Should Hillary Clinton Attend Shimon Peres' Funeral?

While Clinton would certainly look presidential standing among world leaders, the downsides of heading to Israel in the heat of her campaign outweigh the advantages significantly.

Then President Shimon Peres kisses then U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton as he gives her flowers after their meeting in Jerusalem, Israel, March 3, 2009.
Ammar Awad, Reuters

There was excitement mingled with the sadness for Israelis on Wednesday. In the midst of absorbing the news of the death of former President Shimon Peres, it was widely reported that the most scrutinized woman in the world of the moment - Hillary Clinton - would be travelling to their country for the elder statesman’s funeral.

From the Associated Press to Israeli websites, it was reported for much of the day that the Democratic presidential nominee would be accompanying her husband, Bill, along with U.S. President Obama and other world leaders to pay her respects to the late Nobel Laureate. The reports were attributed to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. 

Read more on Shimon Peres: The countless contradictions of the late and great Shimon Peres | Obama, world leaders mourn Peres | Shimon Peres, the eternal immigrant | Peres' quixotic battle for Israeli-Palestinian peace | Peres, 1923-2016: an interactive timeline

While anticipating Hillary Clinton’s appearance on their shores made Israelis feel flattered and important, at the same time, it seemed rather shocking that at such a crucial point in her campaign, Clinton would actually leave the campaign trail for more than 48 hours in order to make such a long trip, attend the funeral and return to the United States. 

It is true that, in addition to showing affection and respect for Peres, there were some advantages in coming. Clinton would certainly look important and presidential standing among world leaders. (Though as former U.S. Secretary of State, there is no shortage of images of Clinton looking dignified at overseas state ceremonies.) 

In addition, travelling to Israel would be likely score her some points among Jewish voters in the swing state of Florida.

But still, even in Florida, the downside of heading to the Middle East in the heat of her campaign outweighed the advantages significantly. Jewish voters, despite their impressive rate of turnout, are only 7 percent of the electorate, and are already pretty solidly in her camp. The big challenge in Florida for Clinton is garnering sufficient turnout among African-American voters, as well as Latinos. 

According to a story in Politico on Wednesday, Democrats are in “panic mode” in that state, fearing that African Americans in particular aren’t enthusiastic enough to show up at the polls in large enough numbers to counteract Donald’s Trump’s high numbers among whites. As a result, Bill Clinton had been scheduled to take a bus tour in North Florida on Friday in an effort to inspire African American voters to support his wife, while Hillary Clinton was set to attend events further south in the Sunshine State.

Now his plans have changed, and it is clear that the former president won’t be making it onto that bus on Friday, having instead boarded a plane for Jerusalem the day before. It would surely be unwise to have the presidential candidate herself also pull out of her Florida commitments in order to fly across the world. 

Presumably, Hillary would have to cancel appearances in other battleground states as well. With American voters, squarely focused on domestic issues - and, in the swing states, every hour of campaigning time is precious and spending two and a half days to travel overseas to attend a foreign leader’s funeral would be a risky move. 

So it came as little surprise when word came out from Jennifer Palmieri, Clinton’s communications chief, who burst the bubble and told U.S. media that reports Clinton would be coming to Israel were false. Bill Clinton would be coming to Israel without his candidate wife. There has been, so far, no word on whether or not his daughter Chelsea might accompany him instead. 

Shortly afterwards, the Trump campaign also confirmed to a reporter that their candidate wasn’t planning to make the trip either. That news came as even less of a surprise. 

Even if Hillary made the trip, the odds that Trump would also hop on a plane to one-up her were slim. It would be far more likely that Trump would stay on the campaign trail in order to emphasize that she is the jet-setting “establishment” politician and he is the gritty outsider in an outsider-friendly election year. 

And considering some of Trump’s bedrock of support on the alt-right, who aren’t very friendly to Jews - showing up at an Israeli funeral wearing a yarmulke might be a little awkward. Let’s not forget that this is a candidate who has never been to Israel and who skipped his own grandson’s brit in order to campaign in Wisconsin during the Republican primaries.