I was an early supporter of Bill Clinton for president, and have known him since 1970, when lie campaigned for me in my first run for public office while he was a student at Yale Law School. Because of that connection, I am often asked by American Jews what a Clinton administration will mean for U.S.-Israeli relations, and for the American Jewish community.
I respond by telling them a story related by Bill Clinton during a meeting I attended with him earlier this year.
One of the most important people in Bill Clinton’s life, he said, was the pastor of his Baptist church in Little Rock, a man whose intellect and moral authority he greatly admired. This man was a close friend of Israel.
Some years ago the pastor was dying, and Bill Clinton went to visit him. Lying on his deathbed, the pastor said, “I hope some day you have a chance to run for president, and I hope you get elected. And if you are, remember this: Don’t abandon Israel, because G-d will never forgive you.”
Bill Clinton concluded this story that day by saying, “I want you to know I think he is looking at me, and if I am elected president, I will never let Israel down.”
Bill Clinton has an abiding respect for the Jewish people. A longtime supporter of Soviet Jews and Syrian Jews, he has a profound belief in the State of Israel and its unique, historic role in the world.
He knows Israel is America’s strongest ally in the Middle East, and represents a bulwark of democracy and human rights in a region of the world where authoritarianism and terrorism are all too prevalent. He understands why it is so important that Israel remain strong and free, safe and secure.
So what will a Clinton administration mean for Israel and the Middle East?
The record is clear. Bill Clinton was an early and strong supporter of loan guarantees for Israel. He did not link those guarantees to concessions from Israel, and he did not disparage those who exercised their constitutional right to lobby for the assistance.
In contrast, the Bush administration held up the guarantees for Israel, even though it had a long history of granting unrestricted guarantees to other nations, including Iraq.
Bill Clinton supports the peace process. He understands that while the United States must aggressively facilitate that process, we cannot impose our terms on the direct parties to that process.
Bill Clinton recognizes that Jerusalem is the capital of the State of Israel and must not be divided again, or closed to members of any faith.
Bill Clinton opposes the creation of an independent Palestinian state.
Bill Clinton is committed to supporting Israel’s need to maintain a qualitative military edge over any nation — or combination of nations — in the region. As lie says, “Peace that does not provide for Israel’s security will not itself be a secure and lasting peace.”
And Bill Clinton will not seek to curry favor with despots like Saddam Hussein, who do nothing but fuel instability in the Middle East and pose a terrible risk to the people of Israel. He will work toward the proliferation of democracy in the region, not missiles and nuclear capabilities.
Bill Clinton also recognizes that America and Israel can and should strengthen their economic bonds, since 20 percent of Israel’s imports come from our country. He has proposed creation of a joint American-Israeli high-tech commission to pool our resources on the development of the technologies of the next century.
Here at home, Bill Clinton will be a unifying, strengthening president. For he is a man without bias, who understands that America’s greatness comes from its ideal of freedom, opportunity and respect for every single American. As president he will neither encourage nor tolerate the kind of explicit or implicit bigotry that has threatened our country from time to time.
That kind of spirit comes from a man of strong values and exceptional talents, who worked hard for everything he achieved. He struggled against the odds to become a Rhodes scholar. He became a state attorney general and a governor at an age when many others are just starting out their careers.
And, as governor, he has built a record of success that won him the title of our nation’s most effective governor — a title bestowed by his colleagues in both political parties.
Because we are electing a team on Election Day, not just a president, it’s important to take a look at the record of the man who will be just a heartbeat away from the Oval Office. Here, too, the Clinton-Gore team excels.
I know Al Gore well. He is one of my best friends in the Senate. And he has been a strong supporter of Israel and Jews around the world throughout his long, proud congressional career.
Sen. Gore strongly supported loan guarantees for Israel and freedom for Soviet Jews. He was one of 10 Senate Democrats supporting the authorization to use force to get Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait and believes we should now use all necessary means to remove him from power. Al Gore is an extremely able and honorable man, who we will be proud to have as our vice president.
There are many other reasons to support the Clinton-Gore team, including their plans for getting our economy moving again, for improving our educational system, for fighting crime, for fixing our health care system, for protecting our environment.
But to those who have a special concern about the State of Israel and the future of the Middle East, I can say this with certainty: Nothing could be better for American-Israeli relations than the election of Bill Clinton and Al Gore on Nov. 3.
And nothing could be better for America, too. The time for change, for new ideas, for a new generation of leadership for America has come. It is time for the leadership of Bill Clinton and Al Gore.
Joseph Lieberman is a Democratic representative from Connecticut and chairman of the Small Business subcommittee on competitiveness and economic opportunity.