Clinton and Israel– the Marc Rich story

Israel/Palestine
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I can’t stay away from a piece of American political history: Bill Clinton being beholden to Israelis. I wonder what it portends for Hillary Clinton, should she run for the highest office in the this-land-is-your-land.

Two weeks ago, Marc Rich died–the international financier who loved Israel and was famously pardoned by Clinton in 2001, at the last minute of his presidency. The Times obit said that the Israelis played a big role in that pardon:

For years influential Israelis, including ex-Prime Minister Ehud Barak and the former chief of the Mossad spy agency, Shabtai Shavit, had been urging Clinton to pardon Rich, who over two decades had contributed up to $80 million to Israeli hospitals, museums, symphonies and to the absorption of immigrants.

In 2009, Joe Conason reported that the Israelis really wanted the pardon because Rich was a major financial and intelligence asset to them:

Winning the pardon was a top priority for Israeli officials because Rich had long been a financial and intelligence asset of the Jewish state, carrying out missions in many hostile countries where he did business. 

Conason said that Clinton bent over backwards for the Israelis to try and get them on board for their giant concessions at the Camp David peace process–that of course produced nothing:

Following weeks of preparation by Clinton, the last round of serious peace talks opened in Taba, Egypt, on Jan. 21, 2001, the day after he signed the Rich pardon….

[T]he pardon power exists so that presidents will be free to make such hard choices for reasons of state. As a lame duck, Clinton had no other means to induce his Israeli partner to take any risk for peace.

Myself, I don’t believe that the Israelis really took any risk for peace; my interpretation of these events is that Clinton’s real interest here was backing for his wife from the lobby. As the Times relates:

Moreover, Federal Election Commission records showed that Rich’s ex-wife, songwriter Denise Rich, had donated $201,000 to the Democratic Party in 2000.

Bill Clinton was beloved of the lobby, which helped get him the presidency in the first place. The lobby didn’t like President George H.W. Bush.

“Between 1990 and 1992, George H.W. Bush’s administration had not only conditioned loan guarantees on a settlement freeze, it had backed six U.N. Security Council resolutions criticizing the policies of the Jewish state.” –Peter Beinart, The Crisis of Zionism.

Last month NYT columnist Tom Friedman hit the same theme to an Oxford audience,  saying that Bush’s fatal opposition to Israel was a great political lesson to all his would-be successors.

Let’s go inside American politics for a second. What happened, and as you know, President Bush the first stood outside the White House one day and said I’m one lonely man standing up against the Israel lobby. What happened as a result of that… is that Republicans post Bush I, and manifested most in his son Bush 2, took a strategic decision, they will never be out pro-Israel’d again. That they believe cost them electorally a lot.

Bush famously stood outside the White House complaining of Israel lobbyists in 1991. AIPAC was ticked off. Here’s an excerpt of a secretly-recorded phone call with AIPAC’s then president David Steiner, just before the 1992 election: 

DAVID STEINER AIPAC: Do you think I could ever forgive Bush for what he did September 12th a year ago [1991]? What he said about the Jews for lobbying in Washington?

In that telephone call– which cost Steiner his job when it was released– he repeatedly praised Bill Clinton as a friend of the Jews and the settlements. The references to loan guarantees below are references to settlements. Bush had tried to make those loan guarantees dependent on Israel stopping settlement activity:
 

DAVID STEINER AIPAC: I’II tell you, I have friends on the Clinton campaign, close associates. Gore is very committed to us.

[Long Island businessman recording the call] HAIM KATZ: Right. Clinton if he, have you spoken to him?

DAVID STEINER AIPAC: I’ve known Bill for seven, eight years from the National Governors Association. I know him on a personal basis. I have friends. One of my friends is Hillary Clinton’s scheduler, one of my officer’s daughters works there. We gave two employees from AIPAC leave of absences to work on the campaign. I mean, we have a dozen people in that campaign, in the headquarters.

HAIM KATZ: You mean in Little Rock?

DAVID STEINER AIPAC: In Little Rock, and they’re all going to get big jobs. We have friends AIPAC. I also work with a think tank, the Washington Institute. I have Michael Mandelbaum and Martin Indyk being foreign policy advisers. Steve Speigel—we’ve got friends—this is my business….

HAIM KATZ: From a practical point of view, if Clinton wins the presidency, and I’m sure he will, I hope so at least, what will be the benefits to Israel better than Bush? …

DAVID STEINER AIPAC: Let me tell you the problem with the $10 billion in loan guarantees, right? We only have the first year. We have authorization from Congress, but it’s at the discretion of the president every year thereafter, so if Bush is there, he could say, you know, use it as a club, you know. ‘If you don’t give up Syria, I won’t give you the money. If you don’t give up the Golan Heights.’ It’s at the discretion of the president. And that’s why we need a friendly president and we have Bill Clinton’s ear. I talked to Bill Clinton.

HAIM KATZ: And Bill Clinton has made a commitment that if he’s elected . . . ?

DAVID STEINER AIPAC: He’s going to be very good for us.

HAIM KATZ: And he’ll go ahead with the loan guarantees?

DAVID STEINER AIPAC: We didn’t talk about that specifically, listen, I didn’t ask him that, but I have full confidence that we’re going to have a much better situation. He’s got Jewish friends. A girl who worked for me at AIPAC stood up for them at their wedding. Hillary lived with her. I mean we have those relationships. We have never had that with Bush. Susan Thomases, who’s in there, worked with me on the Bradley campaign. We worked together for 13 years. She’s in there with the family. They stay with her when they come to New York. One of my officers, Monte Friedkin, is one of the biggest fund-raisers for them. I mean, I have people like that all over the country.

HAIM KATZ: So, I mean from a practical point of view. . .

DAVID STEINER AIPAC: He’s going to be with us.

HAIM KATZ: …Bush only went ahead with the loan guarantees for one year…

DAVID STEINER AIPAC: They don’t have to give it to us.

HAIM KATZ: But if Clinton is elected. . .

DAVID STEINER AIPAC:…[I] feel reasonably certain we’re gonna get It.

HAIM KATZ: He’s made that commitment?

DAVID STEINER AIPAC: Well, he said he’s going to help us. He’s got something in his heart for the Jews, he has Jewish friends. Bush has no Jewish friends.

My favorite part of that exchange is when Steiner says that he has Martin Indyk. Indyk would go on to many policy positions in the Clinton Administration: special assistant to Clinton on the Middle East, then US ambassador to Israel (even though he was foreign born). And he had worked for AIPAC and AIPAC’s president claimed him. Jeez.

Then Clinton pardons Marc Rich, the financial and intelligence asset of the Israelis in many a hostile country. Notice in the Times obit at the top that Rich gave money for “the absorption of immigrants.” Surely a lot of those immigrants ended up in the occupied territories, as illegal settlers, their presence protested by George Bush, who lost his presidency in part for taking that position, and countenanced by Bill Clinton, whose wife may be running for president soon.

And the lobby continues to be a major player in Democratic politics. Martin Indyk is running the liberal thinktank Brookings, which is funded by Haim Saban, whose greatest political concern is Israel and who gives tons of money to political candidates.

Israeli president Shimon Peres was one of those pressing Clinton for the Rich pardon, and last month, Bill Clinton received $500,000 from an Israeli outfit for a speech on Shimon Peres’s 90th birthday.

According to the Jerusalem Post, the money was donated by a number of contributors to the Peres Academic Center, most prominent among them the Jewish National Fund, which of course helps to Judaize land taken from Palestinians.

It’s really hard to say throughout these tales, where the Israeli interest ends and the American one begins. Does Hillary Clinton know?

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