In the latest fighting for the crucial Jewish vote in the U.S. Senate race in New York, a new player – the Clinton administration – has entered the fray.
The White House recently released a 1998 photo of the Republican candidate, Rep. Rick Lazio (R-N.Y.), shaking hands with Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat during the congressman’s trip to the Middle East.
At the same time, the fate of Jonathan Pollard became a campaign issue amid questions about the role of his opponent in the November election, first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton, in preventing the convicted spy’s transfer to a new prison.
White House officials said they released the Arafat photo because Lazio had criticized President Clinton for shaking Cuban leader Fidel Castro’s hand last week at the U.N. Millennium Summit in New York and had criticized Hillary Clinton for kissing Arafat’s wife, Suha, during a visit to the West Bank last year.
But Lazio criticized the Clinton administration for spending “taxpayer dollars” on the first lady’s campaign. He has complained from the beginning that Hillary Clinton enjoys an unfair advantage because she has the resources of the administration.
The incident shows how each side sorely wants to score points with Jewish voters.
The race is a statistical dead heat. But according to two Zogby International polls in the past few weeks, Clinton is the favorite among Jewish voters. In one poll, Clinton led Lazio by a margin of 52-34 percent; the second poll had her ahead by 70-23 percent.
Lazio spokesman Michael Marr claimed the smaller margin was a more accurate barometer of the electorate, but admitted that the campaign needed to “hold its own” with the Jewish vote.
Another politically sensitive issue for the Jewish community that showed up on the campaign trail recently was the case of Pollard, the former U.S. Navy analyst serving a life sentence in a U.S. jail for spying for Israel.
While a senator’s influence on the case is dubious, the issue is still tossed about like a political football.
Clinton spokeswoman Cathy Levine said the first lady is considering meeting with Pollard’s wife, Esther.
Pollard supporters say his sentence was too harsh, noting that Americans convicted of spying for enemies of the U.S. have received lighter sentences than Pollard’s.
In 1998 at the Wye Plantation peace summit, then-Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pressured Clinton to take the case under review. Netanyahu claimed Clinton had promised to let Pollard go free.
Soon after, the president said he would make the decision in “a prompt way.” The administration is still reviewing the Pollard case and is expected to make a recommendation to the president, according to administration officials.
P.J. Crowley, a spokesman for the National Security Council, told JTA that the review of the Pollard case is “ongoing” and that there is no timetable for its resolution.
Crowley said Hillary Clinton is not involved in the review process.
On CNN’s “Evans Novak Hunt & Shields” over the weekend, White House Chief of Staff John Podesta said the president would not make a decision on Pollard until he gets a recommendation.
Asked if a presidential pardon of Pollard before the Nov. 7 election would appear like pandering for the Jewish vote in New York to help Hillary Clinton’s campaign, Podesta refused to answer, saying he did not want to speculate.
Meanwhile, neither Hillary Clinton nor Lazio has announced a position on Pollard.
Lazio has said that he would ask the next president to review the Pollard case “on humanitarian grounds” and make a decision on whether he should remain in jail.
Jewish leaders in New York told the first lady last month they feared for Pollard’s safety because officials planned to transfer Pollard to a maximum security facility in Virginia.
Clinton campaign spokesman Howard Wolfson said Sunday that Clinton was concerned “on humanitarian grounds” and conveyed those concerns to the “appropriate authorities.” He did not say whom she contacted.
Esther Pollard confirmed that Democratic New York Assemblyman Dov Hikind, a New York state assemblyman from Brooklyn, raised the issue with Clinton, but could not say whether Clinton had anything to do with the fact that her husband was not transferred from his North Carolina prison.
Meanwhile, Esther Pollard told JTA she was “tired of having” her husband “be exploited by politicians.”