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Jewish World Review Nov. 30, 1999 /21 Kislev, 5760

Suzanne Fields

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Potholes on the road to the Promised Land -- HILLARY CLINTON'S first big mistake was picking New York as the place to get into politics. Any novice in Gotham knows you can't offend Jews and succeed in New York politics.

A candidate for office in New York might as well endorse the Ku Klux Klan as to say nice things about someone who accuses Israel of using poison gas on anyone. This is a lesson Mrs. Clinton will learn often if, as she says she "intends'' to do, she runs for the U.S. Senate next year.

Letting Suha Arafat's blood libel of Israel go unrebuked was Mrs. Clinton's third "gaffe,'' if gaffe it actually was, on the subject of Israel. Such gaffes suggest muddled thinking at best, a genuine bias against Israel at worst. She had previously endorsed a Palestinian state on the West Bank and an "undivided'' Israeli capital in Jerusalem. Both positions, by the way, set her at odds with her husband's policies.

The incident on the West Bank was the most serious of all, exposing a lack of spontaneous outrage and a lethargy of commitment to Israel. It immediately aroused suspicions that Hillary is not really a friend of Israel.

American Jews are predominantly liberal in their politics, and large majorities vote Democratic. But when I spoke to a synagogue congregation the other day in suburban Washington, all the facial expressions registered dismay at the mention of the first lady. It had struck a negative nerve for many reasons.

Jews were particularly offended by the suggestion that Jews would use poison gas on anyone. European Jews were gassed in the Nazi concentration camps, and memories of the Holocaust evoked the international support that led to a homeland in Israel after World War II. Palestinians have tried to turn international public opinion against Israel by painting the Israelis as oppressors like the Nazis.

Passivity as a quality of experience is an anathema to contemporary Jews, who revere the memories of the Holocaust. We are mindful that the world sat passively by as European anti- Semitism enabled the massacre of six million Jews. Since World War II, Jews have learned how to react with rapid-fire responses to attacks on Jews, and to see that their Christian friends do, too.

Suha Arafat was hardly subtle in her mendacious vitriol. Even if we accept Hillary Clinton's excuse that she wasn't sure of the reliability of the spontaneous English translation of the speech, when the words were made clear the first lady should have offered more than a tepid reply calling on all sidesengaged in the peace process to refrain from "inflammatory rhetoric and baseless accusations.''

This was no occasion for moral equivalence. Nor were the accusations new. If Hillary is as diligent a student of "the peace process'' as she wants us to believe she is, she's aware of the history of vicious lies the Palestinians have made against Israel.

The Zionist Organization of America, which keeps track of such lies, finds Suha's remarks in keeping with specific conspiracy theories floated by the Palestinian Authority and its leaders. These include "injecting 300 Palestinian children with the HIV virus,'' and "distributing food containing material that causes cancer and hormones that harm male virility.'' They accused Jews of purposely sending spoiled food products "in order to poison and harm the Palestinian population'' and smuggling in chocolate candy made from milk infected with "mad cow disease.''

Says an editorial in the Jerusalem Post: "...Suha managed to combine a medieval-style blood libel, a Nazi-era reference to poison gas, and a modernist concern for the environment all in the same repulsive brew.''

New York State Sen. Carl Kruger, who represents a large Jewish constituency in Brooklyn, rebuked the first lady's lack of response to Mrs. Arafat's "surreal charges against Israel.''

Even as Hillary was announcing her intentions to announce for office next year, Mr. Kruger announced his support for Mayor Rudy Giuliani, the likely Republican nominee.

Hillary will need 66 percent of New York's Jewish vote to have a chance; recent polls show her with 46 percent. Hillary can't afford to make any more mistakes. A man at the synagogue where I spoke offered a pessimistic Jewish proverb for Mrs. Clinton: "If things don't get better, wait,'' he said. "they'll get worse.''


11/25/99: A feast for the spirit and the stomach
11/23/99: Fathers need to say 'I (can) do'
11/18/99: Adventures of a conservative pundit
11/15/99: Traveling with Jefferson on the information highway
11/11/99: Wanted: 'Foliage of forbiddinness' for the oval office
11/09/99: Eggs, art and rotten commerce
11/05/99: Al Gore, 'Alpha Male'. Bow wow.
11/01/99: Gay love
10/28/99: Lose one Dole, lose two
10/26/99: Rebels with a violent cause
10/21/99: Reforming parents, reforming schools
10/19/99: The male mystique -- he shops
10/13/99:The campaign of the Teletubbies
10/08/99: Money is in the eye of the art dealer
10/01/99: Lincoln's 'Almost Chosen People'
09/29/99: Introducing Bill and Hillary Bickerson
09/27/99: Must we wait for the next massacre?
09/24/99: Miss America meets Miss'd America
09/21/99: Princeton's 'professor death'
09/16/99: The Cisneros lesson
09/13/99: No clemency for personal politics
09/08/99: M-M-M is for manhood
08/30/99: Blocking the schoolhouse door
08/27/99: No kick from cocaine
08/23/99: Movies don't kill people
08/19/99: A rude awakening
08/16/99: Dubyah and that 'language' thing
08/09/99: Chauvinist sows -- oink oink

©1999, Suzanne Fields. Distributed by Los Angeles Times Syndicate