NEW YORK (Jun. 10)
Soon after the Monica Lewinsky scandal erupted, Hillary Rodham Clinton encountered Elie Wiesel in Davos, Switzerland.
The Nobel laureate embraced the first lady and asked, “What is wrong with America? Why are they doing this?”
Clinton said she did not know, and Wiesel replied that he and his wife, Marion, were her friends and “want to help you.”
Wiesel’s “experience as a Holocaust survivor has given Elie a kind of genius for empathy. He never flinches from anyone else’s suffering, and his heart is big enough to absorb a friend’s pain without a second thought,” Clinton writes in her new autobiography, “Living History,” which hit bookstores with a huge media splash Monday.
While the Lewinsky affair may be dominating the media swirl around the launch of Clinton’s hotly selling title, Jews and events in the Jewish world play roles big and small in Hillary’s story.
Among Jewish footnotes to Hillary’s history is a phone conversation she had with Steve Rabinowitz, a former campaign figure and later White House staffer for Bill Clinton.
The former first lady describes how she called the campaign’s Little Rock, Ark., headquarters one day.
Rabinowitz, the director of design and production for Clinton’s first presidential election, picked up the phone and “for no particular reason, blurted out, ‘Hillaryland!’ “
“He was embarrassed to hear my voice, but I thought he had come up with a great nickname,” Clinton writes. “The name stuck.”
When he learned he had made it into Clinton’s index, Rabinowitz said, “I am flattered that she would even remember that, and beyond grateful that is the only story she would tell.”
Rabinowitz later traveled with the president to Israel several times and orchestrated the logistics for the September 1993 peace treaty signing ceremony on the White House lawn in which then-Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat shook hands.
The former first-lady-turned-U.S.-senator refers admiringly and affectionately to the late Rabin and his wife, Leah, and writes that the Israeli leader only agreed to the Arafat handshake “as long as there would be no kissing, a common Arab custom.”
“Before the ceremony, Bill and Yitzhak engaged in a hilarious rehearsal of the handshake, with Bill pretending to be Arafat as they practiced a complicated maneuver that would prevent the Palestinian leader from drawing too close,” Clinton recalls.
Clinton, the junior Democratic senator from New York and a potential presidential candidate in 2008, is far less complimentary about Arafat, at one point blasting the Palestinian leader for the failed 2000 peace talks with then-Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak.
“Unfortunately, while Barak came to Camp David to make peace, Arafat did not,” she says bluntly.
“The tragic events of the last few years show what a terrible mistake Arafat made.”
Clinton also calls a now-infamous 1999 encounter with Arafat’s wife, Suha, the “worst instance” of mistakes she made during her campaign for the Senate, which she launched even before she left the White House.
During an official trip to Israel and the West Bank, Clinton attended an event where Suha spoke before her in Arabic and made an “outrageous remark suggesting that Israel had used poison gas to control Palestinians,” Clinton writes.
Arafat’s remark was not translated into English, Clinton says, and when the first lady stepped to the podium to speak, the two women embraced — and the New York tabloids played the story big.
“Had I been aware of her hateful words, I would have denounced them on the spot,” she says, repeating assertions she made at the time.
In her book, Clinton recalls several trips to Poland in the late 1990s that took her to Nazi death camps and the Warsaw Jewish community. The visit, she writes, prompted memories of meeting a survivor with numbers tattooed on his arm when she was a child in Illinois, and to think of her maternal grandmother’s second husband, Max Rosenberg.
“I was horrified that someone like him could have been murdered just because of his religion,” she says.
Clinton, who spends a lot of time explaining — in the book and in interviews — why she stayed married to her husband, writes that it
was a longtime Jewish friend and mentor, Sara Ehrman, to whom she long ago turned for advice about Bill.
Ehrman, a Washington roommate of Clinton in the early 1970s during the Watergate era — and later the Clinton White House liaison to the Jewish community — tried to persuade Hillary not to move to Arkansas to be with Bill.
“Are you out of your mind?” Clinton recalls Ehrman asking. “Why on earth would you throw away your future?”