WASHINGTON (JTA) – In her new position paper on Israel, Hillary Rodham Clinton comes not only to praise the Jewish state but to bury doubts that she would be any less vigilant in its protection than the Bush administration.
The position paper, published this week, goes so far as to outflank President Bush from the right.
It says Clinton, the U.S. senator from New York and frontrunner for the Democratic presidential nomination “believes that Israel’s right to exist in safety as a Jewish state, with defensible borders and an undivided Jerusalem as its capital, secure from violence and terrorism, must never be questioned.”
Clinton’s paper comes at a time when the Bush administration is quietly pressing the Israelis and the Palestinians to come up with a final-status outline ahead of a November peace conference – one that would address, among other issues, redrawn borders and a shared Jerusalem.
Spokesmen for Clinton denied that the language was timed to undercut the latest initiative.
“She’s had these positions for a long time and those haven’t changed,” spokesman Jin Chon told JTA. “Her experience and strength on supporting Israel have been steadfast. The paper is just a reflection of her consistent policy.”
Perhaps, but Clinton faces challenges for Jewish support from two flanks: Rudy Giuliani, the former New York mayor who is a Republican front-runner, has moved even further to the right of Bush, saying that now is not the time to consider Palestinian statehood. And Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.), her chief rival for the Democratic nomination, has made considerable inroads among liberal Jewish donors.
Despite the stepped-up challenges from Obama and Giuliani, a recent poll of 200 rabbis from all of the major denominations named her as the presidential candidate most supportive of Israel and Jewish causes.
According to the survey conducted by a synagogue innovation and leadership organization called STAR, Synagogues: Transformation and Renewal, Clinton polled highest on the Israel question, at 22 percent, followed by Giuliani at 16 percent and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) at 3 percent.
Clinton also was ranked as most supportive of Jewish causes in America in general with 24 percent, followed again by Giuliani with 10 percent and Obama with 3 percent.
Ben Chouake, who heads New Jersey-based NORPAC, one of the most successful pro-Israel political action fund-raising committees, gave high marks to Clinton’s paper.
“I think it’s helpful,” Choake said, but added that he liked Giuliani’s approach of counting out Palestinian statehood for now “the best.”
“If you want to make a deal, you have to have someone you can make a deal with that’s credible and reliable, that can afford to make the deal, otherwise you’re surrendering,” he said.
The paper revives the July Clinton-Obama contretemps over Iran, widely believed to have been won – at least among pro-Israel watchers – by Clinton. In a debate, Obama said he would meet with the leaders of pariah nations within his first year as president. Clinton said she would not.
In the new paper, Clinton does not concede ground to Obama in favoring diplomacy over military confrontation, but implicitly derides summits with rogue leaders, at least before the time is ripe.
“Just as the U.S. government was engaged in direct talks with the Soviet Union at the height of the Cold War, so today should the U.S. talk to Iran in order to gain valuable insight, intelligence and information about how to pressure its leadership to change course,” the paper states. “But Hillary has said that as president she would not commit to personal meetings with leaders of rogue states without conditions, such as Iran.”
Chouake was concerned that Clinton cast the potential of a nuclear Iran mostly as a threat to Israel, not addressing the risks it would pose to the West.
“You have the possibility of a suicidal mentality that could threaten any part of the world,” he said.
Otherwise, the paper is a compendium of Israel-related issues Clinton has tried to make her own: She cites her lead in successful efforts to admit Israel’s first responder umbrella, Magen David Adom, into the International Committee of the Red Cross, and her adoption of the campaign to expose alleged incitement found in Palestinian textbooks.
This week, Clinton surrogates set their sights on an endorsement Obama received recently from Zbigniew Brzezinski, President Carter’s national security adviser. Brzezinski rose to the defense last year of scholars Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer after they first published a paper charging that the pro-Israel lobby stifles debate in the United States and was largely responsible for the Iraq war. That paper culminated in a book, “The Israel Lobby,” released last week.
“It is a tremendous mistake for Barack Obama to select as a foreign policy adviser the one person in public life who has chosen to support a bigoted book,” Alan Dershowitz, the writer and legal superstar who is a Clinton backer, said in an interview with the Web site Politico.
Obama distanced himself this week from the Mearsheimer-Walt book, calling its thesis “dead wrong.”
Obama’s paper on Israel was released to Jewish supporters in June, but made public just this week as a result of Clinton going public.
The Illinois senator notes his commitment to Israel as a strategic ally and, like Clinton, his commitment to keeping all options on the table when dealing with Iran. But there are subtle differences pointing to his willingness to keep doors open, especially with the Palestinians.
“Barack Obama supports U.S. efforts to provide aid directly to the Palestinian people by bypassing any Hamas-led government that refuses to renounce violence and recognize Israel’s right to exist,” his papers states. “Obama believes that a better life for Palestinian families is good for both Israelis and Palestinians.”
Clinton, by contrast, only pledges to isolate Hamas without considering the difficulties that aid cutoffs pose to Palestinian civilians.
Obama’s paper notes that he “delivered the message to Palestinian university students in Ramallah that the United States would never distance itself from Israel.”
Clinton, still smarting from a kiss-and-hug encounter with Yasser Arafat’s wife, Suha, that nearly grounded her 2000 freshman bid for the Senate, is less likely to boast about chats with Palestinians.
An Obama aide told JTA that Clinton had staked out a harder line in her paper “out of fear of diminution of her support in the Jewish community.”