Exile and the Prophetic: The Clinton Presidency(s)

Israel/PalestineUS Politics
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This post is part of Marc H. Ellis’s “Exile and the Prophetic” feature for Mondoweiss. To read the entire series visit the archive page.

Am I pessimistic about the prospects for movement in the Middle East in Obama’s second term? Even in his first run, I didn’t hold out much hope for change in Israel/Palestine. Of course, I supported Obama and still view his victory as historic. It’s a generational thing.

Hillary’s on board now as the next Presidential sweepstakes begins to churn. She’s as progressive and hawkish as they come in the Democratic middle. Right now she’s the Democrat’s best hope for the next Presidential round. I’d have to support her. Hillary’s victory would be historic, too.

But if you’re looking for a President to stand up to Israel, I doubt she’s the one. Like Obama – and her husband – Hillary is indebted to the progressive wing of the Democratic Party. That wing is heavily minority and Jewish. The old grand Democratic coalition remains. It’s just more diverse and colorful.

True, Hillary might bow out. Or fade out. Much of her power depends on how active her husband remains in the next few years. Bill has recovered from his 2008 primary low and is, once again, riding high. As Super Surrogate, some pundits think the former President was the deciding factor in Obama’s re-election. His ties to Jewish funding are legendary.

If Hillary is going to make a run she has to test the waters soon. This means Bill has to test the waters with her. If Hillary runs and wins, it means that the Clintons would have been major political actors for more than sixteen years. If successful, add four to eight years. A quarter of a century is a long time in American politics. As well, it’s a huge chunk of Israel’s existence as a state.

If we contrast President’s Carter and Clinton on the Middle East, you see how far America’s dealing with the Middle East has changed in recent years.

Obviously, their respective Presidencies saw significant differences in policies and accomplishments regarding Israel and the Middle East. Their post-Presidential years are equally telling. Released from the confines of the Presidency, Carter ventured into a deeply critical understanding of Israel/Palestine. Clinton retreated into silence. We can only speculate if he would have gone Carter if Hillary wasn’t still in the political game.

After losing his reelection bid, Carter retired from politics – or was retired. Carter had nothing to hold him back from speaking the truth. For Hillary, but also for his own ego, Clinton remained in the political game. Going out on the Israel/Palestine limb isn’t conducive to remaining active in the American political landscape. If nothing else, Clinton is intelligent. Why dig his own political grave with the epitaph: ‘Principle.’

If we think about politics seriously, self-interest has to be considered elemental. Ask yourself, why President Obama or Hillary or former President Clinton would seriously challenge Israel in the coming years. What possible benefit could accrue to them by such a challenge? Who would jump on their bandwagon and have their back?

There are only political negatives for a commitment to a just peace for Israel/Palestine. Every politician interested in saving his or her skin would immediately declare such a policy change heretical.

Simply because the American system is unable to move doesn’t mean that history stands still. History is open. We need to be prepared if and when events make movement of the ethical compass possible.

Strange, that President Obama and Hillary Clinton, as historic figures, can mean so much and so little at the same time. It just goes to show that breakthroughs in history in one arena can also mean stalemate in another.

We like to think that it all goes together. Justice for one is justice for all. Unfortunately, in history, it rarely it happens that way.

Another Election Day life lesson.

About Marc H. Ellis

Marc H. Ellis is retired Director and Professor of Jewish Studies at Baylor University and author of The Heartbeat of the Prophetic which can be found at Amazon and www.newdiasporabooks.com

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