WASHINGTON, Nov. 23 (JTA) — The political fallout from Hillary Rodham Clinton’s perceived misstep in Ramallah is not going away.
Images of the first lady sitting silently while Suha Arafat, the wife of the Palestinian Authority president, accused Israel of poisoning Palestinians has been playing on television screens in New York and Washington this week — thanks to Jewish Republicans.
One day later, Clinton issued her criticism of Arafat’s remarks, saying inflammatory remarks could damage the peace process.
“Everyone who supports this effort toward resolving the outstanding issues among the parties should refrain from inflammatory rhetoric and from baseless accusations,” said Clinton, who also suggested that she did not respond immediately to Arafat’s comments because they were not as harsh in the English translation she had heard.
Still, that incident has also led to a Jewish Democratic state senator’s decision to endorse Clinton’s likely opponent, Rudolph Giuliani, in their still- unofficial race for the U.S. Senate seat from New York.
Sen. Carl Kruger of Brooklyn threw his support behind the New York City mayor Tuesday at a City Hall news conference.
Howard Wolfson, the spokesman for Clinton’s exploratory committee, dismissed Kruger’s support for Giuliani, saying Kruger supported Giuliani’s mayoral bid in 1997.
Naming prominent Jewish Democrats from New York who are backing Clinton, such as Sen. Charles Schumer, Rep. Nita Lowey and Rep. Jerold Nadler, Wolfson said “they know she is a strong supporter of a safe and secure Israel at peace with its neighbors.”
On Tuesday, attempting to end speculation that she is having second thoughts about running, Clinton reportedly told people close to her that she will run for the senate seat.
Both Housing Secretary Andrew Cuomo and senior Clinton adviser Harold Ickes were quoted by the Associated Press on Tuesday as saying that she will announce the move early next year.
Recent polls have shown that Clinton is not faring as well with Jewish voters as most Democratic candidates normally do. A poll by the Quinnipiac College Polling Institute showed Clinton garnering 46 percent of the Jewish vote with Giuliani receiving 43 percent, a statistical dead heat.
“Jewish voters are split, troubling news for any Democratic candidate,” said Maurice Carroll, director of the institute.
A New York Post/Zogby International poll indicates that more than 50 percent of Jewish voters think the first lady should not run. Jews normally represent 12 percent of the state’s general election vote and 25 percent of the Democratic vote.
The commercial, paid for by the Republican Jewish Coalition, criticizes Clinton for not immediately refuting charges leveled by Arafat that Israeli forces used poisonous gas against Palestinians, leading to an increase in cancer. Arafat also claimed during the Nov. 11 event, with Clinton sitting at her side, that Israel had contaminated 80 percent of Palestinian water sources with “chemical materials.”
The ad, with ominous music in the background, shows a stony-faced Clinton sitting beside Arafat as she spoke and then shows Clinton and Arafat embracing at the end of Arafat’s speech.
A narrator says: “With Hillary Clinton at her side, Suha Arafat made the false and disgraceful claim that Israel was poisoning Palestinian women and children with toxic gases. Instead of reacting with outrage, Hillary Clinton sat by silently.
“When Arafat was finished, Hillary gave her a hug and a kiss. It’s sad. While Israel sacrifices for peace — Arafat spreads hatred and lies — and Hillary embraces her. Tell Hillary Clinton — stand up for Israel — stand up for truth.”
Wolfson criticized the ad and suggested that Giuliani’s camp was behind it.
Giuliani, who like Clinton has yet to announce his candidacy, has criticized the first lady over the Arafat incident. “I certainly wouldn’t have embraced the person that said it — hugged them and kissed them.”
Matthew Brooks, the executive director of the RJC, said the ad was produced by the group and had nothing to do with Giuliani’s possible Senate campaign. Brooks said his group is spending $50,000 to run the ads because of its concern over Clinton’s failure to quickly respond to Arafat’s charges.
This is the first time the group has paid for such television ads.
In response to the ad, Jewish Democrats are seizing on positive comments about Clinton and her trip made by Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak.
“I’m not sure what type of partisan, pseudo-, pro-Israel yardstick the RJC is judging the first lady’s trip by, but when the democratically elected leader of Israel says that the first lady’s trip was good for Israel and helped the peace process, that’s good enough for me,” said Monte Friedkin, national chairman of the National Jewish Democratic Council.
“In light of the prime minister’s assessment, the Republican Jewish Coalition’s publicity stunt has no credibility.”
Barak, speaking Sunday to the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organization in New York, said Clinton’s trip was “highly successful” and “contributed to the peace process in spite of this incident.”
He also said Israel “will always wish to have such friends as the Clintons in the White House.”
Brooks said Barak’s comments acknowledged that Clinton made a “significant mistake” by using the phrase “in spite of this incident” and warned that the prime minister “is coming dangerously close to involving himself” in an American political campaign.
Bruce Teitelbaum, the director of Giuliani’s exploratory committee, said he had no comment on Barak’s remarks.