HRC on the Middle East: Has She Learned From Experience?

For reasons largely beyond my control, the afternoon sorta got away from me, so an analysis of Hillary Clinton’s economic policy speech will have to wait until tomorrow (in the meantime, you should read Kevin Drum’s fine 500-word summary).

But let’s quickly note a subject HRC did not discuss today, and the questions about it posed by the great Israeli journalists Gershom Gorenberg at the Prospect.

Gorenberg notes that as a presidential candidate in 2008, Clinton took positions on Israeli-Palestinian affairs that we likely the work of advisers uninterested in actual governing (e.g., the usual bit about Jerusalem being the “undivided and eternal” capital of Israel), and then wisely abandoned many of them when she had to confront the realities of the region as Secretary of State. Now she’s beginning another campaign with another big statement about her undying support for Israel.

[Y]ou’ve set the tone of your new campaign with a letter to billionaire giga-donor Haim Saban, made public this week. In it, you promise to work against boycotts of Israel. That sounds reasonable. But given the timing, I strongly suspect that you’re trying to fudge what you mean by boycotts…..

The point of contention here, as you know, is the gradually developing European Union policy of economic sanctions against the settlements. As a political ally, Europe is nearly as important to Israel as the United States is; as a trading partner, it’s more important. But European governments don’t want their friendship with Israel to be misconstrued as acceptance of Israeli rule of the West Bank. The sanctions are meant to convey this point, and to push Israel to seek a two-state agreement. In contrast to boycotts of Israel as such, the European policy reflects the commitment of allies to Israel’s future. Congress tried to force the administration to tell the European Union, “Don’t do it.” The Obama administration answered that it won’t get in the way.

Issued at this moment, and lacking nuance, your letter to Saban gives the impression that you regard all boycotts as the same. You’re trying to reassure donors who are hawkish on Israel and liberal on other matters. I’d like to be confident that as president, you’d maintain the Obama administration’s stance. Until you clarify the point, I have to suspect of you either of dissimulating or of irresponsibility.

Hillary, I understand that you need to satisfy donors and swing voters. Someone like me, who lives far away and will merely bear the impact of decisions you make as president, hardly matters. Still, I’d like to know: As president, will you draw the distinction between Israel and the settlements, between boycotting one and boycotting the other? Will you treat criticism of Israeli policy as anti-Semitism or as a necessary corrective? Will you be ready to confront Israel’s government for the sake of Israel’s future, or will you prefer to keep the donors happy for 2020?

Your letter may answer all the questions that Saban has. It doesn’t answer mine. Frankly, it makes me nervous.

Me too.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.