Remember all that “Team of Rivals” stuff when Obama became president and named Hillary Clinton as secretary of state? According to a big piece in the New York Times this Sunday, that’s horse feathers from the mythology department. Obama named Hillary Clinton to appease the Israel lobby on foreign policy; and the Israel lobby actually cut the deal.
Once elected, Obama seemed to understand that he needed someone to lend him credibility with the Israeli government and its American defenders, a tough friend of Israel who could muscle the country away from settlements and toward a peace agreement. An aide to Obama called Malcolm Hoenlein, the executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish American Organizations, and asked him to call Hillary Clinton to see if she would be “agreeable” to being named secretary of state.
Why didn’t the Times tell us about Israel’s absolute priority in the State Department portfolio before this?
The piece is titled frankly, “Can Liberal Zionists Count on Hillary Clinton?” and writer Jason Horowitz is naked about his (provincial) point-of-view: Peace Now Jews who are attached to their dream of the Jewish state, if it would only redeem itself by withdrawing from the occupation, folks who were “racked with worry” when Israel killed all those children in Gaza last summer. AIPAC is the bad guy in the piece; J Street rides a white horse. Tzipi Livni is great (nothing about her support for Gaza massacres), Netanyahu is bad.
Hillary Clinton once served Obama’s J Street agenda but has distanced herself from that now, preparing to run for president:
As Israel flouted her own government’s demand that it not build more settlements in East Jerusalem, Clinton spoke so effusively about Netanyahu at a December 2012 conference that political observers considered the speech tantamount to a presidential announcement. Since then, Clinton has further distanced herself from her job as secretary of state, making light of her role as Netanyahu’s disciplinarian for Obama and calling herself the president’s “designated yeller.”
That’s the best thing about the piece, the acknowledgment of the lobby’s power to make or break presidential ambitions. More honesty:
Clinton has shown little inclination to risk political damage by reprising her old role as a friend and a critic of Israel.
The other bugaboo for the liberal Zionists in the piece is Jewish Voice for Peace and lurking Boycott Divestment and Sanctions, BDS. The non-Zionist organization JVP is taken more seriously than ever before by the Times–Rebecca Vilkomerson gets two or three paragraphs– before being dismissed as a non-mainstream player by Ann Lewis, Hillary’s Israel hack.
“Democrats who are Jewish will turn out in droves in support of her,” Haim Saban, a media mogul and major Clinton-campaign financier told me. And the Jewish donors? “Without a doubt.”
But Clinton knows that there is a wealthy and influential sliver of more-moderate Democratic Jews for whom Israel is a priority. They are less conservative than the G.O.P.’s top Jewish donors, like Sheldon Adelson, the billionaire casino owner, but feel protective enough of Israel that they could plausibly support a Republican if they sensed anything less than complete support from a Democrat. The political arithmetic for Clinton is easy — knowing you can take the larger liberal Jewish vote for granted, you support Israel’s right-wing government to keep moderates from bolting.