This summer Hillary Clinton denounced the boycott movement against Israel, charming the media mogul Haim Saban and other pro-Israel Democratic donors. But Saban and company should beware, especially considering her recently released email exchanges with the Clinton consigliere Sidney Blumenthal. Secretary of State Clinton’s tolerance for the anti-Israel venom of Blumenthal and his son Max Blumenthal is worrisome. In fact, since the 1990s, three different Hillary Clintons have emerged regarding Israel. We know which one is running — but which one will govern if she wins?
When she was America’s polarizing first lady in the 1990s, Hillary Rodham Clinton was considered to be among the most skeptical of Clintonites regarding Israel and the most pro-Palestinian, far to her husband’s left. The doubts about her swelled in November 1999, when she palled around with Yasir Arafat’s wife, Suha Arafat, in the West Bank. During one speech, Suha Arafat accused “Israeli forces” of spraying “poison gas,” causing “an increase in cancer cases among Palestinian women and children.” Throughout the tirade, with Arafat’s words translated simultaneously, Clinton kept smiling. After the speech, Clinton kissed Arafat warmly on the cheek. Critics charged that the first lady had shown her true colors, implicitly endorsing this modern blood libel.
The next day Clinton called the remarks “inflammatory and outrageous.” She said that the translation she heard had been milder than Suha’s actual Arabic words. Later, while running for Senate in New York, Clinton dismissed critics, saying, that in the Middle East, “a kiss is a handshake.”
In fairness, Hillary Clinton’s plastic smile and scripted kiss may have reflected a first lady on automatic pilot, not an Israel hater. But the story exploded because it reflected fears stemming from earlier, combustible, statements she had made about Palestinians. Many feared that she did not share her husband’s instinctive love for Israel.
As a senator, Hillary Clinton became Israel’s biggest fan. She decried Yasir Arafat’s war of terrorism against the Oslo peace process, when Palestinians killed hundreds of Jews, including some New Yorkers. Most movingly, in February 2002, while visiting Israel, Sen. Clinton met Yochai Porat, a 26-year-old paramedic. Days later, on March 3, a Palestinian sniper murdered Porat and nine others at an army roadblock on the Ramallah-Nablus road. Porat, characteristically, was tending to the wounded when shot. Three years later, when visiting Israel, Sen. Clinton met Porat’s family, quietly consoling them. His family asked her to help support Magen David Adom (MDA). To her credit — and contrary to the Clinton reputation for milking every honest sentiment — she launched an ultimately successful campaign to convince the International Red Cross to admit MDA — without showboating about her support for Porat’s grieving family.
As secretary of state, Clinton admitted that she was “often the designated yeller” in the administration’s many confrontations with Benjamin Netanyahu. She especially earned that title in 2010, when she berated Israel’s prime minister for 45 minutes, accusing him of “humiliating the United States of America” when a Jerusalem municipal official announced housing tenders to expand a Jerusalem neighborhood the Obama administration considers “occupied,” during Vice President Joe Biden’s visit to Israel. Subsequently, Secretary Clinton accused Israel of “lacking empathy for oppressed Palestinians,” and, in retirement, supported the Iran deal lifting the sanctions she helped impose while in office, in exchange for Iran dismantling much of its nuclear capability for a period of 10-15 years.
During her tenure, it now emerges, she relied on Sidney Blumenthal, a Clinton loyalist whose son Max Blumenthal wrote a mean-spirited, anti-Zionist screed, “Goliath: Life and Loathing in Greater Israel.” The elder Blumenthal shared with Secretary Clinton articles that ultimately became part of Blumenthal junior’s 410-page rant against Israel’s alleged “colonialism” and “racism,” replete with the expected Holocaust analogies.
Shades of Suha revisited. Will any Democratic donors ask Hillary Clinton if she ever objected to any of Max Blumenthal’s diatribes or concentration camp metaphors? And if not, why not? Are there any anti-Israel statements expressed in her presence or sent to her, that she has ever refuted? It takes no courage to write a letter to mega-donor Haim Saban denouncing BDS; the test is whether she will risk public confrontations or private tensions with confidantes like Blumenthal over the growing demonization of Israel in radical Democratic circles.
Donors and voters have the right to ask which Hillary Clinton is running in 2016. Will the real Hillary Clinton please stand up regarding Israel — and will Hillary Clinton really stand up for Israel if she wins?
Gil Troy is the author of “The Age of Clinton: America in the 1990s,” which will be launched on Oct. 8 at the New-York Historical Society. He is a professor of history at McGill University and a visiting scholar at the Brookings Institution.