Hillary Rodham Clinton, her support slipping in the Jewish community, veered to the right this week, pointedly calling for restrictions on aid to the Palestinian Authority based on compliance with the Oslo Accords’ provisions against inciteful rhetoric.
"We have to condition our aid and participation on compliance and this should be closely monitored," said Clinton, according to several accounts of the closed-door meeting with leaders of the Orthodox Union. "Rooting out terrorist activity and propaganda … has to be constantly raised as a condition for our continued support."
President Bill Clinton has generally pushed for the least possible restrictions on such aid.
Hillary Clinton also expressed support for a bill that would aid a New Jersey father in collecting a judgment against Iran for culpability in his daughter’s death in a terror attack.
Pressed by Stephen Flatow, whose daughter Alisa died in a 1995 bombing linked to the pro-Iran Hezbollah, the first lady said she would back congressional efforts to seize frozen Iranian assets here to satisfy a $247.5 million judgment awarded Flatow last year.
President Clinton has resisted a bill aiding the collection of those assets.Both positions, which Clinton laid out Tuesday at the 90-minute meeting, are pillars of the Jewish right and continue a trend of distancing herself from the policies of her husband. And they show that Clinton can play the New York ethnic politics game cleverly, telling conservative Jewish groups what they want to hear on select issues.
The first lady and Senate candidate’s newly articulated positions come at a time when she is scrambling to recover Jewish support and control the damage from her ill-fated trip last month to the West Bank. She was roundly criticized for not challenging charges made in Ramallah by Palestinian First Lady Suha Arafat that Israel was poisoning Arab women and children.
Since beginning her campaign, Clinton on several occasions has differed from her husband’s policies on issues such as Medicare, dairy prices and the status of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
"This is not the first time nor the last that she will distance herself from the administration," said pollster Lee Miringoff of Marist College in Poughkeepsie. "They do not want this to be seen as a third [presidential] term taking place in New York."
Also during the meeting, Clinton promised that as a senator she would:
Support congressional efforts to secure the release of three missing Israeli soldiers, whose names she recited from memory.
Support legislation against physician-assisted suicide while encouraging new research in pain treatment.
Pursue appropriate language to secure passage of the Workplace Freedom of Religion Act and the Religious Liberty Protection Act. The latter bill is controversial because of a provision that would allow landlords or employers to discriminate against gays on the grounds of religious conviction.
Clinton said she would not, however, support an immediate move of the U.S. embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, or take a position on freedom for Israel spy Jonathan Pollard.
"It would be wrong for me, not having read the classified data, to jump in and take a position for political reasons," Clinton reportedly said.
OU officials said Clinton (while restating her opposition to government vouchers for private school tuition) expressed support for "constitutionally acceptable" means of aiding religious education. Some said the first lady suggested she might support a program that would allow tax deductions for tuition. But Clinton spokesman Howard Wolfson said she was referring only to college tuition, and disputed reports that she would consider backing programs aiding elementary education.The meeting was closed to the press by mutual agreement of the OU and Clinton’s staff. During a less formal appearance before the OU last summer, Clinton’s likely Republican rival, Mayor Rudolph Giuliani answered questions about domestic and Middle East issues in an open forum attended by the media, noted his political director, Bruce Teitelbaum.
The OU meeting comes at a time when Clinton’s Jewish support has, for the first time, fallen behind that of Giuliani. A Marist poll showed Giuliani leading Clinton 47 percent to 38 percent among Jews. Clinton seems to have suffered from the fallout of last month’s Middle East trip.
Following the meeting Clinton, joined by Connecticut Sen. Joseph Lieberman and Karen Adler, her most trusted Jewish adviser here, told reporters the OU meeting was scheduled well before the Israel trip, but said she was glad to have the chance to address the matter.
"It was a very productive and useful discussion," she said.
Lieberman, an honorary board member of the OU who accompanied Clinton at her request, said it was the first time he had attended an OU board meeting. He called the meeting "a mutually respectful exchange of views."
But sources said the meeting did become somewhat tense during a series of questions by Howard Rhine, an OU senior vice president. Questioning Clinton about the Ramallah incident, Rhine reportedly asked Clinton why she had not spoken out more forcefully.
"Even if there was a garbled translation, there came a point when she knew exactly what was said," Rhine later said, referring to Clinton’s claim (repeated on Tuesday) that she was not initially aware of the severity of Suha Arafat’s comments about Israelis poisoning Arabs. "But her response was so tepid."
At one point in Rhine’s questioning, Lieberman came to Clinton’s defense, saying that she had made known her position against Palestinian rhetoric. "I think he did a disservice to her," said Rhine of Lieberman. "He’s not the one who is going to be the senator from New York. [Clinton] has to deal with these issues straight up."
A corporate lawyer from the Flatbush section of Brooklyn, Rhine admitted that Giuliani "is more in tune with my philosophies."
OU president Mandell Ganchrow said the forum was intended primarily as a two-way discussion of issues. But David Luchins, an aide to retiring Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan and an OU vice president who attended the meeting, said Clinton had gained some supporters. "I think she made some friends in the room," said Luchins.
One listener said the stridency of Clinton’s attack on Arab anti-Israel rhetoric, in which she even took Egypt to task for anti-Semitism in government-sponsored media, was unexpected.
"It sounded like she was briefed by Morton Klein," said the participant, requesting anonymity, referring to the president of the Zionist Organization of America, a harsh critic of the Oslo accords.
But Klein, who was not at the meeting, said he was unmoved by the declaration. "If she was truly serious about stopping the vicious anti-Semitism in Arafat’s speeches, media and textbooks, she would have quickly and publicly repudiated Suha Arafat’s hate speech instead of waiting three weeks to make an appropriate statement in a private meeting," he said in a phone interview.