It is ironic that just a year ago, the Obama administration was criticizing Israel’s election campaign and the comments of one of the candidates. Just this week the administration attacked the new governing coalition, saying it raised “legitimate questions” about Israel’s direction. When it comes to the Middle East many believe that the president has been going in the wrong direction since day one of his term. Now, American voters are asked to choose between two presidential candidates that raise even more serious questions about the direction of U.S. policy. Discussion of the Jewish vote has already begun although the outcome is not in doubt.
This election is unique, at least in my lifetime, for having two candidates who are so widely despised and distrusted. Paradoxically, one of the reasons I thought Hillary Clinton would be problematic eight years ago was because hatred for her seemed so strong that it was hard to see how she could effectively govern with the disapproval of the Republican Congress and a high percentage of the American people. Naïvely, I bought Obama’s rhetoric about being a uniter rather than a rabid partisan who exacerbated the polarization in Congress and beyond. It is clear already that anyone who hoped the Obama era of bad feeling would be replaced with a new era of comity will be sadly disappointed.
Clinton has done surprisingly poorly in the primaries after being expected to waltz through to her coronation at the Democratic convention. Still, since Jews are overwhelmingly liberal on domestic issues, most will gravitate toward Clinton. It is foreign policy where the questions will be raised.
One question is whether Clinton will be held responsible for Obama’s policies, which led to a drop in his support among Jews from 78% in 2008 to 69% in 2012. As Secretary of State, Clinton presided over four years of disastrous Middle East policies, and a largely hostile approach toward Israel. It was Clinton, for example, who spent 43 minutes out of a 45-minute call chastising Prime Minister Netanyahu after Vice President Joe Biden was embarrassed during his visit to Israel by the announcement of new settlement construction.
It is also worrisome that she has toed the politically correct line in discussing radical Islam and trying to pretend that Muslim terrorists who say they act in the name of Islam are not motivated by their religion. Worse, for many Jews, was her support for the Iran nuclear deal, which was so bad that it managed to unite the Israeli government and the opposition.
Clinton also went along with the president and the State Department Arabists who blame Israel first and see the Jewish state as the root of all Middle East problems. She failed to take a strong position against Palestinian incitement and the obstinate refusal of Mahmoud Abbas to enter negotiations with Netanyahu (a boycott that now is going on its seventh year). Abbas, a corrupt dictator of a non-state that has received about $5 billion in U.S. taxpayer money, has thumbed his nose at the Obama administration as if he were Vladimir Putin.
Will a President Clinton finally recognize who the impediment to peace is and take measures to pressure Abbas to sit with Netanyahu and agree to a sustainable future?
Some Jews are skeptical of her support for Israel. They recall the embarrassing episode in 1999 when she stood silently while Yasser Arafat’s wife outrageously accused the Israeli government of poisoning Palestinian women and children with toxic gas. She then kissed her in what Clinton later described as the equivalent of shaking her hand to be polite.
Emails released by the State Department showing that Clinton’s friend Sidney Blumenthal repeatedly sent her columns by his virulently anti-Israel son Max has also been fodder for her critics. I’m not aware, however, of any evidence that Max’s ravings influenced her positions.
Anyone who thinks tensions will subside over the settlement issue are mistaken. Clinton, unlike Trump, believes in the empirically indefensible claim that settlements are the obstacle to peace with the Palestinians. Like too many of her employees at State, she fails to see the principal impediment to peace is the Palestinians’ refusal to accept the existence of a secure Jewish state next to a future Palestinian state.
Still, Clinton says she has a good relationship with Netanyahu, which in her mind means they can yell at each other. It is hard to imagine her being as confrontational, at least publicly, as Obama has been, and that alone is likely to improve the quality of the alliance.
More troublesome is Clinton’s support for the Iran nuclear deal. She undoubtedly felt a certain obligation to back her old boss on his signature foreign policy “achievement”; however, this was also the litmus test for Jews who agreed with the Israeli government and opposition that Obama signed a bad deal that endangers Israel.
Nevertheless, Clinton can be expected to have a number of key Jewish advisers inside and outside of government. This is no guarantee that her policies will be favorable, a lesson learned when Rahm Emanuel and David Axelrod were in the Obama White House.
Clinton does have one adviser who inspires confidence in the pro-Israel community and that his her husband. Bill Clinton was very popular with Jews (he got 80 and 78 percent of the Jewish vote in his two elections) and viewed as one of the most pro-Israel presidents ever. It remains to be seen how involved Bill would be in the administration and whether his wife will listen to him on matters related to Israel.
One wild card is Bernie Sanders who, for some reason, has decided to make criticism of Israel one of his principal foreign policies. As further encouragement to the Israel haters, instead of appointing people who have no axe to grind with Israel but share his broad socialist vision, he chose two anti-Israel extremists to represent him on the Democratic platform committee. James Zogby and Cornell West may succeed in winning approval for some policy statements inimical to Israel, and this will certainly rile the pro-Israel community. The good news is that the platform has no impact on policy and Clinton will ignore anything related to Israel that she doesn’t like.
Over the next five months, Clinton’s history and current positions will be picked apart in greater detail than I have done here, but it will not matter in the end. The Jewish vote is not in doubt because of a genetic mutation that affected most Jews during the administration of Franklin Roosevelt, and has been passed on to the following generations, which causes Jewish voters to reflexively vote for the Democratic candidate.
Consequently, Democrats sometimes take Jewish support for granted and that is a danger in this election, especially given the perception that Jews will not vote for Trump. Nevertheless, Clinton will win the Jewish vote by an overwhelming margin, the questions are whether the election will be close enough for the Jewish vote to have an impact, and whether Trump can cut into her support enough to make a difference in key Electoral College states with large Jewish populations.
Next up: The Donald and the Jews.
Dr. Mitchell Bard is the author/editor of 24 books including The Arab Lobby, Death to the Infidels: Radical Islam’s War Against the Jews and the novel After Anatevka: Tevye in Palestine.