From immigration to campaign finance reform to criminal justice, Hillary Clinton’s campaign strategy is clear: Move to Barack Obama’s left, to energize liberal voters. Except on Israel, where she’s moving to Barack Obama’s right, to energize hawkish donors.
- Can Hillary Clinton save the battered relationship between Israel and the Democrats?
- It's Republican support for Israel that's winning over Jewish voters
- Throughout Hillary Clinton’s life and career, U.S. Jews have been close at hand
The latest example is a just-released letter about her opposition to the movement to boycott, divest from and sanction Israel (BDS). Among the most significant things about the letter is one of the people to whom it’s addressed: Haim Saban. (Hillary sent similar letters to at least two other Jewish organizational officials, Malcolm Hoenlein and Jack Rosen). Saban is neither an expert on the Middle East nor on Jewish law or culture. He’s a guy who writes large checks. These days, if Joseph Ber Soleveitchik or Abraham Joshua Heschel wanted to correspond with a presidential candidate, they’d first be asked to donate to his Super PAC.
And Saban isn’t just any mega-donor. He’s a mega-donor who thinks Barack Obama has been bad for Israel. As Connie Bruck reported a few years ago in The New Yorker, Saban was so suspicious of Obama’s views on Iran in 2008 that he considered backing John McCain. Saban’s preferred approach: “I would bomb the daylight out of these sons of bitches.” Not surprisingly, one Saban advisor told Bruck, “I don’t think Haim feels particularly positive about Bibi’s performance. But he certainly isn’t happy about Obama’s.”
Reading Hillary’s letter in light of its recipient, a few things become clear. First, don’t expect her to express much concern for Palestinians. In his campaign book, “The Audacity of Hope,” Obama emphasized the common humanity of Palestinians and Israeli Jews. “Traveling through Israel and the West Bank,” he wrote. “I talked to Jews who’d lost parents in the Holocaust and brothers in suicide bombings; I heard Palestinians talk of the indignities of checkpoints and reminisce about the land they had lost. I flew by helicopter across the line separating the two peoples and found myself unable to distinguish Jewish towns from Arab towns, all of them like fragile outposts against the green and stony hills.”
Compare that to Hillary’s letter. Yes, she reaffirms her support for two states. But only because “Israel’s long-term security and future as a Jewish state depends on having two states for two peoples.” Not because Palestinians have legitimate grievances or aspirations. And Hillary reaffirms that support in a letter to Saban, a man who, like her, supports Palestinian statehood because it preserves Israel’s Jewish majority but has so little regard for Palestinians that at an event last November, he endorsed Sheldon Adelson’s contention that they are an “invented people.”
Second, Hillary isn’t serious about combatting BDS. In her letter, she asks Saban’s “advice on how we can work together — across party lines and with a diverse array of voices” to oppose BDS. But Saban has already publicly offered that advice, and it’s disastrous. Last month, he co-sponsored an anti-BDS Summit with Adelson whose “diverse array of voices” ranged from establishment Jewish groups that defend Israeli policy in the West Bank to right-wing Jewish groups that muse about whether Barack Obama is Muslim.
Left out were those American Jewish organizations, like J Street and Americans for Peace Now, which think Israel’s undemocratic control of millions of stateless Palestinians constitutes a moral problem. Left out, in other words, were the only American Jewish groups that enjoy any credibility among the progressives to whom the BDS movement appeals. If Hillary really wanted to combat BDS — as opposed to raising money by pretending to combat it — Saban is among the last people whose advice she’d seek.
Thirdly, and most intriguingly, Hillary is signaling that she may oppose Obama if he backs a two-state resolution at the UN this fall. In her letter, she goes out of her way to equate the BDS movement with Palestinian initiatives at the UN. “We’ve seen this sort of attack before at the UN and elsewhere,” writes Hillary. “As senator and secretary of state, I saw how crucial it is for America to defend Israel at every turn. I have opposed dozens of anti-Israel resolutions at the UN ... And I made sure the United States blocked Palestinian attempts at the UN to unilaterally declare statehood.”
Made sure. The implication is that left to their own devices, others in the Obama administration might not have come to Israel’s aid. It all adds up to a hint that if the White House backs a two-state resolution at the Security Council this fall, the woman who says America must “defend Israel at every turn” at the UN will make her opposition known.
But if Hillary really wants to stop the growth of BDS, she should be thrilled by the prospect of a two-state resolution at the UN. The “outcome [to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict] can only be achieved through direct negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians,” she writes. “It cannot be imposed from the outside or by unilateral actions.” This is nonsense. An outcome is being imposed, every day, by Israel’s unilateral expropriation of land in the West Bank, much of it owned by individual Palestinians, which Israel then doles out to Jewish settlers, thus making a viable Palestinian state harder and harder to achieve.
The only way to prevent this Israeli unilateralism is through solutions “imposed from the outside.” That’s what Bill Clinton recognized in 2000 when he outlined his famous parameters for a two-state deal. Those parameters didn’t substitute for direct negotiations but they provided a framework — which Clinton bluntly told the two parties they could not amend — which gave negotiations a greater chance of success.
That’s even more necessary today. How can direct negotiations possibly succeed when Benjamin Netanyahu has explicitly and repeatedly said that he doesn’t support a Palestinian state anytime soon, and doesn’t support one near the 1967 lines ever? The only way to make direct negotiations meaningful is to force Netanyahu, or some Israeli successor, back into the paradigm outlined by Bill Clinton and the Arab Peace Initiative, the paradigm that in 2007 and 2008 guided the productive talks between Mahmoud Abbas and Ehud Olmert.
Unless that framework is “imposed from the outside,” people morally opposed to Israel’s occupation of the West Bank will see no hope for ending it without BDS. And they will gradually embrace the movement, even though it goes beyond the two-state solution to question the legitimacy of Israel as a Jewish state within any borders.
The Obama administration, by signaling that it may support such a UN framework this fall, is pursuing the best alternative to BDS that exists today. If Hillary helps torpedo that UN initiative, Haim Saban should look forward to more letters from her about BDS in the future. Because the Democratic presidential frontrunner will have done her part to help it grow.