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'We Shouldn't Have Israel at Public Events,' Clinton Campaign Manager Says in Email

Robby Mook says the Democratic presidential nominee should avoid mentioning Israel at public events, with senior members agreeing that she should only mention the Jewish state 'with donors.'

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U.S. Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton speaks during a fundraiser at the Paramount Theater in Seattle, Washington, October 14, 2016.
U.S. Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton speaks during a fundraiser at the Paramount Theater in Seattle, Washington, October 14, 2016.Credit: Brendan Smialowski, AFP

Hillary Clinton’s campaign manager Robby Mook said Clinton should avoid mentioning Israel at “public events” during her battle for the Democratic nomination, and senior members of her campaign team agreed that Clinton should only mention the Jewish state when “she’s with donors.”

The debate over whether to include a statement of support for Israel in a draft of Clinton’s “home base talking points” for speeches was revealed in an exchange included in Monday’s dump of hacked emails released by Wikileaks from the account of her campaign chairman John Podesta.

On May 17, 2015, during a group discussion between senior campaign advisers, honing a revised version of Clinton’s core message for her speeches, Jake Sullivan, Clinton’s top foreign policy adviser, wrote that he “would add a sentence on standing up for our allies and our values, including Israel and other fellow democracies, and confronting terrorists and dictators with strength and cunning.”

Mandy Grunwald, Clinton’s senior communications adviser, responded: “I though(t) this was largely for her TP (talking points) with public events not fundraisers. Do we need Israel etc for that?”

Sullivan replied: “We def (initely) need the etc. I think good to have Israel too.”

Robby Mook, campaign manager for U.S. Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, speaks during an interview in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, July 25, 2016.Credit: Patrick T. Fallon, Bloomberg

Joel Beneson, Clinton’s chief strategist, chimed in, asking: “Why would we call out Israel in public events now? The only voters elevating FP (foreign policy) at all are Republican primary voters. To me we deal with this in stride when an if we are asked about FP.”

Pressing his case, Sullivan pointed out: “She was Secretary of State.”

That is when campaign manager Robby Mook weighed in: “I'm w(ith) Joel. We shouldn't have Israel at public events. Especially dem (Democratic) activists.”

Sullivan conceded in the face of Mook’s opposition, writing: “I won't fall on sword over Israel but we need more than climate in that paragraph.”

Ultimately, Clinton’s director of speechwriting Dan Schwerin resolved the dispute with the following suggestion:

“What about this as a base, and then she can drop in Israel when she's with donors: Fourth and finally, we have to protect our country from the global threats that we see, from terrorists to dictators to diseases – and the ones that are still over the horizon. We have to assert confident American leadership to shape global events rather than be shaped by them. That includes taking on global warming and those who continue to deny that it exists. And it means always standing up for our allies and our values, especially our fellow democracies.”

Mook approved the approach, saying he was “fine w(ith) that, and Benenson agreed that it was “good.”

Another email exchange leaked on Monday involved a draft of Clinton’s planned speech at the Jewish Federation of Des Moines during the hard-fought Iowa primary against Senator Bernie Sanders in January. In the discussion, Clinton’s team discussed whether she should imply that Sanders’ stance on Iran could put Israel in danger, and if so, how blatantly to do it.

In the email, speechwriter Schwerin asks members of the campaign team to “let me know if we should add a Bernie hit on Iran in here. Right now it's pretty straight.”

Sarah Bard, Clinton’s Jewish Outreach director replied that she believed that it was best to "not name him specifically. Reference ideology, without using the exact language Bernie used, and making it very clear what she's referencing. Something like, 'those who suggest that we looks past human rights violations, blatant disregard of international law and ... by the leading state sponsor of terrorism, Iran, are dangerously naive or who largely uninformed about how the world works.'"

Foreign policy adviser Sullivan cautioned it was best not to use the words “naive or uninformed.”

Strategist Beneson then asked: “shouldn't we be doing Iran troops in Syria – weakening our coalition and putting troops on Israel's doorstep?”
Schwerin said, “That's the question on the table. Guidance from Podesta and group yesterday was that we don't want her to be the attack dog in her remarks except for core high level contrast. So that's why I'm asking if we should do the Iran hit or not.”

Sullivan then advised, “I would lay off.”

Ultimately, that is what Clinton did, according to a report on the speech which appeared in the Des Moines Register. The newspaper said that Clinton “didn’t mention her main Democratic rival, Sen. Bernie Sanders” or his positions, only broadly expressing her support for Israel and “distrust and verify” policy on Iran, and emphasizing her experience on foreign policy.

Podesta, whose account was the source of the hacked Emails, didn’t participate actively in either of the 2015 discussions of Clinton’s speeches. A more personal Email directed to him included in Monday’s dump, however, revealed Podesta being consulted by a friend, Wendy Abrams, on her son who was in Israel during the 2014 conflict with Hamas in Gaza. Abrams wrote worriedly to Podesta at 1:36 AM on July 10, shortly after rockets began to be fired on central Israel: “My son is in Tel Aviv and doesn't feel the need to leave (he assures me the 90 second warning is plenty of time to get to the bomb shelter, which they did yesterday). His mother doesn't have quite the same assessment of risk/reward. Am I being an overly anxious Jewish mother or a more rational mind than a 21 year old who feels invincible?”

Podesta’s answer? “If he were my kid, I'd tell him to stay.”

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