Watching Hillary Clinton’s speech at the annual American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) policy conference on Tuesday was a chance to observe a political master in action. In her usual stone-faced way, the senator set out to present herself as a stalwart supporter of Israel and of America’s alliance with Israel–and judging by the audience’s reaction, she succeeded brilliantly. Many of the several thousand people gathered in Washington’s Convention Center–AIPAC says there were over 5,000 participants at the conference overall–stood to applaud her at both the beginning and the end of her speech, and interrupted her several times in between. Hillary was a huge hit.
Her introducer set the stage by recalling Clinton’s efforts as senator to press the International Committee of the Red Cross to admit Israel’s Magen David Adom, and her defense of Israel’s security fence after the International Court of Justice declared it illegal. And Clinton’s speech hit exactly the right notes for the AIPAC crowd: She spoke about Israel as a “beacon of what democracy can and should mean.” She said the United States must “demand that President Abbas dismantle the structures of terror.” She condemned, at some length, “the barrage of hate and incitement that is still officially sanctioned by the Palestinian Authority.” (She got particularly strong applause when she said that “using children as pawns in a political process is tantamount to child abuse.”) Finally, she took on Iran, a topic of significant concern throughout the conference: “A nuclear-armed Iran is unacceptable, but it is not just unacceptable to Israel and the United States. It must be unacceptable to the entire world, starting with the European governments and people.” That last bit brought her a standing ovation from many in the audience.
Unlike her fellow Democrat Nancy Pelosi, who spoke at AIPAC’s gala dinner the night before, Clinton was hard on the Palestinians specifically. Where Pelosi talked impersonally about the “specter of violence” hanging over Israel, Hillary accused the Palestinians of inciting terror. Where Pelosi vaguely advocated “changes on the ground,” Hillary placed responsibility on Abbas. Where Pelosi talked about a “moment of opportunity” not to be lost–but didn’t say who’s moment it was to lose–Hillary put the onus on the PA to reciprocate Israel’s peace overtures.
All of this is well and good, but what does Clinton really think about the Arab-Israeli conflict? The truth is, it’s nearly impossible to know. Her past tells a very different story from her statements and record as junior senator from New York.
Much of that past is already well known, if often willfully forgotten. In 1998, for example, Mrs. Clinton went far beyond official U.S. policy in declaring her support for the creation of a Palestinian state. Some today might call her prescient, but under the circumstances her remark amounted to significant pressure on Israel and a field day for unreformed Palestinians. Hillary also caused a stir in 1999 when she exchanged kisses with Yasser Arafat’s wife after the latter gave a ridiculous speech accusing Israel of poisoning Palestinian women and children.
Then there’s Hillary’s past engagement with Muslim activist Abdurahman Alamoudi, among others shady characters. In October 2000, Candidate Clinton announced that she was returning contributions Alamoudi had made to her Senate campaign after he publicly declared, “We are all supporters of Hamas…. I am also a supporter of Hezbollah.” Clinton reportedly cited “serious disagreements” with Alamoudi’s views, but defended her long-time involvement with him as part of the Clinton administration’s peace efforts. For instance, Clinton had had Alamoudi draw up the guest list for the official White House celebration of Ramadan in 1996. Yet this was after he had protested President Clinton’s decision to meet with author Salman Rushdie, and after he had denied that Hamas was a terrorist group. Last year Alamoudi pled guilty to charges of taking part in a plot to assassinate a Saudi prince and laundering money from Libya, allegedly to fund terrorist groups. In fairness, Clinton wasn’t the only public figure duped by Alamoudi. But apparently he wasn’t the only questionable activist she let into the White House. The New York Daily News reported that as First Lady Clinton “held several White House Muslim holiday receptions to which individuals opposed to the Mideast peace process and Israel’s existence were invited.”
Going back still further, we come to Clinton’s embarrassing stint in the late ’80s as chairman of the far-left New World Foundation. During that time she oversaw a grant of $15,000 to an organization called Grassroots International, which funded two groups with close ties to the Palestine Liberation Organization. When the incident came to light in 1992, Clinton responded by denying any knowledge that the money had been “diverted” to PLO-affiliated groups. But Clinton emphasized general-purpose grants during her chairmanship, meaning Grassroots may not have had to “divert” anything: She wrote in the board’s biennial report that under her watch the foundation had made “mostly general support grants, rather than project grants, so as to prove core support to organizers and advocates.” Even if the grant was project-specific, however, it probably would have just freed up other Grassroots money for the Palestinian groups.
Also among Clinton’s New World grantees was the Communist-party-affiliated National Lawyers Guild, to which the foundation gave $15,000 in 1987, according to Daniel Wattenberg. What was the Guild doing at the time? Well, for example, just a year earlier it had joined the November 29th Committee for Palestine–a reported front group for the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine–in protesting Israel’s deportation of accused terrorists from the West Bank. And in 1987 it petitioned a U.S. court of appeals to declare unconstitutional a federal law allowing for the deportation of immigrants with subversive political beliefs. The case in question involved a group of illegal immigrants accused of membership in the PFLP. The National Lawyers Guild argued the law “would prevent anyone from giving any support to a liberation struggle in their own country.” (The Supreme Court later ruled in favor of deportation.)
These causes are worlds away from yesterday’s paean to Israeli democracy and condemnation of Palestinian violence. If today’s Hillary Clinton has any regrets, she doesn’t appear to have made them public. (Her office didn’t return several phone calls and an e-mail requesting comment.) So far it hasn’t mattered much for her political career. But will her past eventually catch up to her? With ambition and political acumen like hers, it probably won’t.
–Rachel Zabarkes Friedman is an associate editor of National Review.