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Jewish World Review July 16, 1999 /3 Av, 5759

Jonathan Tobin

Jonathan Tobin
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Oy, Hillary!:
The dubious pleasures of political pandering --
IT TAKES A LOT OF MORAL FIBER to resist a seduction. Saying no to those who flatter our vanity and appeal to our desire to be loved and wanted takes more discipline than most of us have - especially, it seems, when it comes to politicians trying to seduce American Jews.

Having privately resolved to do my best to ignore Hillary Rodham Clinton's descent on New York, I am forced to go back on my word upon reading some of her latest statements intended to prove how devoted a supporter of Israel she has always been.

The same woman who gratuitously endorsed a Palestinian Arab state last year now tells us that she wants to move America's embassy to Jerusalem, "the eternal and indivisible capital of Israel."

Hillary's recitation of the Zionist catechism on Jerusalem is, of course, a delightfully hilarious piece of political theater.

While it doesn't take much imagination to suppose that Mr. and Mrs. Clinton have had an argument or two in their time, does anyone really think the "White House and First Lady Are at Odds Over Jerusalem" as The New York Times screamed in a headline last Friday? Talk about spinning the media! From patron of the Palestinians, has Hillary been transformed into heroine of the Jews? It was enough to prompt her close pal Suha Arafat (wife to Palestinian leader Yasser) to denounce her.

All the Times had to do was to check out all the weasel words included in her public letter to the head of the Orthodox Union to understand that there was little, if any, conflict between Hillary's stand and that of the White House.

Like many a tawdry seduction, Hillary's statement was demeaning, both to its audience and to the first lady herself. As with any common pol on the hustings, Monica's victim feels the need to pander to the Jewish vote in the manner she feels we are most vulnerable.

After all, she has already fibbed about something more sacred than foreign policy. She's even prepared to pretend to be a Yankees fan to convince New Yorkers that she's one of them.

Among the many ironies to be found in this story is the fact that many serious political observers doubted that Hillary's Palestinian-state gaffe would affect her chances to be a U.S. Senator from New York. Few doubted that liberal Jewish Democrats would support her, no matter what she said. Despite a shaky record on Israel issues, she has close ties to the Jewish community that stem from her stands on domestic issues.

That's why, despite the controversy, she is being honored by Hadassah at a Washington dinner later this month. Some are protesting that event, but anyone who thinks that a national Jewish organization would turn down the chance to have a box-office draw like Hillary at a fundraising dinner understands nothing about Jewish life.

Although I understand why a politician like Hillary Clinton would feel the need to pander to Jewish voters, the more important question to consider is why so many of us seem willing to lap up whatever nonsense candidates throw our way.

Pandering is a sign of political respect. If candidates didn't want our votes and our money, they wouldn't bother seducing us. It would be self-defeating, as well as undemocratic, to discourage attempts to win our favor.

But after 50 years of false pledges to move the embassy to Jerusalem, maybe it's time to take a new tack on that issue.

A case in point would be the pandering that lies behind much of the current brouhaha over the U.S. embassy in Israel.

In 1995, Kansas Republican Sen. Bob Dole was preparing his run for the presidency in 1996. Up to that point, he had never been considered an especially ardent friend of Israel. Yet, it was Bob Dole who introduced a bill which required that the embassy be moved within four years. It was passed over the objections of his rival, President Clinton. Though the president was given an escape clause (which Clinton has used), the bill gave the embassy campaign a boost at a time when it needed it. At the time, some thought it might even help the embassy move become a reality. Suckers.

Did the Dole pander work? Given the disastrous results in November 1996, you would have to say no, since the Kansan did as poorly among Jewish voters as the much-despised President George Bush did in 1992. On the other hand, the Jerusalem bill did help Dole raise an awful lot of Jewish money in that campaign.

Bill Clinton himself used the Jerusalem issue to pander to the Jews in 1992. Clinton played the Zionist to adoring Jewish crowds and took the Jerusalem pledge, as virtually every other nonincumbent presidential candidate has done in the past 50 years.

Perhaps the only thing new under the political sun is the fact that GOP presidential front-runner Texas Gov. George W. Bush has so far refused to make the Jerusalem promise. It appears to be a sign of his complete lack of interest in Jewish votes or issues. But at least he isn't trying to lie to us.

All of which leads me to propose something new for American Jews to consider as the 2000 presidential and congressional campaigns begin. Call it the Clinton abstinence pledge.

Let American Jews resolve to listen to no more lying promises about the Jerusalem embassy or any other standard pander line. When you hear candidates raise the issue, run the other way! Let them run on their deeds, if any, not on their promises of future favor.

Let's keep our much-tarnished honor. Tell the candidates we don't want their love, just their respect.

JWR contributor Jonathan S. Tobin is executive editor of the Philadelphia Jewish Exponent. Let him know what you think by clicking here.


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4/26/98: All-rightniks versus the alarmists: Focussing on the Jewish bottom line
4/13/98:Of ends and means and victims
4/5/98: Hang up on Albright
3/29/98: Bigshots or activists?: Clinton's three clerics return from China
3/27/98: Will American Jews help Clinton push Israel into a corner?
3/22/98: Anti-Semitism then and now
3/15/98: Still searching for Jews at the opera
3/11/98: Remembering Eric Breindel
3/8/98: Getting lost in history
3/5/98: Follow the money to Hamas
2/22/98: Re-writing "Anne Frank" - A distorted legacy
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1/25/98: Jews are news, and a fair shake for Israel is hard to find

©1999, Jonathan Tobin