Hillary Covering All The Bases

Hillary Covering All The Bases

You can’t please all the people all the time, but Hillary Rodham Clinton seems to be trying her best when it comes to her trip to Israel this week.

The first lady and near-certain Senate candidate was to visit the Western Wall, as well as the wife of Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat, following reports that she would steer clear of East Jerusalem and Arafat during her two-day journey.

Clinton insisted this week that reports of her itinerary were premature, and no political considerations were involved in the planning.

"There are so many stories out there that are not [accurate]," she said Monday following an appearance in Midtown. "It’s a very complicated schedule. We’ve had to compress a four-day trip."

Asked if she would avoid East Jerusalem for political reasons, Clinton told The Jewish Week: "No, no. I’m just trying to get what I can get done … I’m trying to fit in some other things that I’ve been invited to. This is a totally official [White House] trip, and I hope it doesn’t have any political questions associated with it."

But if Clinton did alter her schedule following reports that she would avoid the Wall, Judaism’s holiest site, it would indicate a lack of confidence in her standing among Jewish voters. State Democrats reportedly are concerned that Clinton will be unable to win the large majority of the Jewish vote she will need to win the race. With a year until the election, polls show her with a less-than-overwhelming 53 percent. Sen. Charles Schumer won last year with more than 70 percent of Jewish support.

"There is room for improvement and she needs to start taking steps to do a little better," said one source close to the Democratic State Committee.

As of midweek, Clinton’s trip included two addresses in Tel Aviv, at a youth conference at Tel Aviv University and at the Rabin Center for Peace; visits with Suha Arafat at an undisclosed West Bank location and Palestinian youth in Ramallah; breakfast with Nava Barak in Jerusalem as well as visits to Shaare Zedek Hospital, Yad Vashem and the Wall before flying to Jordan on Friday and then to Turkey to join her husband.

With Israel and the Palestinians entering final-status talks amid threats of renewed terror, the first lady is likely to be meticulous in avoiding a faux pas. But the schedule seems to be pleasing Jewish and Arab leaders here. "It has now become a nice itinerary," said James Zogby, president of the Arab American Institute. "She will be touching all the bases."

Malcolm Hoenlein, vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, said Clinton’s avoiding East Jerusalem (which she has visited twice as first lady) would have been perceived as opposing Israeli sovereignty. "For a candidate for Senate in New York not to visit the Western Wall would make a very negative statement," he said.

"I’m very pleased that she has changed her mind," said Mandell Ganchrow, president of the Orthodox Union. "We live in a world where symbols say a lot."

The uncertainty of Clinton’s schedule did not prevent Jerusalem Mayor Ehud Olmert from bashing Clinton during a visit here this week. Following a City Hall meeting with Mayor Rudolph Giuliani (Clinton’s likely Senate opponent) Olmert slammed Clinton for making "a political statement that contradicts her original statement" in support of Jerusalem as the eternal capital of Israel.

As for Giuliani, Olmert said he doesn’t "know of any warmer and more devoted supporter of Jerusalem." He insisted this was not a Senate endorsement, and that he and Giuliani had not discussed Clinton’s trip in their hourlong meeting. The timing was coincidental, he said. Giuliani did not take questions.

Passing resolutions on Jewish subjects now seems to be as routine as roll call in the City Council. In recent weeks the Council has called for the release of Jonathan Pollard; commemorated the 61st anniversary of Kristallnacht, called on the Deutsche Bank to compensate Holocaust survivors for slave labor; denounced the desecration of a cemetery in Germany; blasted the Iranian government for imprisoning 13 Jews on espionage charges and called on the INS to grant citizenship to Syrian Jewish refugees.

Brooklyn Councilman Herbert Berman, chair of the councilís Jewish caucus, insists this activity has nothing to do with the upcoming elections.

"We admonish and memorialize on a regular basis," said Berman, who is planning a campaign for comptroller. Resolutions of interest to other groups are passed with equal frequency, he said, including one calling for an end to U.S. munitions testing in Puerto Rico.

Jewish representation on the Council increased to 12 last week with the election of Democrat Eva Moskowitz to fill the vacant Upper East Side seat of Andrew Eristoff, now finance commissioner. Moskowitz will be one of only two Jewish members who will not be forced out in 2001 by term limits. The other is Michael Nelson of Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn, who was re-elected to the seat he won in a special election to succeed Rep. Anthony Weiner.

The New York Post revealed this week that Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver sponsored a bill in the Assembly intended solely to help a Jewish landlord in Harlem regain property confiscated by the city for non-payment of taxes. Silver’s explanation: "His father is the rabbi of my synagogue. When your rabbi’s son asks you for assistance, you try to help."

Silver’s spokeswoman, Pat Lynch said it was not the first time he has sponsored bills with no pubic interest to aid an individual. "Over 20-something years, if a constituent has come to him and asked for assistance, of course he has tried to assist." Lynch said the bill on behalf of Baruch Singer (whose father, Yitzchak, is rabbi of the Bialystoker Synagogue on the Lower East Side) "did not move and will never move." Lynch said Silver explained to the younger Singer that the bill would not gain support unless conditions at housing units he owns were "up to par."

Three years after the Nation of Islam filed a lawsuit alleging discrimination in the termination of a security firm contract, a federal appeals court has thrown out the case.

The suit stems from the efforts of Jules Polonetsky, then an assemblyman from Brooklyn and now consumer affairs commissioner, to force the X-Men security firm out of a state- and federally sponsored housing project because the group’s members were followers of Minister Louis Farrakhan. The X-Men also filed suit against Gov. George Pataki and Long Island Rep. Peter King and the private management company of the buildings, alleging that the defendants conspired to deprive the group of its civil rights. Pataki and the realty group were dismissed from the suit in 1997.

Sen. Charles Schumer is mum on whether he supports the call for a federal investigation into the police shooting of Gary Busch in Borough Park called for by Rep. Jerrold Nadler. "We have been in contact with the family and at their request we are closely monitoring the situation," said Schumer spokeswoman Cathy Levine. Sources say Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan is likely to join Nadler in calling for the probe.

read more: