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Jewish World Review July 15, 1999 /2 Av, 5759

Paul Greenberg

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Israel's new friend: Hillary, born-again Zionist --
AT A PARTICULARLY DELICATE TIME in Arab-Jewish negotiations (a description of roughly any time in the past century), Hillary Clinton came out last year in favor of statehood for the Palestinian Arabs. It was an inopportune moment for the wife of the American president to start throwing her influence around, what with the peace talks stalled and both sides counting on an unbiased Washington to mediate.

But that was last year. This year she's running for senator from New York in every way but formally, and it's a most opportune time -- for her -- to side with the Israelis. Which is just what she's done between commutes to New York on her campaign plane, aka Air Force One.

Jerusalem, says Ms. Clinton now, should be recognized as Israel's "eternal and indivisible capital,'' using the very words Israeli politicians prefer when campaigning. Even though a decision on Jerusalem's formal status -- Israeli or Palestinian capital or both -- is supposed to await final negotiations between the two sides.

But is anybody surprised? Running for the Senate in New York, or just about for anything in New York, tends to simplify almost any politician's opinion about the intricacies of Mideast politics. Whether the candidate is Irish (Daniel Patrick Moynihan) or Italian (Alfonse D'Amato) a senator from New York, with its sizable and even decisive Jewish vote, is going to be only a little more pro-Israel than the Israeli foreign office.

If the Arab vote dominated elections in New York, does anyone doubt that at this moment Hillary Clinton would have found a good word to say for Arab claims on Jerusalem? Where the votes are, there lie her highly flexible allegiances. Note her treacly flattery of Senator Moynihan of late -- she laid it on thick as schmaltz on Levy's Jewish Rye, even though the senator joined the charge against HillaryCare when this administration was still young, and he would later deride the Clinton administration's plans to reform welfare, too. All is forgiven now; there's a campaign on. Party is thicker than ideas, as Senator Moynihan's party-line vote on impeachment demonstrated.

Candidate Clinton, male or female, always leaves an escape hatch. Note that both Hillary Clinton's pro-Israel and pro-Arab statements (to everything there is a campaign season) came with Clinton Clauses attached. She favored Palestinian statehood, Hillary Clinton would explain when pressed, only eventually. Ditto, Jerusalem as Israel's capital. Having recognized Israel's undivided right to that ancient capital, she had to add: "Of courue, the timing of such a move must be sensitive to Israel's interest in achieving a secure peace with its neighbors.'' Of course.

This is pretty much the same small print that her husband added to his ballyhooed promise to recognize Israeli sovereignty over Jerusalem. That was way back in the presidential election of 1992, and his administration still doesn't know that the capital of Israel is Jerusalem. All these campaign promises reveal a good deal more about the candidates than they do about the long, long dispute over that ancient citadel, a dispute that goes back to the Crusaders, or maybe the Jebusites.

The notion of one nation deciding what another's capital will be is itself a surreal prospect. (Is there any other country besides Israel whose capital Washington takes it upon itself to name?) And the notion of a senator from New York choosing Israel's "eternal and indivisible'' capital only adds to the spectacle. Jerusalem's place in the "eternal and indivisible'' scheme of things is one of those things Americans were once content to leave to History and History's G-d. Now it's a campaign issue, or rather, in New York, a campaign ritual.

The rhetoric was a bit over-wrought on the Arab side, too, as in the angry reaction from James Zogby of the Arab American Institute, who accused First Diplomat of "damaging the search for peace and damaging American interests and American leadership'' in the Middle East. Goodness, isn't that an awful lot of damage to attribute to just a little political pap out of a first lady who now would really rather be a junior senator from New York?

But some of the more excitable voices in the Jewish lobby said much the same thing about Miss Hillary last year, when she came out for Palestinian statehood. The critics of her separate but equally rash stands in the Middle East may change, but their criticisms don't.

By now surely everyone, beginning with Arabs, Israelis and Americans, can see that Hillary Clinton's politics tend to shift with the prevailing winds -- a habit that seems to run in the family-and just now they're are out of New York. By now she's probably even learned the difference between a bagel and a bialy, and will soon be setting out for the obligatory visit to Israel -- with stops in Ireland and Italy just to be safe. There's no better guide to her political principles (ital)du jour(unital) than the demographics of the state she proposes to represent at any given moment, and New York is an ethnically splendored state.

And so another volume in the glamorous, successful and somehow pointless saga of Clintonian politics opens, as matched as His and Hers towels. It's not clear who's more predictable, the Clintons or their critics, as what historians will surely call the Petty Nineties dribble away to the accompaniment of its longest running sitcom and soap opera. But these days Mary Noble is no longer content to be Backstage Wife. And our own Tammy Wynette has decided it's time to stand by her career.

It would be unfair -- it would be silly -- to blame the co-presidents Clinton for the cynicism of American politics, for the low reputation of contemporary politicians or the general miasma that settles over American public life. A jaded irony becomes the first reaction of many Americans to the daily news in this, our second Gilded Age.

The lack of high purpose and seriousness in public discourse, the vacuous nature of so much of our politics, the uncentered feel of a popular culture that is alternately being sapped of the sacred or dunked in it, the elevation of technique over direction, of results over any meaning, of pointless violence ... all of that late-Roman Empire style is scarcely the Clintons' fault; they are only the most unfailing reflection of it. They're just our mood ring.

When we note HRC's latest makeover, and know there are more to come, it's really not enough to smile wanly, however familiar the script. We ought to ask why such tactics have proved so successful for politicians of all persuasions and no real convictions. Is it because the Clintons R Us? Is it because they haven't so much set the pattern as responded to our cues?

The great danger and temptation in concentrating -- in fixating -- on the Clintons' pettification of American politics in this decade is that it lets the rest of us off the hook.


07/13/99:50 Ways to beat the heat
07/08/99: Today's tax tip: the Webb Hubbell System
07/02/99: Vision restored: the Supreme Court gets it
06/29/99: What makes Hillary run?
06/24/99: A Cafe Called Time: A Play In Three Acts
06/22/99: Amazing stories from D.C. Comix
06/17/99: George W.'s first mistake
06/08/99: Hail to the chief?
06/02/99: In praise of failure
05/26/99: Betrayal in the making: let's not make a deal
05/20/99: Israel's big switch: new era or just a mood swing?
05/18/99: Free our kids: revive the land of opportunity
05/13/99: This war will end --- or spread
05/11/99: South Sider comes through
05/07/99: There is no substitute for victory
05/05/99: A Tale of two colonels
05/03/99: It's the culture, stupid
04/30/99: Bumpers' 'B.S.'
04/27/99: An American tragedy: the fall of Kenneth Starr
04/23/99: Presidents and the press
04/14/99: A revealing moment
04/14/99: War Day by day
04/12/99: Just a few questions
04/06/99: The problem with the Left
04/05/99: The problem with the Right
03/30/99: But can he convince himself?
03/26/99: Short bursts
03/24/99: Once more into the quagmire
03/17/99: Big time in Little Rock
03/15/99: Our own Roger Taney
03/09/99: A different ‘Waterfront’
03/05/99: Law and disorder
2/26/99: King Richard's revenge
2/25/99: Open season on the fetus, and a good word for the pagans
2/23/99: It never ends: Here comes the judge
2/19/99: After the storm: Going through the debris
2/17/99: Where's the closure?
2/12/99: Hussein the Hashemite: The wiliest player on the board
2/09/99: The social security game
2/04/99: Our own Inspector Clouseau
2/01/99: Night scene, night thoughts
1/28/99: The decay of the art of lying
1/26/99: Impeachment: Short subjects
1/22/99: Bounce, glitz and tedium: The State of the Disunion
1/20/99: Destructive engagement: How to encourage tyranny
1/18/99: Martin Luther King: The radical as conservative?
1/11/99: Why America is apathetic about Bill's date with destiny
1/06/99:The year of Moronica
1/04/99: Clinton’s janitorial crew of two
12/29/98:The Senate will be on trial, too
12/29/98:A look down the avenue
12/22/98: The surreal impeachment
12/17/98: Another moment of truth approaches
12/15/98: The President's defenders: witnesses for the prosecution
12/10/98:The latest miracle cure: CensurePlus
12/03/98: Sentences at an airport Sentences at an airport
12/03/98: Games lawyers play
12/01/98: Ms. Magoo strikes again, or: Janet Reno and the law
11/26/98: The most American holiday
11/23/98: Same game, another round
11/18/98: Guide to the perplexed
11/09/98: A vote for apathy
11/03/98: Global village goes Clintonesque
11/02/98: Farewell to all that
10/30/98: New budget, same swollen government
10/26/98: Of life on the old plantation -- and death in the Middle East
10/22/98: Starr Wars (CONT'D)
10/19/98:Another retreat: weakness invites aggression
10/16/98: Profile in courage
10/14/98: A new voice out of Arkansas
10/09/98: Gerald Ford, Mr. Fix-It?
10/07/98: Impeachment Journal: Dept. of Doublespeak
10/01/98: The new tradition
9/25/98: Mr. President, PLEASE don't resign
9/23/98: The demolition of meaning
9/18/98: So help us G-d; The nature of the crisis
9/17/98: First impressions: on reading the Starr Report
9/15/98: George Wallace: All the South in one man
9/10/98: Here comes the judge
9/07/98: Toward impeachment
9/03/98: The politics of impeachment
9/01/98: The eagle can still soar
8/28/98: Boris Yeltsin's mind: a riddle pickled in an enigma
8/26/98: Clinton agonistes, or: Twisting in the wind
8/25/98: The rise of the English murder
8/24/98: Confess and attack: Slick comes semi-clean
8/19/98: Little Rock perspectives
8/14/98: Department of deja vu
8/12/98: The French would understand
8/10/98: A fable: The Rat in the Corner
8/07/98: Welcome to the roaring 90s
8/06/98: No surprises dept. -- promotion denied
8/03/98: Quotes of and for the week: take your pick
7/29/98: A subpoena for the president:
so what else is new?
7/27/98: Forget about Bubba, it's time to investigate Reno
7/23/98: Ghosts on the roof, 1998
7/21/98: The new elegance
7/16/98: In defense of manners
7/13/98: Another day, another delay: what's missing from the scandal news
7/9/98:The language-wars continue
7/7/98:The new Detente
7/2/98: Bubba in Beijing: history does occur twice
6/30/98: Hurry back, Mr. President -- to freedom
6/24/98: When Clinton follows Quayle's lead
6/22/98: Independence Day, 2002
6/18/98: Adventures in poli-speke

©1999, Los Angeles Times Syndicate