklers outside Atlanta that his rally was “of Americans, by Americans and for the good old USA.”
But Clinton, 45, placed initial responsibility for injecting anti-Jewish bigotry into the 1992 campaign on the president himself.
In the interview, he charged that “if the president had wanted to support a delay in approval of loan guarantees last fall — even though Israel already had agreed to one delay — he could have done it under circumstances that would not have inflamed the latent anti-Semitism in the United States.”
LEAVE SETTLEMENTS FOR NEGOTIATIONS
Instead, Bush used his White House news conference Sept. 12 to portray himself, in Clinton’s words, as “one lonely man on the telephone against all those big, rich Jewish lobbyists.”
Turning to the peace process, the five-term governor said he “had the impression, when these peace talks opened, that we really had a shot at an agreement between the Israelis and Palestinians. Even if nothing else happened, that would have been an historic moment.
“But I think that all these external moves by the United States may have so muddied the atmosphere that even that may be less likely,” he said.
Once the peace process got under way, the contentious settlement question should have been left for negotiations, the governor said.
If the United States keeps “trying to decide that issue, apparently taking a stronger and stronger position outside the peace process,” Clinton said, “then the Arabs may wonder what they have to give away — or whether they have to give anything away.”
The Bush administration’s one-sided pressure on Israel, without demanding the Arabs give up their economic boycott, promote democracy in their own countries or make a genuine accommodation with the Jewish state “is not likely to produce the peace that we should want,” Clinton said. “The only way to get an agreement is if everybody’s got something to give, and something to get.”
Clinton is one of five Democrats on the Florida ballot March 10, in what has come to be called “Super Tuesday,” though two of the contenders, Sens. Bob Kerrey of Nebraska and Tom Harkin of Iowa, have since dropped out of the race. That leaves Clinton, Tsongas and former Gov. Edmund (Jerry) Brown of California.
AGAINST ASSASSINATING HUSSEIN
Clinton is the only one of the pack that supported the congressional measures authorizing use of force against Iraq in January 1991.
While Clinton criticized Bush for leaving Saddam Hussein in power and the rebel Shi’ite Moslems and Kurds “twisting in the wind,” the candidate said he was not issuing an ex-post-facto call for the allies to have marched on Baghdad.
“My only question,” Clinton explained, “is whether Gen. (Norman) Schwarzkopf was right, that we could have stayed another day and a half, destroyed a significant portion of the Republican Guard, destroyed 700 tanks, and given the people of Iraq a chance to take their country back?”
Clinton also expressed disapproval of rumored U.S.-backed plots to assassinate Saddam Hussein. Killing heads of government during peacetime “is a very slippery slope,” he warned.
But he said Iraq must be prevented from acquiring nuclear weapons and pressed to comply with all U.N. resolutions requiring the disclosure and destruction of its weapons of mass destruction and their means of production.
“We have to do whatever it takes to make sure Iraq complies with the rules,” Clinton said.
The governor, who received an award from the South Florida Friends of Tel HaShomer Hospital at Temple Emeth, disagreed with those who claim that in the post-Cold War era, Israel is not a strategic asset for the United States.
Clinton said the greatest near-term threat to American security and world stability is the possible spread of nuclear weapons to Iraq, Iran and other countries in the Middle East.
“I’d sure hate to think what it would be like to deal with all those other countries with no Israel there,” he said.