Haaretz.com Feb. 16, 2008
By Akiva Eldar
Tensions in the race between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama for the Democratic presidential nomination are mirrored in the American Jewish community. As the gap between the front-runners narrowed in the primaries, the clash between the two Jewish camps has become more heated.
Official Israel is making an effort to maintain a respectable neutrality. Has-beens are being called into the ring, like a former ambassador to Washington, Dan Ayalon, who jabbed Obama in a sensitive spot - the volume of his support for Israel.
Ayalon is not alone. Jewish advisers and non-Jewish supporters are almost obsessively occupied with searching for skeletons in the black candidate's past.
The Republican Party's neoconservative clique is trawling archives for "anti-Israeli" essays by advisers who had been seen in Obama's staff. Robert Malley, who was President Bill Clinton's special assistant during the Camp David talks, joined Obama. The neoconservatives reached Malley's father, a Jew of Egyptian descent, who, alas, kept childhood ties with Yasser Arafat. Malley junior is accused of publishing a joint article with an Oslo-supporting Palestinian, in which they dared to argue that Ehud Barak played a major role in the Camp David summit's failure in July 2000.
Obama is working hard to allay the fears of "Israel's friends," a description reserved mainly for activists of the pro-Israeli lobby AIPAC and for Malcolm Hoenlein, the executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents. As far as they're concerned, whoever doesn't support the Israeli government's policy 100 percent is unfit for leadership.
Clinton is reaping the fruit of her investment in the Jewish community and Israel since first running for a Senate seat in New York. She is also benefiting from Bill Clinton's popularity in synagogues, Israeli homes and among his rich Jewish friends.
A long list of initiatives and declarations has erased from the collective Jewish memory the first lady's "slip" in spring 1998, after Arafat threatened Benjamin Netanyahu with a unilateral declaration of a Palestinian state. Clinton then said at a gathering of Israeli and Palestinian youth, members of the Seeds of Peace organization, that it was important to have a "functioning modern" Palestinian state." She also said "it will be in the long-term interest of the Middle East for Palestine to be a state...responsible for its citizens' well-being...education and health care.''
Since then she has commended the Congress' decision to stop the aid to the Palestinians if they declared a state unilaterally. She also praised the separation fence and said that Ariel Sharon's visit to the Temple Mount was a "legitimate visit to a holy site."
She adopted a more aggressive stance than Obama about Iran.
Clinton's shift to the right on the peace process alienated some of her old friends on the Jewish left. But they remain convinced that if she wins the White House, she will quickly reclaim her old positions. Experience has taught that the link between a presidential candidate's statements and an elected president's actions is flimsy at best.
For example, since 1967 it's hard to find a candidate who did not promise to move the United States' embassy to Jerusalem. When Yitzhak Rabin reminded Gerald Ford of that promise, the president explained to him that life looked different from the Oval Office. The forecasts and evaluations regarding American politicians' basic positions regarding the Middle East also have a tendency to prove false. Thus, for example, Hafez Assad hoped for George Bush's victory over Al Gore. He counted on the Bush family's ties to the Saudi royal family and on its addiction to oil. The outcome is known.
And after all that, surveys conducted by Jewish organizations show that the candidates' positions on interior affairs, especially social issues like workers' rights, abortion, stem cell research and medical insurance, interest the Jewish Democratic voters more than their positions on moving the American embassy to Jerusalem or evacuating some illegal outpost in the territories.
That doesn't deter a few Jewish political wheeler dealers (elected by no one) from stirring the boiling cauldron.