Gov. Bill Clinton’s victory in Tuesday’s election vindicates his core campaign message that the American people desire new leadership and change.
The electorate appears to have agreed with Clinton that confronting vexing social problems at home demands our nation’s immediate attention. Therefore, the Clinton administration can be expected to give top priority to addressing the serious domestic concerns facing our nation.
Judging by our degree of support the Democratic ticket received from the Jewish community, it appears that Jews are ready to adjust to this new political climate, as well.
A Clinton administration is likely to energize the Jewish community’s traditional commitment to social justice, a commitment rooted in our ethical vision of a just society and a recognition that a society unjust to some of its citizens inevitably erodes the rights of all its citizens.
As president, Clinton can be expected to address the major domestic ills facing the nation, including jobs, health care, poverty and public education. Already, experts and interest groups are organizing to assure that their viewpoints are represented in the Clinton administration or, at the least, to guarantee their access to those who will shape President Clinton’s approach to these issues.
The organized Jewish community will also be involved in the shaping of policy positions and priorities. Not only are Jewish organizations well placed to access the Clinton transition team, but Jewish individuals, connected to both the broader and organized Jewish communities, have a special role to play in assuring the delivery of communal perspectives.
The community can be expected to engage in the work of various coalitions for change addressing issues of poverty, the urban agenda and social justice that will be re-energized by the Clinton victory.
Embracing the multi-issue agenda is productive in other ways as well. First of all, working in coalition with others broadens the network of individuals, organizations and agencies that become familiar with the social justice commitment of organized Jewry. The expertise of Jewish social service agencies and Jewish communal professionals are thus more likely to impact and shape the direction of social programs in the years ahead.
Secondly, building relationships assures a full, fair hearing for other communal interests among influential people. The perceived absence of Jewish involvement in the struggle for domestic renewal may have weakened support among some constituencies for Israel.
Increasing communal activity, therefore, will stimulate interchange with those whose backing will be helpful in continuing U.S. support for the Jewish state. Such opportunities are enhanced by the ascension of a government in Jerusalem whose vision for the region shares much with prevailing American views.
In that regard, it is important to realize that the terms of the U.S.- Israel relationship are changing. While Israel continues as a steadfast, strategic asset to the United States in an unstable region of the world, its true value in the post-Cold War era derives from the shared values between our two countries. Both treasure democracy, respect the rights of the individual and are governed by the rule of law. Together they can be partners in building in the Middle East a structure both for peace as well as for regional economic development.
Some Israeli officials have expressed concern that the limited progress toward peace seen so far in the bilateral negotiations will slow even further in a Clinton administration avowedly committed to meeting needs at home.
Clinton, however, has assured the Israelis that there will be no delay in the peace process. He asserted an outspoken commitment to it and has said that he will take all necessary steps to assure that the talks move ahead expeditiously. Indeed, Clinton has reassured the Israelis of his view that a strong American domestic economy is central to the effective extension of American policy around the world. Israel’s security, he has said, is linked to American economic well-being.
Nevertheless, it is likely that some period of marking time may result as the new president sets his foreign policy team, begins building a personal relationship with Israel’s Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin (who, after all, represents a different generation with a different world view) and convinces the Arabs that their best interests will be served by continuing the process.
American Jewry will need to remind itself – and others – that the search for Middle East peace is not for the sprinter, but for the long-distance runner.
In the period ahead, the challenge for American Jews will be to confirm their vigorous involvement in the Clinton agenda for change while, at the same time, assuring that our traditional interests continue to find support in the administration and Congress.