Hillary Rodham Clinton’s delicate dance with Jewish voters continued this week. The good news for her campaign: Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak gave her an enthusiastic thumbs-up, coming just short of endorsing her unannounced Senate candidacy while praising her conduct during a foray into the West Bank that exposed her to Palestinian anti-Israel propaganda.
The bad news: She faced a new scandal regarding a Boston fund-raiser hosted by attorney Robert Crowe, who has worked on behalf of Swiss banks refusing to pay claims to Holocaust survivors; a pro-Republican Jewish organization launched a TV spot that raps her for embracing Suha Arafat and urges her to "stand up for Israel, stand up for the truth."
And Councilwoman Ronnie Eldridge, a Democrat who represents one of the city’s most liberal districts (the Upper West Side) urged her to drop out of the race.
A new poll by the Zogby Group shows Clinton’s Jewish support remains solid, even rising slightly after the controversy. But she clearly has her work cut out for her in capturing the two-thirds of Jewish votes observers say a Democrat needs to carry New York state. Consulting with Democratic insiders and other sources, The Jewish Week identified a cadre of confidantes on whom Clinton will depend to accomplish that task.
Karen Adler, a Manhattan real-estate developer, was national Jewish coordinator of the 1992 Clinton-Gore campaign, but her relationship with the Clintons dates back to the 1980s, when she served with them on a Democratic leadership council pushing for moderate progressive policies formed after the Carter administration. A board member of the trans-denominational CLAL-National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership, chair of UJA-Federation’s Legacy Fund and a congregant of B’nai Jeshurun on the Upper West Side, Adler was named director of the General Services Administration’s Northeast and Caribbean region before returning to the private sector in September 1997.
"I speak to her pretty frequently," said Adler of Clinton. "There is a range of people she talks to."
But one insider said Adler has emerged as one of Clintonís most loyal and called-upon allies. "There are a number of people on the list, but none are as close to [Clinton] personally as Karen Adler," said a Democrat knowledgeable of the campaign, who said Adler is one of a handful of Jewish advisors who participate in the daily conference calls convened by Clinton’s exploratory committee. Others include communications consultants Mandy Grunwald and Marla Romash. Grunwald, who lives in Washington, has advised the Clinton campaigns as well as Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan.
Romash, of Maryland, is deputy campaign spokesman for Vice President Al Gore. Another participant in the calls is the deputy White House chief of staff, Maria Echaveste, a Mexican American who has converted to Judaism, making her a twofer as an adviser. "She travels in both Hispanic and Jewish circles," said an insider.
Peggy Tishman, a former UJA-Federation president and Clinton booster, is available to provide a window into the organizational world. For a younger perspective, Hillary can look to Jody Schwartz, a partner in the law firm of Wachtel Lipton who recently chaired the General Assembly of the United Jewish Communities. Schwartz is a board member of the Israel Policy Forum, which was formed to gather support for the Oslo Accords in the United States.
Many influential figures in the dovish IPF are close to Clinton and advising her candidacy, including IPF chairman Jack Bendheim, who is president of Phillips Brothers Chemicals and a well-known Jewish philanthropist. Bendheim says he was consulted on Clinton’s recent Israel trip. "I basically advised her that the most important thing she could do is to keep promoting the peace process," says Bendheim, who has donated the maximum $2,000 to Clinton’s campaign and recently raised $50,000 more. His influence on Clinton’s two-day trip to Israel was apparent when she took time from her busy schedule to visit Shaare Tzedek Hospital in Jerusalem. Bendheim serves on the board of the hospital’s U.S. fund-raising organization. He is one of few Orthodox Jews to have a close relationship with Clinton.
Another Orthodox friend is Sen. Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut. Despite Lieberman’s denunciation of President Clinton during the Lewinsky scandal, the senator remains close enough to the first lady that she has asked him to accompany her to a meeting with the Orthodox Union leadership on Dec. 14. An ardent supporter of relocating the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem, Lieberman’s support could make Clinton more kosher for the OU.
Another longtime Jewish friend of the Clinton’s is Sara Ehrman, a former activist with Americans for Peace Now as well as AIPAC and the Democratic National Committee. She currently works at the Center for Middle East Peace and Economic Cooperation in Washington founded by philanthropist and Slim-Fast mogul S. Daniel Abraham.
Sources say Ehrman, who was Clinton’s landlord in Washington 20 years ago and reportedly drove her to her wedding, is a respected friend but has little regular impact on the Senate campaign.
Another close New York Jewish friend is attorney Susan Thomases, who served with Clinton on the board of the Children’s Defense Fund and as scheduler in the 1992 presidential race.
An eyewitness account of the Ramallah incident by a New York Jewish leader underscores the extent to which Clinton was caught off guard by Suha Arafat’s remarks.
Marlene Post, a former national president of Hadassah invited to accompany the first lady on much of her Israel trip, says Clinton did not immediately put on the headphones that provided simultaneous translation from Arabic. "She did not expect a long speech, but greetings from Mrs. Arafat," says Post, chair of the Birthright Israel project. "Usually, if there is a speech, she is given the text beforehand. When [Clinton] spoke at the national Hadassah convention, she had to have all the speeches beforehand and be informed of any changes."
After Arafat delivered her greetings, Post says, an aide handed the Palestinian leader’s wife a folder with a prepared text. But Clinton still did not immediately put on the headphones, says Post. Clinton’s staff has said she missed comments about Israel poisoning Arabs because of gaps in the translation.
"Had she known there was going to be a full speech, I would imagine she would have listened more carefully," says Post.
The list of honorees at City Comptroller Alan Hevesiís Jewish Heritage celebration last week is a study in deft base-covering by the likely mayoral candidate. Those feted represented Modern Orthodoxy (Yeshiva University President Norman Lamm), right-wing philanthropy (ice cream heiress Rose Mattus), social consciousness and feminism (author Letty Cottin Pogrebin), and progressive Zionism (Menachem Rosensaft, former president of the Labor Zionist Alliance.) Also honored were Melvin Salberg, a former president of the Anti-Defamation League and chair of the Conference of Presidents, and News Channel 4 correspondent Gabe Pressman.