Among the accomplishments Hillary Rodham Clinton can cite in her quest for the Senate is having taken a formerly right-wing view and made it mainstream.
Peace process advocates who have lobbied against tying U.S. aid with Palestinian efforts to curtail anti-Israel incitement have been silent since the first lady took that position in a meeting with Orthodox leaders last week.
Having experienced Palestinian rhetoric firsthand during her recent Israel trip, Clinton told the Orthodox Union’s leaders she’d favor limiting aid funneled to Palestinian-controlled areas if leaders don’t clamp down on the publication of anti-Israel schoolbooks and inflammatory public speeches, as agreed to in the Oslo Accords.
Pro-peace groups like the Israel Policy Forum and Americans for Peace Now have stood by President Clinton’s view that limits on aid should be kept to an absolute minimum. But the groups took no public position last week against Clinton’s OU declaration.
"She has very legitimate and important concerns that are shared by Israelis and Americans," said IPF executive vice president Jonathan Jacoby. "The good news is that compliance is increasingly improving, and as we near the final status [talks] the prospects for toning down the rhetoric are increasingly good."
The grace given Clinton is striking considering the widely held belief that limiting aid would undermine the peace process. Unlike European and Israeli funding that goes directly to the Palestinian Authority, American aid is funneled through non-governmental organizations.
"These groups have tried to remain as independent as possible to provide counterbalance" to the PA, says Souad Dajani, a program coordinator at Grassroots International, which helps social service agencies in the Palestinian areas and elsewhere obtain funding. "I don’t know how easily they would cave in [without the funds] or if other groups would step in. It could weaken American influence on the whole peace process."
Long Island Rep. Michael Forbes, who as a Republican sponsored a House bill to curtail Palestinian aid, said he welcomed Clinton to his point of view. "If it takes an added voice like Hillary Clinton to get those groups that previously criticized my position to now adopt that position, I think that’s a positive move forward," said Forbes, who is now a Democrat.
Following the excursion to Ramallah in which Suha Arafat accused Israel of poisoning Palestinians, Clinton claimed her version of the translation from Arabic was not up to speed, a claim not given much credibility.
Reporters who were listening to the same translation say the rhetoric was perfectly clear.
But in a meeting with the North American Boards of Rabbis last week, Clinton was given the benefit of the doubt. If she had understood Arafat’s comments, asked NABOR president Rabbi Marc Schneier, would she have denounced them?
According to Rabbi Schneier, Clinton "made it clear that she would have responded and rebuked" Arafat.
This flies in the face of her statement to reporters in Jordan on the day after the incident that her silence was based on principle. "I acted as I thought was in the interest of representing my country and representing the peace process," she said, as reported in the Daily News, while allowing that "it is fully expected that when people go beyond the pale, as she has done, that you cannot stand by when you are able to condemn."
Back at home at the time, her spokesman, Howard Wolfson, was telling reporters that "Hillary Clinton is not going to put New York Senate politics in front of the Middle East peace process" and that "walking out would have damaged the peace process."
"This certainly sounds like a contradiction," said Bruce Teitelbaum, director of Republican Mayor Rudolph Giuliani’s Senate exploratory committee. "I’m sure she’ll have a good explanation," he said with a touch of sarcasm.
Wolfson did not return calls Monday and Tuesday.
What do Giuliani, former Sen. Alfonse D’Amato, city Comptroller Alan Hevesi and Sen. Charles Schumer have in common?
All have benefited from the largesse of Semyon Kislin, who was alleged this week to have ties to the Russian mob. Giuliani was the largest beneficiary of Kislin cash, having received some $46,250 in his last two mayoral campaigns from the Brooklyn commodities trader. Schumer collected $8,000 and D’Amato $1,000, both in 1998, and Hevesi was given a total of $11,000 since 1994.
The Center for Public Integrity, a nonprofit Washington group, reported Kislin’s alleged mob ties on Tuesday, while the Associated Press obtained an FBI report terming Kislin a "member or associate" of a Brighton Beach crime operation.
Giuliani rose to prominence as a U.S. attorney fighting organized crime.
Kislin has not been charged with any crime, and was unavailable for comment this week. His wife, Ludmilla, is vice chair of UJA-Federation’s general campaign and co-chair of its Russian Division.
Teitelbaum has more pressing concerns, in the form of an investigation into Giuliani’s ties to New York’s chasidic community, particularly builders in Williamsburg. Sources say he has hired a defense lawyer as Brooklyn DA Charles J. Hynes probes the circumstances surrounding a Brooklyn buildings inspectorís departure and whether chasidic ties to City Hall played a role.
"What seems to be happening is that anyone that considers himself an enemy of Bruce is surfacing and trying to urge this along," said one Jewish communal insider.
Teitelbaum declined to comment.
Brooklyn Assemblyman Dov Hikind, who has been feuding with Teitelbaum since 1993, insists he’s kept the scandal at arm’s distance. "It’s rather silly to say I’m involved," he said. "Reporters have called me for information and I’ve told them to go do their homework."
According to Internet muckraker Matt Drudge, congressional Republicans are quietly calling for an audit of White House valuables to make sure the departing Clintons don’t furnish their Westchester home with taxpayer property. Drudge says their concern grew from a scandal in Israel in October, in which Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was alleged to have kept valuables from his residence and office after voters sent him packing.
Is another Israeli official mixing into the local Senate race? According to a pro-Giuliani source, Chaim Ramon, the Knesset minister in charge of Jerusalem affairs, has called on New York Consul General Shmuel Sisso to issue praise for Clinton.
Not true, says Ramon’s spokesman, Yoav Keven. He says Ramon simply called Sisso at the behest of the foreign ministry to discuss the Suha Arafat incident.
Clarification: The Dec. 3 Political Memos column stated that Brooklyn Assemblywoman Lena Cymbrowitz was considered unlikely to endorse Giuliani for Senate. That statement should have been attributed to a Democratic insider.