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Hillary Clinton’s Iranian enemies

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Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton expressed great pride in making enemies of “the Iranians” during this week’s Democratic Party debate. When asked “which enemy are you most proud of?” by CNN debate moderator Anderson Cooper, Clinton listed the NRA, health insurance companies, drug companies, and – finally – “the Iranians” as the actors she’s most pleased to have antagonized. This may strike some as a strange statement from the country’s former chief diplomat – particularly in light of her support, albeit tepid, of the recent Iranian nuclear agreement.

Why would a past Secretary of State – a position dedicated, at least in part, to improving the United States’ relations with other nations – boast of an adversarial relationship with a key Middle Eastern geopolitical power in the aftermath of a historic diplomatic breakthrough?

Insight into that question may be gleaned from just a cursory look at the Clinton campaign’s principal donors. Israeli-American entertainment mogul Haim Saban, and his wife Cheryl, have contributed approximately $2 million to Priorities USA Action – a SuperPAC financing Clinton’s presidential bid.  Saban is a self-proclaimed “one-issue guy” and, according to him, his issue is Israel. Describing a conversation he had with then-candidate Barack Obama in 2008, Saban relayed the following anecdote to New Yorker staff writer Connie Bruck:

“Obama was asked the same question Hillary was asked —‘If Iran nukes Israel, what would be your reaction?’ Hillary said, ‘We will obliterate them.’ We . . . will . . . obliterate . . . them. Four words, it’s simple to understand. Obama said only three words. He would ‘take appropriate action.’ I don’t know what that means…I need to understand what that means. So I had a list of questions like that. And Chicago could not organize that meeting. ‘Schedule, heavy schedule.’ I was ready and willing to be helpful, but ‘helpful’ is not to write a check for two thousand three hundred dollars. It’s to raise millions, which I am fully capable of doing. But Chicago wasn’t able to deliver the meeting, so I couldn’t get on board.”

Throughout Obama’s presidency, Saban has remained critical of what he perceives to be the President’s failure to more vigorously defend Israel’s purported strategic interests. In contrast, Saban has expressed optimism regarding Clinton’s intention and ability to repair the relationship between the White House and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government. “I have told her and everybody who’s asked me, ‘Whatever it takes, we’re going to be there’…I think she would be a fantastic president for the United States, an incredible world leader and one under whom I believe — deeply — the relationship with the U.S. and Israel will be significantly reinforced,” said Saban in an interview with the Washington Post.

Saban clearly understands the uniquely powerful role that donations play in shaping a candidate’s policy positions – in this case, Clinton’s stance towards Israel’s professed enemies, namely Iran and the Palestinians. Clinton’s Iran debate remarks, as well as her recent statements on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, seem to vindicate Saban’s formula for influencing American politics – a formula he outlined at a 2009 conference in Israel. In Saban’s words, the “three ways to be influential in American politics are to make donations to political parties, establish think tanks, and control media outlets.”

However, while Saban’s money will likely continue to exert influence on Clinton’s Israel-related campaign messaging throughout the Democratic presidential primary race, her hawkish stance may not resonate as strongly with progressive voters. A Gallup poll released this past February found that “less than half of Democrats — 48 percent — say they sympathize more with Israelis than Palestinians when it comes to tensions in the Middle East.” Similarly, a Pew Research poll conducted in the midst of Israel’s 2014 assault on Gaza found that a majority of young Americans, as well as African Americans and Hispanics, blamed Israel for the eruption of violence.

Describing his own politics, Saban has stated that “there’s no right or left when it comes to Israel.” While that may be true for him and many members of our establishment political class, Secretary Clinton should bear in mind that this may not apply to a younger and increasingly diverse Democratic electorate that has grown more critical of the Netanyahu government’s far-right zealotry as well as the United States’ role in supporting and subsidizing Israeli policy.

Danielle Kamal

Danielle Kamal is a writer and researcher based in Cambridge, MA with an academic interest in American and Middle Eastern diplomatic history.

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14 Responses

  1. Theo on October 16, 2015, 11:43 am

    Let us pray that Hillary never will be our president!!!

    • PYORA on October 18, 2015, 11:55 am

      She is a Liar, of course they all are. But I think she has the market cornered.

  2. JWalters on October 16, 2015, 8:48 pm

    Saban’s thinking about Israel is on a par with that of Lawrence Summers, whose case is utterly shredded here.

    Obviously the relationship between the U.S. and Israel needs to be drastically changed. The U.S. needs to stop being Israel’s blinded slave.

  3. wondering jew on October 17, 2015, 1:12 am

    The nuke deal with Iran was necessary and might have been the best possible alternative on that one issue, but this pie in the sky view of all the positives about Iran are not backed up by reality. It may be that Iran is reacting to realities in the US congress and electorate and figuring that it has nothing to lose by acting war-like. I don’t know the thinking in Tehran. But please, give it a break, as if this nuke deal really turned a new page.

    Here’s from today’s Reuter’s report:

    The United States has confirmed that Iran tested a medium-range missile capable of delivering a nuclear weapon, in “clear violation” of a United Nations Security Council ban on ballistic missile tests, a senior U.S. official said on Friday.

    “The United States is deeply concerned about Iran’s recent ballistic missile launch,” the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power, said in a statement.

    “After reviewing the available information, we can confirm that Iran launched on Oct. 10 a medium-range ballistic missile inherently capable of delivering a nuclear weapon,” she said. “This was a clear violation of U.N. Security Council Resolution 1929.”

    • Maximus Decimus Meridius on October 17, 2015, 7:44 am

      If Samantha ”I love” Power believes this was a breach of a UNSC resolution, why doesn’t she request that the matter be raised in the appropriate forum? None of the other P5+1 countries, who signed the agreement with Iran, seem all that bothered.

      It’s up to the UNSC, not the odious Ms. Power, to decide if its resolutions have been breached.

    • Theo on October 17, 2015, 8:43 am


      By all means we should keep an eye on Iran to make sure it obeys all points of the agreement!
      However, at the same time demand that Israel also signs the Non-proliferation Treaty, account for all it´s nuklear warheads and allow inspections by the same people who inspect Iran.

      Iran has not attacked another nation since about 300 years! Can we say the same for Israel? If not, then is the world not more, and I mean a lot more, in danger of israeli aggression? In my opinion, and many others`, Iran is developing nuclear weapons, because it fears the jewish state. Not the other way around. Israel is constantly bombing nations around them, however nobody will bomb a country with nuclear capabilities.

    • eljay on October 17, 2015, 9:24 am

      || yonah fredman: The nuke deal with Iran was necessary and might have been the best possible alternative on that one issue, but this pie in the sky view of all the positives about Iran are not backed up by reality. It may be that Iran is reacting to realities in the US congress and electorate and figuring that it has nothing to lose by acting war-like. I don’t know the thinking in Tehran. But please, give it a break, as if this nuke deal really turned a new page.

      Here’s from today’s Reuter’s report: … ||

      … The missile test is not a violation of the nuclear deal, which focuses on Iran’s atomic program, U.S. officials have said. Speaking to reporters in Washington, President Barack Obama acknowledged that the nuclear deal does not fully resolve all areas of dispute with Tehran. …

      Just how subservient to the U.S. (and Israel) is the sovereign state of Iran supposed to be?

      And given the never-ending barrage of existential threats made against it by the U.S. (and Israel), why is Iran not entitled to be concerned about its security?

  4. RoHa on October 17, 2015, 1:21 am

    She’s a politician. What do you expect?

  5. brent on October 17, 2015, 10:30 am

    To separate our politicians from the Greater Israel project’s money and check the power of think tanks and media…. get behind the nascent campaign in Palestinian society for “independence or quality”. It can not be defended against and marginalizes the “security” argument.

  6. Bumblebye on October 17, 2015, 8:15 pm

    Apperently found among Hillary’s email haul a memo from Colin Powell to W showing Blair’s commitment to the Iraq misadventure way back in 2002, a year before it began, with his promises to provide positive spin:

  7. chris_k on October 18, 2015, 5:26 am

    HIllary has never said that critics of Israel are not anti-Semitic. The term ‘anti-Semite’ has historically had a constructive function of describing a mindset that has led to centuries of persecution of the Jews.

    How would our culture react to her debate performance if she said, “I am proud to be an enemy of the Jews.” And then of course, decline to clarify that she is simply disagreeing with certain policies of the state of Israel.

    During slavery and Jim Crow, the way you could be a white Southern gentleman and discriminate against Africans is to send the message that for certain specific reasons, they should not be granted certain rights and considerations as humans. Ditto the Eichmann mentality in the Third Reich.

    Supporters of Hillary Clinton, because of this series of statements, have no basis to say they are morally superior to the Nazis or the KKK. The threat she is making against the lives of Iranians is real as is her attempt to standardize this mentality.

    If you say that she is making those statements because of the strategic political realities she is facing, so did George Wallace, who started his career with a relatively liberal view towards segregation.

    The Jews and the African-Americans have both worked very hard to fight against bigotry towards them, and that is why those sorts of statements against them as people are taboo. The Iranians have not yet found that voice yet in our culture. Does that mean Hillary is any different than an anti-Semite or a white supremacist? If anything, she is worse, because she is knowingly creating an electoral mandate for their persecution, the threat against their lives that US and Israeli nuclear capabilities present, attempting to make that into a political standard, and bringing her hateful supporters into that mindset with her.

    The other side of this story is that Saban is a Hillary supporter and the leading contributor to the DNC, and he certainly hasn’t complained about the DNC limiting debate access to those who participate in only their six debate, an historically low figure.

    Whatever you or I think of Hillary as a human being,it is the supporters of Hillary Clinton who have to be held accountable for this, people who often have pretensions of a moral and tolerant character. They need to be publicly and decisively characterized as akin to the Nazis and the KKK.

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