President-elect Barack Obama made it official Monday, naming former rival Hillary Clinton as secretary of state.
Since her name first surfaced, the idea of Clinton at Foggy Bottom has been greeted with enthusiasm among U.S. Jews and in Israel. While leftwing Democrats have fumed about the return of the reign of Clinton — both her own and that of numerous advisors — the reaction from Jews both here and abroad has been overwhelmingly positive.
During the Democratic primary campaign Clinton was a favorite among Jews both domestically and in Israel. During the campaign she often played the role of pro-Israel hard-liner while Obama hinted at a more “even-handed approach” to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. She attacked then-candidate Obama’s willingness to meet unconditionally with Iranian President Ahmadinejad. She also criticized his opposition to the Kyl-Lieberman Amendment. (He subsequently changed his stance in a speech before AIPAC after sewing up the nomination.) Clinton appeared in front of AIPAC in June trying to bolster her former opponent’s pro-Israel bona fides.
That enthusiasm continued among conservative ranks once her name was put in play for the secretary of state position. Jewish Republicans ranging from former John McCain aide Michael Goldfarb to Henry Kissinger encouraged the nomination. Clinton, they perceived, would ensure President-elect Obama would follow a tougher foreign policy course, one which would be more inclined to support Israel’s security concerns.
Sen. Joe Lieberman, stalwart defender of Israel and John McCain’s staunch defender, had also urged the pick.
Their perception that Clinton would tilt favorably toward Israel was shared by many Arabs. The Washington Post reported:
Arabs, particularly Palestinians, are nervous that Obama seems prepared to give the job of top diplomat to a senator from New York who has spent eight years cultivating her pro-Israel constituency and would continue, they think, a lack of U.S. evenhandedness in refereeing the Israeli-Palestinian dispute. Because of what they regard as her bellicose rhetoric toward Iran and her initial support for the Iraq war, some see her selection as a sign that Obama intends to conduct a more hawkish foreign policy than he suggested during the campaign. …
Amjad Atallah, who formerly served as a legal adviser for the Palestinian negotiating team in peace talks with the Israelis, said the prospective Clinton nomination is being watched warily in the Arab world, given her unstinting support for Israel in recent years and hawkish comments on Iran. Some worry that her selection is a possible indicator that Obama may not be as aggressive as Palestinians hope in pushing for a peace deal.
Likewise, the Los Angeles Times reported:
As first lady and as New York’s junior senator, she has taken positions, some at odds with Obama’s, that appeal to Israelis and Jewish voters at home. She was an early advocate of the barrier separating Israel from the West Bank (Obama has yet to voice support for it) and of Jerusalem as the “eternal and indivisible capital of Israel.” …
“Her friendship and support of the Jewish people and Israel is second to none,” said Danny Ayalon, a former Israeli ambassador to the United States.
Clinton supporters and other observers resist this interpretation, preferring instead to label her “pragmatic.” But, given some of candidate Obama’s campaign advisors (e.g., Tony McPeak, Robert Malley) and his past association with figures like Rashid Khalidi, Clinton’s appointment has provided added assurance that the Obama administration isn’t about to, as Jesse Jackson put it, seek to end “decades of putting Israel’s interests first” in the Middle East.
Douglas Bloomfield from the Jerusalem Post commented, “No secretary of state will come to that office with stronger pro-Israel credentials or closer ties to the Jewish community than Sen. Hillary Clinton.”
Now certainly not everyone who is supportive of Israel has welcomed her nomination. But most of these critics have focused on whether she would agree to subordinate her political ambitions to the new president’s interests, her limited diplomatic experience, how Bill Clinton would be “managed” and whether the “no drama-Bama” calm would now give way to histrionic personal drama which often has followed the Clintons. But these dissenters have not doubted her resoluteness when it comes to Israel’s security needs.
The official nomination comes on the heels of the Mumbai massacre. Clinton’s statement, still reflecting her position as New York senator, demonstrated an appreciation for the threat of terrorism and a personal connection with the victims which was missing in President Bush’s own comments. It read in part:
Two New Yorkers, Rabbi Gavriel Holtzberg and Rivka Holtzberg of Brooklyn, are among those who have died, leaving behind their young son. The young couple had traveled from Brooklyn to manage a small Chabad house, welcoming Jews from India and elsewhere to learn, pray, and serve the community.
There could be no sharper a reminder, nor a more poignant call to action, than the brutal and heinous violence visited upon the Nariman House and the Holtzberg family, living and working in Mumbai on a mission of peace, scholarship, and spiritual guidance. As those responsible are brought to justice, as we aid and support the victims and their families, as we work to defeat radical extremism and the terror it spawns, let us find strength in knowing that in the face of those who seek to take lives, there are those who seek to give hope and comfort.
It is this steely determination and affection for the victims of Islamic terrorists which has endeared Clinton to Jews here and abroad. The proof is always in the execution and her every word and deed will now be sharply analyzed by those concerned about Israel’s security, as it will by all voters and leaders of foreign countries. However, by selecting Clinton in lieu of obviously more problematic picks, President-elect Obama has bought himself some running room — and allowed Israel’s supporters to breathe a sigh of relief.