Former President Bill Clinton on Monday met in secret (no press allowed) with roughly 100 leaders of South Florida’s Jewish community, and, as the Times of Israel reports, “He vowed that, if elected, Hillary Clinton would make it one of her top priorities to strengthen the U.S.-Israel alliance.” He also “stressed the close bond that he and his wife have with the State of Israel.”
It may be tempting to dismiss this as standard, vapid Clintonian politicking: adeptly telling everyone what they want to hear and making them believe it. After all, is it even physically possible to “strengthen the U.S.-Israel alliance” beyond what it already entails: billions of dollars in American taxpayer money transferred every year, sophisticated weapons fed to Israel as it bombs its defenseless neighbors, blindly loyal diplomatic support and protection for everything it does?
But Bill Clinton’s vow of even greater support for Israel is completely consistent with what Hillary Clinton herself has been telling American Jewish audiences for months. In November, she published an op-ed in The Forward in which she vowed to strengthen relations not only with Israel, but also with its extremist prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu.
“I have stood with Israel my entire career,” she proclaimed. Indeed, “as secretary of state, [she] requested more assistance for Israel every year.” Moreover, she added, “I defended Israel from isolation and attacks at the United Nations and other international settings, including opposing the biased Goldstone report [which documented widespread Israeli war crimes in Gaza].”
Clinton media operatives such as Jonathan Alter have tried to undermine the Sanders campaign by claiming that only Sanders, but not Clinton, has committed the sin of criticizing Obama: “Hillary stopped criticizing Obama in 2008, when [Obama] was nominee; Sanders stopped in 2015, so he could run as Dem.” Aside from being creepy — it’s actually healthy to criticize a president and pathological to refuse to do so — this framework is also blatantly false. Clinton, in her book and in interviews, has often criticized Obama for being insufficiently hawkish: making clear that she wanted to be more militaristic than the Democratic president who has literally bombed seven predominantly Muslim countries (thus far).
Her comments on Israel have similarly contained implicit criticisms of Obama’s foreign policy: namely, that he has created or at least allowed too much animosity with Netanyahu. In her Forward op-ed, she wrote that the Israeli prime minister’s “upcoming visit to Washington is an opportunity to reaffirm the unbreakable bonds of friendship and unity between the people and governments of the United States and Israel.” She pointedly added: “The alliance between our two nations transcends politics. It is and should always be a commitment that unites us, not a wedge that divides us.” And in case her message is unclear, she added this campaign promise: “I would also invite the Israeli prime minister to the White House in my first month in office.”
Last month, Clinton wrote an even more extreme op-ed in the Jewish Journal, one that made even clearer that she intends to change Obama’s policy to make it even more “pro-Israel.” It begins: “In this time of terrorism and turmoil, the alliance between the United States and Israel is more important than ever. To meet the many challenges we face, we have to take our relationship to the next level.”
“With every passing year, we must tie the bonds tighter,” she wrote. Tie those bonds tighter. Thus:
As part of this effort, we need to ensure that Israel continues to maintain its qualitative military edge. The United States should further bolster Israeli air defenses and help develop better tunnel detection technology to prevent arms smuggling and kidnapping. We should also expand high-level U.S.-Israel strategic consultations.
As always, there is not a word about the oppression and brutality imposed on Palestinians as part of Israel’s decadeslong occupation. She does not even acknowledge, let alone express opposition to, Israel’s repeated, civilian-slaughtering bombing of the open-air prison in Gaza. That’s because for Clinton — like the progressive establishment that supports her — the suffering and violence imposed on Palestinians literally do not exist. None of this is mentioned, even in passing, in the endless parade of pro-Clinton articles pouring forth from progressive media outlets.
Beyond progressive indifference, Clinton has been able to spout such extremist rhetoric with little notice because Bernie Sanders’ views on Israel/Palestine (like his foreign policy views generally) are, at best, unclear. Like many American Jews, particularly of his generation, he has long viewed Israel favorably, as a crucial protective refuge after the Holocaust. But while he is far from radical on these matters, he at least has been more willing than the standard Democrat, and certainly more willing than Clinton, to express criticisms of Israel. Still, his demonstrated preference for focusing on domestic issues at the expense of foreign policy has unfortunately enabled Clinton to get away with all sorts of extremism and pandering in this area.
Clinton partisans — being Clinton partisans — would, if they ever did deign to address Israel/Palestine, undoubtedly justify Clinton’s hawkishness on the ground of political necessity: that she could never win if she did not demonstrate steadfast devotion to the Israeli government. But for all his foreign policy excesses, including on Israel, Obama has proven that a national politician can be at least mildly more adversarial to Israeli leaders and still retain support. And notably, there is at least one politician who rejects the view that one must cling to standard pro-Israel orthodoxy in order to win; just yesterday, Donald Trump vowed “neutrality” on Israel/Palestine.
As I noted a couple of weeks ago, Clinton advocates are understandably desperate to manufacture the most trivial controversies because the alternative is to defend her candidacy based on her prior actions and current beliefs (that tactic was actually pioneered by then-Clinton operative Dick Morris, who had his client turn the 1996 election into a discussion of profound topics such as school uniforms). If you were a pro-Clinton progressive, would you want to defend her continuous vows to “strengthen” U.S. support for the Netanyahu government and ensure that every year “we must tie the bonds tighter”?